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Re: William Darwin of Louisa: Jr. or Senior?
Posted by: Tim Darwin Grana Date: November 21, 2001 at 02:42:59
In Reply to: Re: William Darwin of Louisa: Jr. or Senior? by Leslie Hill of 337

Hello Leslie;
I'll try and clarify my point if I can, there is indeed some confusion I'm trying to untangle! Bill & Bonnie Darwin's "Darwin Year 2000" is a splendid piece of work with a very ingenuous theory about the origin of the Louisa County Darwins and their possible relation to the particular Darwin family in England from which the celebrated scientist Charles R. Darwin later sprang. Their theory may be right (and personally, I hope that it is!), but it is still only a conjecture, there is no proof. Moreoever, it has a number of highly-speculative assumptions, some of which are very uncertain indeed.

Basically, it can be well documented that William Darwin of Cleatham (ancestor of Charles R. Darwin) had a son named Thomas (living in 1679, and probably still living in 1695/6), who in turn had a son named William (who was living, but underaged, in 1679). So much seems clear. The theory is that this Thomas Darwin is the 'Thomas Dorwin' who traveled to America with Edward Bland in 1647, and that his son William is the 'William Darwin, Senior' married to a 'Jean' named in the Louisa County deed of 1746, and that the 'William Darwin, Junior' named in this same deed is the William Darwin born in 1707 who subsequently married Jane (?Wilkerson) and from whom the majority of American Darwins are descended.

Well, the theory could be right, but the assumptions are massive. We have nothing to demonstrate that the Thomas Darwin (living in 1679) is the 'Thomas Dorwin' travelling to Virginia in 1647 (the assumption is made solely on the name 'Thomas' and the association with a family of Blands, but Edward Bland is of no relation to the Blands who appear later in the American Darwin family tree), but there are good reasons to strongly doubt it, particularly the fact that Thomas Darwin can be shown to have been in England in 1679 (when he is the executor of the will of his father, William Darwin of Cleatham). It does not seem to me at all likely his father would have named Thomas an executor in a will dated 1679 if that son had emigrated to America in 1647! Moreoever, Thomas's son William (whom the theory proposes is the 'William Darwin, Senior' of the 1746 deed) is an underaged beneficiary of his grandfather's will in 1679, in England: if the identification proposed by the theory is correct, this William travels to America sometime after 1679. Well, again, maybe this is the case, but it is not compelling: all the theory really seems to say here is, "Here is a William Darwin, underaged in England in 1679, who could be the same as the William Darwin, Senior, named in a Virginia deed of 1746, and who had a son named William Darwin, Junior." Possible, but not compelling!

Moreoever, and this is the real point of my original posting, there is a further big assumption here which I have long doubted to be correct, and that is the reading of the 1746 deed (I've posted a copy at There are three Darwins named in this 1746 deed: "William Darwin, Senior", his wife "Jean", and "William Darwin, Junior." The transaction itself is very clear: 100 acres is purchased from Thomas Hardy for William Darwin, Junior, with William Darwin, Senior, and his wife Jean retaining the right to live their for the remainder of their lives (William Darwin, Junior, to come into full possesion only "after the decease of the aforesaid William Darwin Senr. and Jean his wife"). So far, so good.

The problem, in my mind at least, is the assumed identification of these William Darwins. From a separate source (the so-called 'Darwin/Bland Bible, which is also at the above mentioned website), we have an entry for "William Darwin born June 26th 1707", his wife "Jane Darwin born June 23thd 1715", along with their marriage date and the birthdates of some of their children (from whom most American Darwins spring)--including their son "William Darwin born August 5th 1742." Because the ultimate owner of the land deeded in 1746 is "William Darwin, Junior", many researchers have assumed (and I stress, assumed!) that this must be the William Darwin born in 1707 (who would have been 39 at the time), and that his parents are the otherwise unknown "William Darwin, Senior, and Jean, his wife." But the assumption is made, I believe, simply because we are not accustomed to 'life estate' deeds, which were not uncommon in the 18th century (I have found others in Louisa county). It is perfectly possible (and I believe, more probable) that the 'William Darwin, Senior' of the deed is the one born in 1707, 'Jean' his wife is 'Jane (?Wilkerson)' [the names Jean and Jane were pronounced the same at the time, and are interchangeable), and the 'William Darwin, Junior' is their son William born in 1742. My previous posting sets out some of the reasons why such deeds were drawn up; and although it seems odd to us today for a minor (in this case, a 4-year-old) to appear in a deed, it really is not unusual for the time and place. This identification at least has the merit of perfectly fitting the existing documents.

The alternative, assuming an otherwise unknown 'William Darwin, Senior and Jean, his wife', creates some real problems. The court records for Louisa county are complete (unlike Hanover county, from which it had been created), and other records from the 1740's name 'William Darwin' in several minor law suits. If the William born in 1707 really was 'Junior,' and his father of the same name was still around, we would expect these other legal documents to specify 'Junior' or 'Senior,' but they don't. There are no wills for this other assumed William Darwin or Jean, etc. etc. I really do think that assuming 'William Darwin, Junior' is the one born in 1707 is wrong, and creates two phantoms in 'William Darwin, Senior and Jean his wife.' It is more logical, I think, to recognise 'William Darwin, Senior' as the one born 1707, "Jean his wife" is "Jane", and 'William Darwin, Junior' was born 1742 -- and probably died later in childhood. Moreoever, reading it this way, we can say that the father of William Darwin born 1707 may have been William (or anything else, we simply don't know), whereas under the other reading of the deed his father must be named William -- and that could be a red herring.

Have I clarifed, or further confused? Do let me know your thoughts!

Best wishes

Tim Darwin Grana
St. Albans, England


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