Bearded – Washington Preston

The Beard

I had a difficult time deciding between two bearded ancestors for this post! Both were great in their own way, but I have chosen to showcase my 4x great grandfather Washington Preston’s beard. It is just great because it is so long, (maybe a foot long?!), and it’s completely white! Below is one photograph that nicely displays his beard.

This side of the family liked to take photographs, so one of his children probably snapped this photograph of him around 1900 when he was about 77 years old. I really love it because of how relaxed Washington looks. He is sitting in a rocking chair on his front lawn while reading his newspaper, and I can just imagine that it was a beautiful day outside.

Washington Preston, from all accounts of him, was a very nice, genial man. He was tall and slender with a straight nose. The tall and slender gene was passed down to his son Charles and is still apparent in my father and myself! Examining his photo has made me wonder if he had a beard his whole adult life, or if he began growing it as an older man. Either way, he beard is fantastic!


Washington was born on 2 December 1823 in the town of Beverly in Washington County, Ohio to Frederick and Joanna (Chapin) Preston. Both of his parents from New England families who had migrated west to Pennsylvania and finally settled in Ohio.

On 12 March 1846, Washington married Rachel Ann Jordan in Morgan County, the county just to the north of Washington County. Unlike Washington’s parents, Rachel’s were both born in Maryland. Both Washington and Rachel raised a large family on their farm in Beverly: George, Charles, Henrietta, Curtis, Marion, Lucy, Francis, Nora Bell, and Anna Louise.

1870 Census, Beverly, Washington County, Ohio.

Beverly, then as it is now, was a small town nestled on the Muskingum River. People who lived in this area of Ohio in the 19th century were farmers, coal miners, or worked in the iron industry. Washington Preston owned a farm, but his main trade was pattern making. (In the census, he was listed as a farmer, day laborer, carpenter, plow maker, and pattern maker.) A pattern maker worked in a foundry and created molds that would be cast in steel and used as parts of machines used in the milling industry. In my photo collection is one of the Beverly Star Foundry, which one of the places were I believe Washington worked. According to the obituary of his daughter, Nora, the family moved from Beverly to Marietta, Ohio in 1881 while Washington was working for the W. F. Robertson Company. Later, he left the company and began working for the Marietta Manufacturing Company.

Washington died on 12 December 1902 at the age of 79. A very long obituary was published in the local paper after he died. He was a member of the Odd Fellows, and according to the paper, Washington’s funeral was the largest ever held in Marietta. The Odd Fellows charted a steamboat to carry his body up and down the Ohio River prior to burial. He was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta where his wife Rachel joined him in 1912.


Frightening – Amputation

My biggest fear is physical pain. Even the anticipation of physical pain makes me afraid! So it is no wonder that one of the most frightening stories I can think of has to do with amputation.

This story has three main players – my great great grandfather Newton Harrison Davis, his older brother Richard Lee, and their father Nathan Calloway Davis. Newton was the youngest child of Nathan and Sarah (Hill), born in 1870. This was a second marriage for both his father and mother, so Newton had quite a few half siblings as well. By 1880, only Nathan and Sarah’s children were still living at home. Nathan owned a large farm in Marshall County, Tennessee, part of which is still in my family today. Nathan primarily raised Tennessee Walking Horses It was primarily a Tennessee Walking Horse farm, but they also raised cows, sheep, and swine.

Newton Harrison Davis, 9 years old, living with his parents and siblings in Marshall County, Tennessee.

When Newton was about 10 years old, he and his older brother, Lee, went hunting somewhere in the county. At some point during their hunt, Lee accidentally shot Newton in the arm! The boys made it back to the house where Nathan assessed the damage. I can only image how painful it was for Newton, how badly Lee felt, and how upset Nathan and Sarah were over the incident. Luckily, Nathan was also a physician. He owned an impressive collection of medical books, most of which Nathan’s grandson gave to a local Marshall County doctor years later.

The wound was so bad that Nathan was forced to amputate Newton’s arm right below the elbow. I hope that Nathan was able to give Newton some chloroform or anything to help dull him to the pain of the saw. In the end, everything turned out alright. Newton survived the ordeal, and when he was older, he married and farmed. It seemed his accident did not slow him down at all! In photographs, it is obvious that he is missing his arm. The sleeve is often pinned to the back of his jacket.

What a frightening event for everyone involved!

Cause of Death – “Crushed Under A Train”

The story of the death of my 4x great grandfather, Richard Swift, is quite sad, and even more so after I learned the circumstances surrounding his death.

In a way, this post is a continuation of three other posts I have written this year. First, I wrote about Reverend William Swift, Richard’s great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his father’s side. A couple of days ago, I wrote about Colonel Nicholas Spencer, Richard’s 4x great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his mother’s side. Yesterday, I examined a court case concerning the estate of Richard’s uncle, Spencer Ariss Moss, in which Richard was one of the complainants. And with that, this post is all about Richard Swift.


As I have written quite a bit about Richard’s family, I won’t rehash too much of it here. Richard’s parents were Catherine Moss (1763-1816) and Richard Swift (1767-1831). Catherine was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, but by 1779, she had moved with her parents to Caswell County, North Carolina. There she married Richard Swift on 2 November 1787. Richard Swift was the son of William Swift Jr. and Frances Waddy, born 2 April 1767 and baptized on 7 May in Goochland County, Virginia.

Richard Swift Jr. was born in Tennessee on 8 July 1807 after his parents and older siblings had migrated from North Carolina. In 1830, he married Mary Fulcher, and after that date, he begins to appear in records in Robertson County, buying and selling land and slaves with his relatives and in-laws. He was a farmer and by trade a cooper, or barrel maker. He never owned particularly large parcels of land, only about 300 acres at a time.

Richard and his wife Mary had quite a large family: William, Martha, Catherine, Matilda, James M., Tennessee, Mary Frances (my 3x great grandmother), Elizabeth, Richard, Park Bailey, and Laurinda. All 11 children grew to adulthood, which for that time, was quite an impressive feat.

The Crime

As I mentioned, Richard was a cooper and by 1881 as a 73 year old man, he still operated his cooper business on his property. The following articles describe the events of Sunday, 20 February 1881 at Richard Swift’s home in Greenbrier, Robertson County, Tennessee.

Article in The Tennessean announcing the arrest of Joseph Pike and Lewis Sadler. 22 February 1881.
Account of the robbery and arson, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 25 February 1881.

A third man, John Reese, was also arrested in connection with the theft and arson.

John Reese arrested in connection with the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 26 February 1881.

Not only did the thieves steal $1000 from Richard (quite a sum back then), but they also burned some of his outbuildings. Luckily, his home was not set on fire as well. Richard, though old, was determined to see the culprits were prosecuted.On 7 June 1881, Joseph Pike, Lewis Saddler, and Jeff Warren were indicted for “willfully and maliciously” burning the house of Richard Swift. It was also ordered that the sheriff of Davidson County bring Pike and Saddler back to Robertson County, as the men were apprehended in Nashville. On 10 June, Pike, Saddler, and Warren were all indicted for “burglary and house breaking.” Richard testified, as did his son James and sons-in-law B. F. Webster and G. B. Blackburn. The thieves stole “United States bank notes commonly called green backs,” “National Bank notes,” “current gold coin,” current silver coin,” “current silver silver dimes half dimes and of current nickle” for a total of $1,500.

On 14 June, the arraignment of Pike and Saddler took place in Robertson County. They plead not guilty, but “there not being time to finish the trial of the cause today,” it had to be continued to next day at 8:00 a.m. Lewis Saddler was found not guilty of the charge of arson, but like the day before, they again ran out of time to finish the trial. On 16 June, Joseph Pike was found guilty of arson. That same day, he also plead not guilty to burglary and larceny, but during the proceedings, he changed his mind and plead guilty. The article below gives more details about his trial on the 16th.

Joseph Pike confesses to the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 17 June 1881.

Although he plead guilty to burglary, on 17 Jun he moved for a new trial in the arson case. Neither the Attorney General nor the jury were inclined to be generous in this case, and his request for a new trial was overruled. On 18 June, he received the following sentences:

Burglary and Larceny: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary at Nashville for the term of Eight years commencing on the 16th day of June instant that he be rendered infamous and disqualified to give evidence or exercise the elective franchise or hold any office under this state and that he pay the costs of this prosecution.”

Forgery & False Pretenses: (unrelated to the Swift arson and burglary) Three years hard labor.

Arson: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary for the term of Eight Years commencing at the expiration of the term of eight years and three years for which he is sentences in the two cases of the state vs. Joe Pike et als…The defendant prays an appeal to the next term of the supreme court at Nashville which is granted and here tenders his bill of exceptions….”

Richard’s Death

Sadly for Richard and his family, the ordeal was not over. The Supreme Court of Tennessee did plan to hear Joe Pike’s appeal, so Richard made plans to travel to Nashville to testify, along with his son and sons-in-law. The family were going to catch the train at Greenbrier Station and take it to Nashville. However, when attempting to cross the train tracks, he was struck by a train and killed. The articles below are two different accounts of the accident recorded in local newspapers.

Article in the Tennessean about the death of Richard Swift. Published 5 July 1881.
Account of Richard Swift’s death, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 12 July 1881.

It is just heartbreaking to think that Richard died in such a terrible way, in front of his family, who were apparently grief stricken. It is even more horrible that the only reason he was at the station that morning was to serve as a witness at the Supreme Court at the trial of the man who stole from him and burned his cooper shop.

That same day, his oldest son William purchased burial clothes for Richard from Dean & Durrett, dry goods dealers. For $32.90, he purchased 1 suit of black broad cloth, 1 pair of Morocco shoes, 1 shirt, 1 pair of drawers, 1 pair of hose, 1 linen collar, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 neck tie. The family intended to bury him quickly, so William paid the $0.75 express fee.

Richard was buried in the family cemetery in Robertson County, probably within the next few days.

His Estate

His oldest son, William, was the administer of his estate along with his son-in-law J. W. Sprouse, and they sold at public auction his personal property. It included:

1 axes, augers, rakes, hoes, shovels, 16 ft of rope, a scythe, 8 bridles, 6 bits, horses, 1 wagon, 1 gun, 1 bedstead, 1 cupboard, 1 table, 1 dressing table, bacon, 2 cradles, saddles, pigs, fodder, oats, corn, and rails.

His wife, Mary, was assigned a years allowance from the estate, which included 20 barrels of corn, 1000 pounds of pork, 675 pounds of flour, 1000 bushels of oats, $20 worth of coffee & sugar, $2.00 worth of spice, pepper, & soda, 1 barrel of salt, $12.50 worth of vinegar & molasses, and 5 gallons of coal oil.

After the personal property was sold and his debts paid, his wife and his 11 children received $7.48, a very small amount.

Conflict – Heirs of Spencer Ariss Moss vs. James Moss

Two posts ago, I discussed my 10th great grandfather, Colonel Nicholas Spencer, his immigration to Virginia, his involvement in politics, and how his brothers and children died without heirs, leaving his granddaughter, Frances Spencer Ariss, as his only descendant who had children of her own. I also mentioned that her great grandson, Spencer Ariss Moss, was the last descendant on my side of the family to carry the name Spencer. Today’s post focuses on a court case revolving around Spencer Ariss Moss after his decease, during which case his heirs fought over the ownership of land and two enslaved people. The subject of the case is quite hard for me to wrap my mind around, but it does show how easily families could be divided over the inheritance of people. On a positive note, this case is particularly valuable to me as a genealogist as it clarifies familial relationships that aren’t always apparent in other public records.


John Ariss and his wife Frances Spencer (granddaughter of Colonel Nicholas Spencer) had four children – Spencer Ariss, John, Elizabeth, and Frances. Elizabeth married Thomas Sorrell, a builder who was apprenticed to one of George Washington’s uncles. Thomas and Elizabeth Sorrell had seven children, but only 6 were alive when Thomas wrote his will on 24 September 1774 – John Spencer Sorrell, Ariss Sorrell, Thomas Ballard Sorrell, Frances Moss, Hannah Stevens, and Martha Sorrell.

My 6x great grandmother, Frances Sorrell, married William Moss in the early 1760s. Their marriage produced six children: Catherine (my 5x great grandmother), Hannah Bushrod, Spencer Ariss, Margaret Blanton, Thomas Ballard Spencer, and William Washington. In the early 1800s, Frances, William, and their children migrated to Robertson County, Tennessee where both Frances and William died. It was in Robertson County that the court case took place, and it involved the estate of Frances and William’s son, Spencer Ariss Moss.

The Families

Spencer Ariss Moss was the last of William and Frances Moss’s children to die. The other five died previously, but only Catherine Swift and William Washington Moss left heirs. Spencer Ariss, though married, died childless in 1842. Below are the main characters in the case:

1. Spencer Ariss Moss: wife Hannah B. Moss, no children

2. Catherine (Moss) Swift (deceased): children Anthony Augustus Swift, Richard Swift (my 4x great grandfather), Frances Warren, Catherine Swift, Park Bailey Swift, Sarah Bush, Harriet Murray, George A. Swift, and Margaret Doulin.

3. William Washington Moss (deceased): children Elizabeth Sisk, William Moss Jr., Lucy Jones, Bushea White, and John B. Moss.

4. James Moss: nephew of Hannah B. (Moss) Moss.

5. Elizabeth Jones: niece of Hannah B. Moss, daughter of her sister, and wife of Anthony Jones.

The plaintiffs in the case were the above listed children of Catherine Swift and William Washington Moss. All of them were listed in the case as well as the husbands of the married women.

The defendant was James Moss, a nephew of Hannah B. Moss, Spencer Ariss Moss’s wife. Hannah’s maiden name was also Moss, and it was likely that she was a relative of Spencer’s on his father’s side. The other defendant was Elizabeth H. Jones, Hannah’s niece.

The Case – 1848

The heirs of Spencer Ariss Moss (his nieces and nephews) brought a suit in Chancery Court against James Moss, administrator of the estates of Spencer Ariss Moss and Hannah B. Moss his wife.

The beginning of the bill filed in the Chancery Court of Robertson County, Tennessee.

Bill – 29 April 1848

“Would show your Honor that in the year 1843 one Spencer A. Moss died in Robertson County, intestate and left no children or their descendants, nor did he ever have any children but leaving a widow Hannah B. Moss and your complainants, Children and Representatives of a Brother and Sister of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased, viz. William Moss and Katherine Swift formerly Katherine Moss. That said deceased also left bothe Real and personal property viz. a tract of land on which said deceased resided for several years and up to his death…Two negroes, viz. Boy Hardy now about 17 years old and Girl Nance now about 16 or 17 years old; also Horses, Hoges, Sheepe, Cowes, Corn, fodder, Wheat & Farming utensils & Household & Kitchen Furniture. Your complainants would further show your Honor that one James Moss at the May Term 1843 of the County Court for Robertson County qualified as the administrator of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased and entered into bond in said court with John B. Moss and Wm W Moss his securities for the faithful performance of the said Trust all of which is of Record in our said County…”

“Your complainants would show your Honor that the aforesaid Negros the residue of the Personal Property and the aforesaid tract of Land remained in the possession of the widow the said Hannah B. and the said James Admr. up to the death of the said Widow Hannah B. which occurred in September 1847. That the widow Hannah B. conveyed as your complts. are informed after the death of hersaid husband the Boy Hardy to one Jno B. Moss of this County but who is now dead, and that said boy Hardy is now in the possession of his widow and Wm Moss Jr administrator and that in the year 1846 She also conveyed…the Girl Nance to Elizabeth H. Jones the wife of Anthony Jones and that she is now in the possession of the said Anthony Jones…the said conveyances of said negros by the said widow Hannah B., if made were and are not legal as the said Widow was only entitled to one half of the Personal property of her deceased husband the said Spencer A. and that your complainants are entitled to the other half as suit to kin to the said Spencer A. being the children of a Brother and Sister of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased.”

“Your complainants would further show your Honor that the said James Moss admr. as aforesaid has never accounted for any — of said slaves nor has he accounted as before said for any thing of the whole of said estate…but that he has been tending or cultivating said farm for several years and is now planting a crop or said farm and that he has removed the rest of the buildings from the same so as to greatly impun the value therof…your complainants would further show your Honor that they claim the whole of said Lands which the said Spencer A. died seized and possessed as next of kin as aforesaid and they therefore pray your Honor to decree a sale of the same for the distribution amongst your complainants and that the said administrator James Moss be made to account for next and damages to said farm and lands to your complainants and that be surrender up the the title papers to said lands if he has them…”

“Your complainants further pray your Honor to decree said negroes to be surrendered and given up to be sold for distribution so that your complainants may receive their portion of the same.”

Cross Bill – 5 May 1848

In the cross bill, James Moss admr. answers the complainants’ charges against him.

James Moss explained the situation to the court as he saw it. In 1832, he began working for Spencer and Hannah, taking care of their business and farm as they were aging. Spencer promised to pay him, but never did, saying he would settle with James out of his estate when he died. Spencer died intestate in 1842, leaving Hannah a widow but no children. At the time of his death, he owned 167 acres and Hardy and Nancy. James sold the perishable items, but he understood that Hannah would have use of the land and the slaves until her death. After her death, he planned to sell the land and slaves and would keep the money to cover the costs of administering their estates and as payment for his labor over the years.

However, in 1844, without his consent, Hannah conveyed Hardy in a deed of gift to John B. Moss, son of Spencer’s brother William Washington Moss. In 1845, Hannah conveyed Nancy in a deed of gift to Elizabeth Jones. James Moss contended that both gifts were fraudulent, and that all parties involved took advantage of Hannah who was old and had memory problems. James, on behalf of Hannah, took this to court to attempt to undo the deeds, but her death in 1847 interrupted the proceedings, and Elizabeth Jones and the estate of John B. Moss still owned the two slaves. James asked the court to order a sale of the slaves and the land, and that the money be used to offset his expenses as administrator and to pay him for the work he performed for Spencer and Hannah Moss.

Interestingly, James Moss agreed with the Spencer A. Moss heirs that the two conveyances were not legal, but the two sides envisioned a different alternative outcome.


On 12 February 1849, 4 of the complainants – Anthony A. Swift, William W. Moss Jr., Campbell Jones (on behalf of wife Lucy Moss), and Harrison Sisk (on behalf of wife Elizabeth Moss) agreed to relinquish their rights to the estate of Spencer A. Moss if James Moss paid for all costs of the 2 ongoing court cases and if both parties dismissed the court cases.


Depositions were taken from Elizabeth Jones, Jane Lucas, Robert Coggin, John Davidson, Titus England, James Erwin, Elijah Warren, Stephen Jones, John H. England, and James Sprouse in the first half of 1850. By this time, the case had been dragging on for 2 years. The witnesses were asked about Spencer’s death, whether or not he left heirs, what property he died in possession of, and other details.

Elijah Warren testified that he heard Spencer say that Hardy and Nancy were going to go to John B. Moss and Elizabeth Jones. It was noted that the defendant’s attorney objected to this point.

Robert C. Coggin informed the court that he knew Hannah was the daughter of Robert Moss, who bequeathed her Hardy and Nancy upon his death. They were left to her alone, and not to Spencer, so she had full control over their lives. He also stated that Hannah told him about giving Hardy to John B. Moss and of her intention to give Nancy to Elizabeth Jones, and that she had the right to do that.

Elizabeth Jones also gave testimony supporting the actions of Hannah B. Moss. Elizabeth was the daughter of Hannah’s sister, and she had been “in part reared” by Spencer and Hannah. She informed the court that Hardy and Nancy were the grandchildren of Peg, a female slave given to Hannah on the death of Robert Moss, and that her descendants would therefore belong to Hannah. Spencer was only given a life interest in Peg and her descendants, but they in fact belonged solely to Hannah.

James Sprouse provided some interesting information, this time concerning the making of Spencer’s will. He stated that “the said Hannah B. seemed to be very anxious that he (Spencer) should make a will, but that said Spencer A. remarked that it was not necessary to make a will, that the negroes belonged to the said Hannah B. any how, he further states that the understanding in the neighborhood was & has been for a great while that the negroes came by the said Hannah B. & that they were hers, he supposes the boy Hardy was…worth about $600….”

On 7 October 1850 and 17 April 1851, the defendants objected to much of the information provided by the witnesses.

Decision – 23 September 1851

It was decreed by the court that the 166 acres should be sold, and as 4 of the complainants – Anthony A. Swift, William W. Moss Jr., Campbell Jones (on behalf of wife Lucy Moss), and Harrison Sisk (on behalf of wife Elizabeth Moss) – sold their interests in the land to James Moss, he was entitled to 4 shares of the profit. The other complainants were entitled to 1 share each.

Daniel H. Murray & wife Harriet, 1 share

Geo A. Swift, 1 share

Richard Swift, 1 share

Thos. S. Dulin & wife Margaret, 1 share

John Bruce & wife Katharine, 1 share

Seabourn Warren & wife Francis, 1 share

Reuben White & wife Hannah, 1 share

Thos. Bush & wife Sarah, 1 share

The children of Daniel Hackney: Wm. A., John W., and Margaret, jointly 1 share (for some reason, this family was not included in the original bill or cross bill. Daniel Hackney married Nancy Moss in Davidson County. She was a daughter of William W. Moss Jr. who died prior to the case. This is more evident in Wm. W. Moss’s 1842 will)


There are some fascinating aspects of this case. Not least is the depth of genealogical information embedded in the various court documents.  Three generations of the Moss family can be seen, and four generations of Hannah B. Moss’s family are identified. It also shows how the nieces and nephews of Spencer Ariss Moss really believed that the profits from his estate should go to his relatives, and not to Hannah’s relatives. Both sides also believed the other was taking advantage of certain parties. I also realized that the case files I have do not address what happened to Hardy and Nancy, the two enslaved people at the center of the case. I believe this was resolved later and under James Moss’s name. When I originally found the case, I was primarily interested in Spencer A. Moss, his sister Catherine Swift (my ancestor) and her children, so I did not make a copy of the other case. This, of course, was a mistake! It is so important to collect documents concerning siblings and not just direct ancestors, and I knew better than that. But that will leave me something else research the next time I am in Robertson County!

Ten – Colonel Nicholas Spencer (1633-1689)

“Ten” was a bit of a challenge for this week! I thought about writing about an ancestor who had ten children, or who was born in 1810 or 1910, but those turned out to be harder to find than I thought. So, instead, this post will focus on a different ten: my tenth great grandfather, Nicholas Spencer (1633-1689). Nicholas is one of my favorite ancestors, and consequently, one of my most interesting ancestors. He is what genealogists call a gateway ancestor, which means he is my link to nobility and royalty, and much of his genealogy (though not all!) has already been done because of his family’s status. However, I have made sure to conduct my own research to verify the connections because mistakes can be made and with digitization, new sources have arisen. Nicholas is descended from English kings and Magna Carta Barons, but when I was initially researching this part of my family, I was surprised to see that he is not listed on some of genealogy societies’ gateway ancestors lists. I double and triple checked my research, but it wasn’t until I began to really research the lives of his siblings and all of his children, not just my direct line, that I began to understand why. I will come back to this point at the end of the post, but the reason is actually quite heartbreaking from a family standpoint.







Nicholas Spencer was born into a distinguished Bedfordshire family, whose seat was located Rowlands Manor in Cople. Nicholas’s father’s side of the family had some ties to nobility, but they were a bit farther back in the past. Nicholas’s great grandmother was Rose Cokayne, and her 3x great grandmother was Ida de Grey, an English noblewoman and daughter of Sir Reginald Grey, 2nd Baron Grey. Ida’s husband, Sir John Cokayne, bought 1,500 acres of land in Bedfordshire, and their family still inhabited those lands in the 17th century when Rose was alive. Nicholas’s great grandfather, Robert Spencer, was a descendant of Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers. Anthony was the brother of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen, and it is through his illegitimate daughter, Margaret, that the Spencers descend.

Nicholas was also descended from prosperous merchants and tradesmen from humbler circumstances with no ties to nobility. Nicholas’s grandmother, Mary Elmes, was born at Lilford, Northamptonshire on her father’s large estate. The Elmes family made their fortune through the wool trade in England and Calais. Mary’s 5x great grandfather was William Browne, who at one time was the wealthiest merchant in England.

Nicholas’s mother, Lady Mary Armiger, came from an aristocratic family. Her father, Sir Edward Gostwick, was a baronet and a descendant of Owen Tudor, the Woodville family, the Dukes of Buckingham, and Edward III. Lady Mary’s mother, Dame Anne (Wentworth) Gostwick, was also a descendant of Edward III through her grandmother Lady Anne Seymour, the daughter of the Duke of Somerset.

Early Life

Nicholas was the second oldest child of Nicholas and Mary (Gostwick) Spencer. He was baptized on 19 September 1633 at the All Saints Church in Cople, where his ancestors had been baptized and buried for centuries. Three additional siblings – Robert, Mary, and Edward – followed before their father, Nicholas, died in 1643. In his will, Nicholas Sr. left all his land and houses to his oldest son and heir, William. To his three younger sons, he left 500 pounds each. He also instructed Nicholas Jr. to attend university, but I have not found that he attended either Cambridge or Oxford. After Nicholas Sr.’s death, his widow, Mary, was left with five children under the age of 11, so soon after, she married Sir Clement Armiger, with whom she had at least two children.

Immigrating to Colonial Virginia

John Colepeper, Baron Colepeper

By the 1650s, Nicholas was living in London, where it appears he was working as a merchant. At some point, he became acquainted with John Colepeper, 1st Baron Colepeper and was engaged to served as Colepeper’s land agent in Virginia.

The first mention of Nicholas Spencer in records in the colonies is on 2 May 1659 in Cecil County, Maryland when he and his future brother-in-law Richard Wright purchase 1000 acres. Richard was married to Ann Mottrom, the older sister of Nicholas’s future wife, Frances. In September of the same year, Nicholas was given power of attorney in Westmoreland County, Virginia. In this document, he was named as Nicholas Spencer, merchant, of London. Although he had been in the colonies as early as May, this probably signified that he had lately left London.


In Virginia records when referencing his work for the Colepepers, he was identified as an “attorney” or agent legally able to act for another. This means he likely had some sort of higher education, but he was not a barrister. Nicholas was in charge of anything and everything to do with Colepeper’s over 5 million acres in the Northern Neck. Here is an example of Nicholas working on the behalf of John Colepeper’s son, Thomas, in November 1684:

“Statement of Nicholas Spencer, atty of Hon Thos Lord Colepeper, in regard to indebtedness of one John King, to him, “in the sum of 128 pounds best winter beaver, killed in Season.”

Other than serving as the Colepeper’s agent, Nicholas also became involved in colonial politics. He served in the following capacities:

Customs collector, both alone and with John Washington

Member of the House of Burgesses, 1666-1676

Member of the Committee of the Association of the Northern Neck, 1667

Member of the Governor’s Council, 1671

Commissioner for employing friendly Native Americans to help fight against hostile Native Americans, 1675-6

Secretary of State, 1678- 23 September 1689, his death

President of the Council of the Virginia Colony

Acting Governor, 1683-84

Land Purchases, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the Tobacco Cutting Riots

George Washington’s map of Mount Vernon. The Spencer property was next to Dogue Creek, the property identified as Union Farm on the map.

Nicholas Spencer was good friends with Lt. Col. John Washington, a fellow planter, emigrant from England, and members of the House of Burgesses. Nicholas and John were about the same age, from similar backgrounds, and were both seeking to make their fortunes in the colonies. In 1674, they jointly patented 5,000 acres in the Northern Neck by transporting 100 people to Virginia. The sale was successful due to Nicholas, as the tract lay within the Colepeper property. The land was situated between Dogue Run and Little Hunting Creek. They owned the land jointly until 1690, when it was split equally by “Madame” Frances Spencer, his widow, and John Washington’s son, Lawrence. Nicholas’s grandson William, inherited the Spencer-Washington land, and in 1739, the Washingtons bought him out. The original Spencer-Washington property became Mount Vernon, owned by President George Washington.

Soon after Nicholas purchased the tract in the Northern Neck, Bacon’s Rebellion broke out in 1676. The rebellion was led by Nathaniel Bacon, who was angry about Governor William Berkeley’s inability to help protect settlers from attacks by Native Americans. Over 1000 people from all classes and races joined the rebellion, burning crops and Jamestown itself. Although the rebellion was suppressed rather quickly, it impacted the course of colonial politics. The ruling class, of which Nicholas Spencer was a part, became nervous seeing white indentured servants and African slaves banding together for a united cause. A result of this was the creation of the Virginia Slave Code, which greatly restricted activities between slaves and free people in Virginia. The House of Burgesses also passed laws that limited the power of the governor and restored voting rights to landless white me.

Nicholas was serving as a Burgess at the time and was a member of the Governor’s council. He supported the Governor rather than Bacon, and after the rebellion ended, he reported his grievances to Samuel Wiseman, King Charles II’s scribe assigned to the case.

“Col. Nicholas Spencer, an honest active worthy Gentleman, who did the Country very good service against the Rebells; in that hee affected part of the Country where he resided, and as wee are credibly informed, by his Correspondence here is much Impaired in his Estate by the late Rebells.”

Thomas Colepeper, 2nd Baron Colepeper

Bacon’s Rebellion created an unease throughout the colony, and six years later, when Nicholas was serving as Secretary of State, new riots began. Weak willed Governor Thomas Colepeper fled the colony in fear and left Nicholas to handle the rebellion. The market was too saturated with tobacco, and prices were very low. To combat this, farmers raided plantations, tearing the crops from the ground. These actions, though illegal, did alleviate the situation somewhat. Nicholas sent a report of the rebellion to England, and in his letter, he wrote about the actions of women that particularly distressed his sensibilities:

“The women had so cast off their modesty as to take up the hoe that the rabble were forced to lay down.”

The mob of rioting men was apparently dispersed, and seeing this, their wives began to riot as well. Based on my research and my understanding of Nicholas, I see why he was so incensed. He had a very particular world view, and seeing women cross the gender, racial, and class boundaries in such a public manner was undoubtedly shocking.

Governor Colepeper did not return to Virginia, so in the interim, Nicholas became acting Governor. When Governor Howard arrived, Nicholas was relieved of that post, but continued as Secretary of State.

Marriage, Children, and Death

By 16 August 1663, Nicholas had married Frances Mottrom, as he is mentioned in Richard Wright’s will as his “brother.” Frances was the daughter of Colonel John Mottrom, who is often recognized as the first white settler in the Northern Neck of Virginia. He was the first to serve in the House of Burgesses from Northumberland County, Virginia. He also captained a boat that he sailed between Maryland and Virginia trading goods.

Nicholas and Frances had five documented children: William, Mottrom, Nicholas, John, and Francis. The boys were born between the years of about 1665 to 1685. It is very possible that they had more children who lived and died before Nicholas made his will in 1688. However, based on my knowledge of the inheritance of Nicholas’s family’s English estates, no other sons or daughters other than the ones listed in the will reached adulthood or had descendants of their own. The Spencers were very careful will writers, and all children, including daughters, were always provided for. There is absolutely no evidence that Nicholas and Frances had daughters unless they died as children.

I am very, very fortunate that Nicholas’s will survives. The will submitted to Westmoreland County was destroyed, along with other early wills, but a copy was also probated in England because Nicholas was by this time the only living heir of his father, Nicholas Spencer, who died in 1643. Therefore, Nicholas had to dispose of property on both sides of the Atlantic. In his will, he styled himself as “Nicholas Spencer of Nominy in Westmoreland County Virginia.” He left all of his English estates to his oldest son William, who was already living on the property in England. He gave land to his wife Frances, second son Mottrom, third son Nicholas, fourth son John, and fifth son Francis. He also gave Frances all of her jewels and clothing. He named William as his executor in England, and wife Frances and sons Nicholas and John as executors in Virginia. He died on 23 September 1689.

Nicholas Spencer’s will

English Estates and Inheritance – Nicholas’s Sons

Much of what I know about the sons’ lives revolves around their inheritance of the Spencer estates in England. William, the oldest son, was likely named for Nicholas’s older brother, William (I will call him William Sr.), the heir of all the Spencer estates in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, England. William Sr. married twice, first to Lady Katherine Wentworth and second to Elizabeth Luke. Neither marriages produced children, so William Sr. named his nephew William as his heir. As such, the younger William was sent back to England as a child where he attended English grammar school and later Christ’s College, Cambridge. When William Sr. died in 1686, his brother Nicholas (1633-1689) inherited the Spencer estates, and after his death in 1689, his son William inherited them. William unfortunately bankrupted the estates to finance his campaigns for Parliament. He did serve in Parlimanet, but when he died, he left a mess for the next heir. He was buried in Cople on 20 October 1705, and because he never married or had children, the Spencer land passed to Nicholas the younger.

Mottrom Spencer, Nicholas’s second son, did not have the chance to inherit the Spencer property as he was the first of the 5 sons to die. Mottrom, named for his mother’s maiden name, sailed for England as an adult and settled in his ancestral town of Cople. He likely married his wife, Jane, while living in England. He wrote his will in 1691, and in it named his wife, brother William Spencer, aunt Anne Armiger (probably a sister of Sir Clement his step grandfather), and his “sister” (probably sister in law) Lettice Barnard. No mention was made of his grandmother, Lady Mary Armiger or her husband, both of whom were still living. Mottrom died in England and was buried in Cople on 27 January 1696. Though married, he died childless like his brother William and uncle William.

Because Mottrom died without heirs, when William died in 1705, the property passed to the third brother, Nicholas Jr. Nicholas also left Virginia for England, likely between 15 May 1698, when Nicholas gave his power of attorney to William Allerton of Westmoreland County, and 1703, when Nicholas’s Virginia agent made a deed on his behalf. Nicholas attempted help his brother William sort out the mess he had made of the Spencer estates, and when William died, Nicholas was there to take over. Nicholas sold 6,000 acres to Robert Carter (through his agent) in August of 1707 in an attempt to rid the English estates of debt. Sadly, he died in December of 1707, without a wife and childless. I am not quite sure exactly what happened next, and it just shows that I need to do more research. The English estates were sold to the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough sometime in the early 1700s, either by Nicholas Spencer or by his younger brother John. Here is an account of the situation as related by John Spencer’s grandson (the brother of my ancestor), John Ariss, on 12 May 1780:

“an affair that was transacted between your Grandfather the Hon. Robert Carter, and Nicholas Spencer, esq., one of my great uncles, upwards of seventy years ago. Nicholas Spencer Esq. sold to your Grand Father a large tract of land whereon you now live, in order to Raise Money to Prosecute a Suit in England for an Estate his brother the Hon. William Spencer had Mortgaged when he was elected Member of Parliament for the County of Bedford, and which he fell heir to. Nicholas Spencer went home to England — my uncle Nicholas dying in a short time after he went home. My grandfather John Spencer fell Heir to his Estate.”

So, either Nicholas sold the land to the Duchess and his brother John inherited his personal property, or John inherited the English estates and sold them through an English agent to the Duchess. As of now, I am not sure which took place. I think it more likely that Nicholas sold the English estates before he died in 1707.

The fourth brother, John (my ancestor) was married twice, first to Anne —, and second to Mary —. John and Anne did not have a very easy relationship; John even deserted her for a unspecified period of time in 1693. Anne died in 1696, leaving her estate to her children from her previous marriages. John remarried quickly, and had two children with his second wife – Nicholas and Frances. John died in 1708, and his son Nicholas probably died in the next few years. John’s younger brother Francis Spencer, was awarded guardianship of his daughter, Frances.

The fifth and youngest son, Francis Spencer, was no older than 5 years old when his father, Nicholas, died. In 1715, when he was about 30 years old and still unmarried, he made a will, in which he left almost everything to his niece and only other living Spencer relative, France Spencer, John’s daughter. However, he soon after he wrote his will, he married and had at least one son, William. When Francis died in 1720, his widow received her dower portion and everything else was inherited by his young son, depriving Frances of a substantial inheritance. Frances Spencer married John Ariss around that time, and had four children of her own. Her cousin William Spencer, like so many of his relatives, married but died childless.

In this post, I have examined 4 generations of Spencers: Nicholas Spencer (1611-1645) and his wife Lady Mary, their son Nicholas the immigrant (1633-1689) and his wife Frances, their 5 sons William, Mottrom, Nicholas, John, and Francis, and finally John’s daughter Frances Spencer Ariss.

I now see why Colonel Nicholas Spencer is not listed as a gateway ancestor on genealogical society lists. It is because there are very few documented descendants left! In fact, that branch of the family starting with Nicholas Spencer (1611-1643) almost completely died out. Of all of his descendants, only his great granddaughter Frances Spencer Ariss had children whose descendants extend to the present day. Frances Spencer Ariss had four children – John (a famous colonial architect and author of the 1780 letter), Elizabeth (my ancestor who married a builder who apprenticed with one of George Washington’s uncles), Frances, and Spencer. John Ariss the architect died childless, but Frances married and had children, as did Spencer and Elizabeth.

Despite the lack of Spencer relatives, Frances’s descendants were extremely proud of their heritage. Several more generations used Spencer as a given or middle name, the last being Spencer Ariss Moss (1773-1842), a brother of my ancestor and Frances Spencer Ariss’s great-grandson, who, incidentally, died childless.







On the Farm – George Christian

Today’s post is going to be fairly quick and simple, partly because I am trying to catch up and partly because life has been a bit crazy this week. So, this is a transcription of the 1850 Agricultural Census taken of the farm of George Christian of Overton County, Tennessee.

George Christian (1802-1892)

George Christian (1802-1892) was the oldest son of George and Elizabeth (McCormick) Christian. I wrote about George, Sr. in an earlier post. George Jr. was born in Knox County, Tennessee, and early in his life, migrated to Overton County. George married Celina Fisk, the daughter of Moses Fisk, a graduate of Dartmouth and a true Renaissance man. Moses gifted Celina land before her marriage, which was added to George’s upon their marriage. Here is a snapshot of life on George and Celina’s farm in 1850:

1850 Agricultural Census

Acreage and Values: 80 Improved Acres and 1400 Unimproved Acres. Cash Value of Farm: $1500 and Value of Farm Implements: $60.

Farm Animals: 4 Horses, 1 Ass, 5 Milch Cows, 4 Working Oxen, 8 Other Cattle, 7 Sheep, and 100 Swine. Value of Livestock: $400. Value of Animals Slaughtered: $40.

Produce: 50 Bushels of Wheat, 1000, Bushels of Indian Corn, 100 Bushels of Oats, 15 Pounds of Wool, 20 Bushels of Irish Potatoes, and 10 Bushels of Sweet Potatoes. 300 Pounds of Butter and 30 pounds of Beeswax and Honey. Value of Orchard Produce: $30 and Housemade Manufacturing Value: $40

People Living and Working on the Farm: George Christian (48 years), wife Celina (37), children Moses Elian (18 years), Moffit Alonzo (15 years), Perilla (11 years), Viola (8 years), Zeda Ann (6 years), Arkley Fisk (4 years), and George (1 year). George and Celina also owned two slaves, both boys, one 14 years old and the other 5 years old. This particular piece of information is hard to reconcile with what I know of the family. Celina’s father, who was from Massachusetts, was a staunch abolitionist, and he wrote very eloquently and passionately on the subject. But perhaps George did not agree with his father-in-law’s views.

George and Celina lived out their days on their farm. Celina died at the age of 70 in 1884, and George followed in 1892 when he was 90. Both were buried in a cemetery on their farmland. Their lives were literally tied to their land: their livelihood, their family, and their deaths


Unusual Source – Job Application

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, many people lost their jobs and were struggling to maintain their former lifestyles. My 2nd great grandparents, Thomas and Jessie Robinson, were no exception. My unusual source is a job application that Thomas filled out in 1931 after he had either lost or left his job with the Nashville Bridge Company.

Thomas, in the words of his son, was a self-made man. He was born to Samuel D. and Sallie (Cassetty) Robinson on 18 Feb 1873 in Nashville, Tennessee. Samuel had moved to Nashville just before the beginning of the Civil War. He served throughout the duration of the war and returned home after the surrender. He married Sallie in 1869 at the home of her father, Thomas D. Cassetty, on Spruce Street. Samuel was a very interesting man. He worked for several Nashville newspapers as a typographer for about 30 years and was active in the Tennessee Historical Society, Typographical Union, Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and the Sons of Temperance. He and Sallie only had 1 child, Thomas Henry, most likely named for Sallie’s father and Samuel’s brother who died in the Civil War. Sadly, Thomas lost his mother when he was 13 years old and his father died of pneumonia when he was 18 years old. I think this is what Thomas’s son meant by a self-made man. Thomas lost both parents by the age of 18, his paternal grandparents had been dead for many years, and his maternal grandfather died a few years earlier. He had few relatives still living apart from some of his maternal grandmother and Cassetty aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without his parents, Thomas was alone and had to rely on his relatives for help.

Samuel never purchased property in Nashville. Instead, he lived with his in-laws and rented property throughout the city. So, when he died, Thomas moved in with his grandmother, Matilda Cassetty. His uncle, W. M. Cassetty, offered him a job at the Cassetty Oil Company as a clerk, which he took. After the death of his grandmother, he moved once again, this time to his Aunt Ollie and Uncle John Roberts. He worked for the Cassetty Oil Company until 1897, when he married Jessie, and soon after their honeymoon, they moved to St. Louis. Thomas and Jessie only lived there for a short while, and they were back in Nashville by 1900. Thomas was once again working for his uncle, this time as a traveling salesman.

Nashville Bridge Company, 1909

In 1908, he took a new job as a civil engineer who served as a traveling agent and contractor with the Nashville Bridge Company. He helped build bridges all over the southeast and was the most successful contractor in Nashville. Because of this, he was able to provide his family with everything they needed – beautiful houses in exclusive neighborhoods, cars, jewelry, private schools, and vacations. But by the end of the 20s, Thomas’s life started to take a turn downward. He was not the most upstanding man in some ways, and losing his job after the Depression hit was the first in a series of bad events that eventually culminated in his death in 1937.

He was then in need of a new job, so he applied, or at least filled out an application, for a engineering position with Du Pont. Whether or not he ever sent in the application is unknown, and as far as I know, he never worked for Du Pont. But the application itself is fascinating. Here are a few of the most interesting observations I made about the application:

  1. Like most applications, it asked for personal details like full name, birthday, address, etc. This seems pretty basic, but I saw that Thomas lied about one very important detail: his birthday! He gave it as February 18, 1875 instead of 1873. Thomas was a very meticulous person, I am sure this was not an accident. I wondered if he lied about his age so that he appeared younger than he was to be more attractive to employers.
  2. The application asked for the names of his parents and their birthplaces. I thought this was unusual, but it was helpful genealogically speaking. It helped me connect Samuel Robinson of Nashville to the Samuel Robinson of Winchester, Tennessee and the Cassetty family of Nashville to the Cassetty family of Gainesboro, Tennessee.
  3. The application asked for his previous employment history, which helped me determine when he began working for the Cassetty Oil Company, when he moved to St. Louis, how long he worked for the Nashville Bridge Company, and why he left all of those positions.
  4. The final, and to me, most interesting section, was his educational background. I knew that he was a civil engineer, so he had to have attended college at some point, but my family had no idea where. While in his 20s, he moved to Chicago and attended the Armour College of Engineering. Unfortunately, he did not graduate from the institution because of “insufficient funds.” He finished his degree in Nashville, and to my surprise, he also received his law degree. At one point, he was the only man in Tennessee to hold both degrees simultaneously.

This application gave me so much insight into the mind of my 2nd great grandfather. Sometimes, it pays to keep items that seem insignificant, because very often the opposite is true!