Sunday, July 1, 2012

Road Trip 2012

This month we headed out on a road trip of discovery, chasing some of our family roots along the east coast of the United States.  We had an idea of what we were looking for, but along the way we unearthed some new and interesting information.  We started in Crosswicks, NJ, and made stops in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, mainly along the coastline where our ancestors first set foot in the New World after their voyage from Europe.

Northern leg of our journey,
in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Click on these and all other photos
for a better view.

Southern leg, in North and South Carolina


Our trip began on Father's Day, and, out of deference to my dad, who really has no dog in this hunt, we spent the day in Annapolis, Maryland, a beautifully restored colonial city on the Chesapeake bay.  Just across the bay, in the town of Crisfield, the Caldwells landed from Donegal, Ireland, in 1731.

Annapolis, the seat of Ann Arundel County, was also most probably the port of entry for the Gartrell family, who immigrated here from England in the 1660s.  This family came down Pop's line, ultimately lending its name to Pop's brother, Gartrell.

Our first genealogical stop was in La Plata, Maryland, located in Charles County, along the Potomac River about a half hour downstream from Washington, DC.  It's still a remarkably rural area, considering its proximity to DC, and you can still see how it must have looked to our relatives when they first arrived.

There were three main venues where we did our research:  The Southern Maryland Studies Center at the College of Southern Maryland, the Charles County Courthouse in La Plata (pronounced la-PLAY-ta) and Port Tobacco Village, the original entry point for some of our families.  The family names involved were the Boswells, McAtees, Smallwoods and Poseys, none of which made it very far down our line, but all of them, except the Poseys, are in the line of Mama New, Pop's mother.  The Poseys are in the same line as Robert Warren Dixon, Mother Cile's grandfather.

Port Tobacco was, in fact, a port where they exported tobacco to Europe, but the name actually stems from an Indian name, Potobac, similar to the name Potomac.  At the time our family members arrived, it was a thriving port, the second busiest in Maryland.  Even as late as the 1930s it was a viable town, but now it has all but disappeared.  The railroad came through neighboring La Plata, which became the larger town and eventual county seat.

The reconstructed courthouse at Port Tobacco.

The harbor near Port Tobacco. 
Much of the river has now silted in. 

At La Plata, we visited the county courthouse, which had will records back to the time of our ancestors.  However, they were only on microfilm and couldn't be copied, and the originals were at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.  We were able to find five wills and took notes that were able to help us expand the information on the family tree and confirm some information we already had.

At the College of Southern Maryland, we were able to find some information about our relatives in several private genealogical collections on file in their Study Center.  Here as with all the places we visited, the lion's share of the information was about the family that stayed in the area.  In all of our cases, a son or daughter would move away, usually to the west or south, which is how our family ended up in the South.  Therefore, we only found but fleeting references to the early family, since record keeping was so sketchy at that time.

Most of the information we gathered is still in files and will be processed as part of next month's benchmarks.  However, we have made one interesting discovery already about our Smallwood relatives:  through our ancestor Col. James Smallwood (who immigrated from Chester, England, in the 1660s) we are related to Gen. William Smallwood, the Revolutionary War hero.  He would be a first cousin of our ancestor James Smallwood, the Colonel's grandson.  (Note:  in genealogy jargon, the term "ancestor" refers to direct ancestors, i.e., x-great grandfathers or grandmothers, and not aunts, uncles or cousins.)


Our next stop was just over the Harry W. Nice Bridge on the other side of the Potomac in the Northern Neck of Virginia.  This is Virginia's northern peninsula on the west side of the Chesapeake, and it still is very rural.  This is the area where George Washington and Robert E. Lee were born, and we visited their respective birthplaces on our way down to the end of the peninsula.  Our main goal was Lancaster County, at the tip of the peninsula, which is the supposed resting place of Peter Montague, the first Montague in the New World and of whom we Gillhams are direct descendants (through WTG's grandmother, Helen Montague Tucker).

Monument marking the birthplace
of George Washington in Virginia

Peter Montague arrived at the Jamestown settlement in 1621 aboard the Charles from England.  He came from the small village of Boveney in what is now Buckinghamshire, about a mile from Windsor Castle on the Thames.  He came over as a servant, but he was soon able to purchase land and became a wealthy landowner in his time.  He owned land in Nansemond County (now Suffolk), where his son (and our ancestor) Peter Jr. was born.  Peter Sr. bought land in Lancaster County, as well, and apparently died there in 1659, but the exact whereabouts are disputed, since Lancaster County was much larger at that time and covered an area beyond just the Northern Neck.

Nonetheless, in 1903, on the 300th anniversary of Peter Sr.'s birth, the governor of Virginia, Andrew Jackson Montague, erected a monument to Peter at his supposed burial place near the town of Lancaster, VA.  It is now located about 1/4 mile off the main road in a heavily wooded area, and we valiantly traipsed through the thicket in the blazing sun (it was in the 90s that day) to reach the monument.

Frances Montague at the
Peter Montague monument

Earlier in the day we had arrived in Lancaster (or more precisely, Lancaster Courthouse), the county seat, which is a small town comprised mainly of the old and new courthouses and some county office buildings.  Wedged between two of these buildings was an unassuming modern brick building which housed the local geneaology library, where we met a wonderful librarian who dragged out all the Montague information she could find.  The library closed at 4pm (not 5pm, like most county offices), so we had to work at a fevered clip, but we were able to amass some important information and create a working bibliography.

She was also able to give us some insight into a debate that has been raging among Lancaster County genealogists for many years, and which has an impact on our own family tree.  At George Washington's birthplace we saw a large wall-mounted family tree, which indicated that his mother, Mary Ball, was born in Lancaster County.  Her mother, in turn, was also from the area, and on the chart under her name were the words "Maiden name might have been Montague."  This would undoubtedly tie her to our Montagues, given that both families were from Lancaster County and that Peter Sr. is the assumed primogenitor of the Montagues in America.

Chart showing Mary Ball (Washington's mother) and
her mother, Mary Johnson (Montague)

Apparently we weren't the first Montagues to make this connection, and the question of the Montagues and Washington has dogged researchers for years.  One would think, with all the hundreds and maybe thousands of books and miles of research papers written about George Washington, arguably the most famous American ever, that someone would have been able to nail down the heritage of his grandmother.  Nevertheless, there are two distinct camps, with the Montagues claiming a connection and Washington scholars saying otherwise.  I have not delved into the debate deep enough to determine what the sticking points are, but, as a Montague, I'm perfectly happy to claim George Washington as a relative. 

Our next destination was the Jamestown settlement, where Peter Montague arrived in 1621.  We traveled over the middle neck down to the lower neck, which is flanked on the north by the York River and on the south by the James River.  On this neck are Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, and the area becomes a veritable history Disneyland in the summer when American families make their pilgrimages.  We were primarily interested in Jamestown, but to get there we passed through Yorktown and Williamsburg on the Colonial Parkway.  This is a beautiful, wide greenway built in 1930 through lush forests, connecting all three points of interest, and it is reminiscent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, built about the same period.

Mom at the Captain John Smith monunment
in the Jamestown settlement

The Jamestown settlement that was open to the public offered little in terms of serious research facilities or libraries for scholars, but it was a working archaeological site and they did offer a single-sheet bibliography regarding the history of the settlement.  We found most of our information in the bookstore, believe it or not, finding several books mentioning Peter Montague.  From what we could read, and from what the park rangers told us, we determined that Peter Montague was definitely an Original Settler and one of the Original 400 that arrived between 1607 and 1624, the time span considered the first colonial period (the time before the private Virginia Company was dissolved by the King and made into a Crown Colony).  It's not clear whether he actually lived in Jamestown, since the Virginia Company required all arriving ships to dock and register at Jamestown, no matter their ultimate destination in the area.

North Carolina

Our next destination was further inland in Wadesboro, NC, a six-hour drive from Jamestown.  After spending the night in Southern Pines, we went in the morning to the Anson County Library in Wadesboro to research the Kiser line.

I had learned from information available on and other Internet sources that Peter Kiser, the primogenitor of the Kisers in America, arrived in Philadelphia from the Palatinate in Germany (via Rotterdam) in 1734 at the age of two.  The only other piece of information on him was his will, probated in 1785 in Mecklenburg County, NC.  According to some records, his second son (and our ancestor), George Kiser, died in Mecklenburg County -- other sources mention Anson County.  The confusion starts when one realizes that county names and boundaries changed quite often in the early days, and so a piece of land in what was then Anson County, say, might now be in Union County today.  I had no way of knowing in which modern county the Kiser records might be found.

Despite the fact that I had found several Kisers listed in cemeteries in Anson County, our Kisers were nowhere to be found here.  The good people at the county library did their best to help us, but ultimately we had to make the 30-mile drive east to Monroe, the seat of Union County.  This county had been formed in 1892 from parts of Anson and Mecklenburg Counties, so there was a chance we might find something here.

At the Union County Library we struck gold, literally and figuratively.  The librarian there had done some research for us after we had called her the day before, and we arrived to a pile of books waiting for us in the genealogy room.  The county is apparently lousy with Kisers, but we discovered that our Peter was not from Union County, but rather neighboring Cabarrus County, which was created in 1792 from Mecklenburg County -- seven years after Peter had died.  We didn't have time to drive up to Cabarrus County, but we were able to find out that Peter had a farm in the southern part of the county along the Rocky River.

We also discovered that the name Kiser was quite prominent in Cabarrus County for one particular reason:  Peter's daughter Sarah had married John Reed (Johann Riedt, also of German extraction), who founded the first gold mine in the United States in 1799.  Quite by chance, their son Conrad had come across a large lump of gold along the creekbed near their farm, and the rest is history.  John and Sarah didn't profit initially from the mine, but it is said that they were quite wealthy later on in life.  There is no information to suggest that her brother (our ancestor George) was involved in the operation or got in on any of the profits.  By the Civil War the gold supply in the mine had diminished considerably, and today the mine is a National Historic Site and a popular tourist destination.

I think we have just scratched the surface of the Peter Kiser story, and there are records available in Cabarrus County that could help us piece his life together -- or at least the last part of it.  As with almost all counties in the South, records were lost during the Civil War when county records were transferred to the Confederate capital in Richmond, VA, for safekeeping.  It was a good idea, except that in the waning days of the war, Richmond was sacked and all the records were destroyed.  From the few records I was shown in Monroe, though, I think further research is possible.

South Carolina

The last stop on our journey was just across the Pee Dee River in rural South Carolina where the body of Thomas Gillham, Sr., is buried.  He is the primogenitor (there's that word again!) of all the Gillhams in America, having been born in Ireland around 1710 and immigrating to the U.S.  Like Peter Montague and Peter Kiser, not much is known about him and not many records exist, so the little information we have is from contemporary histories and reports, military records and family lore.  His son Thomas Jr., our ancestor, was born near Staunton, VA, and was a surveyor with George Washington.  He started the family migration to Madison County, IL, in 1799, but his father remained in the east, ultimately dying in South Carolina around 1785.

I had found online that he was buried at Bullock's Creek Cemetery in South Carolina, and I immediately became skeptical that any stone would still be extant.  18th-century headstones are quite rare, and the vast majority of stones we find in "old" cemeteries today date from the 19th century.  In 1974, I had taken a trip to Illinois with WTG and saw Thomas, Jr.'s grave in the small Wanda cemetery there, so it seemed a bit odd to me that WTG had never known or spoken about a possible grave of Thomas, Sr., which was supposedly much closer to home on the east coast.

Bullock's Creek is located in rural -- and I mean rural -- South Carolina, just south of York.  Again, it appears now much the same way as it probably appeared to Thomas, Sr., with rolling farmlands, forests and little else.  It was hard to imagine where the Bullock Creek Presbyterian Church got its congregation, since there were no town or even houses anywhere nearby.

Entrance to the cemetery

The grave of Thomas Gillham, Sr.

Soon enough we discerned where the older graves were, and without spending too much time in the relentless heat, we finally found the grave of Thomas Gillham, Sr.  It was a very new grave, certainly late 20th century, which had most probably been made as a replacement grave, or simply as a marker based on old records.  We ran into the pastor, who lived adjacent to the cemetery, and he regretted that there were no cemetery records in the church.  Ultimately, we didn't find out much new information about Thomas, Sr., but we were able to confirm where he is buried and that he was a Patriot in the S.C. militia during the American Revolution, and not a Loyalist, which were in great numbers in the South.

There was actually a cluster of three Gillham graves, with Thomas, Sr.'s in the middle.  His grave was flanked on the left by Ezekiel Thomas Gillham (1840-1856) and on the right by Ezekiel Gillham (1776-1848).  The elder Ezekiel seems to be of the same generation as Thomas, Jr., and his fate jives with the description of him written on our Gillham family scrolls:  "Ezekial Gillham, remained in S.C."  The younger Ezekiel may have been his grandson, who died at the age of 15 and, according to the gravestone, "was an obedient Child."

And so our journey came to an end, as we finished our stay in the South by visiting Katherine and Zysean in Asheville for a few days.  We learned a lot of things on this trip -- not just family information, but also the mechanics of genealogical research on the road.  We are now certainly better prepared for our next trip, which should include Atlanta; West Point, GA; Memphis; and St. Louis.

In other news on the project, I received a large packet of information from Mary Air, the niece of Pop's niece, Libba Paulin.  She has done extensive research on the Holsenbeck family and was able to send me some corrections and additions to the tree I have posted on the website.  She also provided me with some photos of ancestors, which I have posted on the ancestor tree.

Otherwise, there were no major changes to the website this month, but next month I will be processing our haul of information from the road trip and posting it, along with updates given to me by Mary Air.

1 comment:

  1. What interesting information you uncovered! I really appreciate your doing this with you loyal and helpful team in the southern summer heat! Martha