All I Know

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Category: Historical (page 1 of 3)

Blue

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky

One of the fun things about chasing down one’s ancestors is the numerous sideroads and detours one finds.

This week I’m deep into studies about my family’s role in the Revolutionary War. This is more difficult than I thought it would be, so I’m taking the week off to follow a side path into a curious family story that actually has nothing to do with my family…as far as I can tell, anyway.

Racism has been a dark part of our national story since before we began shipping in captured Africans to work on our plantations and farms. I can only imagine how it feels to wear the badge of your so-called “status” in such an obvious way as the color of your skin. As a so-called “white,” I can never claim that I’m not racist since I’ve never had to think twice about the instant judgment people make upon seeing my skin color.

In the early 1800s, in the eastern Kentucky Appalachians, there was a family whose skin color made them the target of fear and scorn. Strangely, they weren’t black…they were blue.

Yes, you read that correctly. They were blue like robin’s eggs, like an April sky, like the waters of the deepest lake. Blue.

The family of Martin Fugate, who had emigrated from France, came to be known as the “blue people of Kentucky.”

When I first heard this story, I thought it was one of those mountain myths, a story told by someone who heard that someone else had talked to someone else who had seen them. I thought it might be a story easily explained; maybe a coal miner’s skin absorbed the coal dust in a way that appeared blue in the light of day. Maybe it was a dietary aberration, much like too many carrots can turn your skin orange for a brief time.

Nope. This family was blue. I have seen a grainy photo of a crude painting of a family unit: a blue father and four blue children with a “normal” mother and three “normal” children. There is no doubt the artist was on his honor to render the family as he saw them. Public opinion would have roasted him if he had pictured them all as white; the family would have hunted him down if he had colored them all blue.

Of course, this family was much talked about and even feared as ghosts and “haints.” Women dragged children across the street so as not to walk past them on the sidewalk. Merchants laid the change from their purchases on the counter to keep from accidentally touching them.

The condition now has a name: methemoglobinemia, and it was discovered in the 1960s to be the result of a faulty gene. If a person has two of these genes, the levels of methemoglobin cause their skin to be blue, their lips purple, their blood to be a chocolate brown. If a person inherits only a single gene, they look “normal” but can pass the disorder on to their children.

Blueman Martin Fugate was an orphan who had traveled to Kentucky from France. He met and married red-haired Elizabeth Smith, who, as it turned out, carried one gene for the disorder. She and her husband had seven children, four of whom inherited the gene from each parent and had blue skin.

Being so visibly different, the family hid in the hills of Appalachia, attempting to hide their skin with long sleeves and bonnets and gloves during trips into town.

As a result of their social and geographical isolation, there was intermarriage between cousins and aunts and uncles, producing more “blues” as children were born.

Kim Michele Richardson has written a novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. I picked up the book because I was intrigued by the history of the ladies of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. Richardson, however, chose to tell the story from the perspective of one young woman who happened to be blue, and I was quickly drawn into the story of the Blue People of Kentucky.

The entire book is based on fact, the story a fictional account of being a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and issues, but a person with the added difficulty of being “different.”

What is normal? And who decides? I’ve often wondered about that. I have a friend who says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine,” and we laugh, but it’s true that normal is a very fuzzy state of being.

It seems a shame that the color of our skin hides the person underneath, and an even bigger shame that what we see is all we ever know of others.

Down the River

Flatboat on the Ohio. Image borrowed from: www.peoplesriverhistory.us

Before interstate highways, before blacktopped state roads, before rough gravel county roads, rivers were the roadway of choice for travelers headed into the western territories. Overland trails were rough, one horse wide paths through overgrown forest. When a man wanted to transport his family, supplies and livestock to start a new life in the land of Kentucky, he built or rented a flat-bottomed boat and traveled down the Ohio River.

The Ohio River (the Indian name O-Y-O means “the great river”) is formed near Pittsburgh, PA, where two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela come together. Flowing nearly 900 miles south and west, the Ohio forms a natural border for the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois before flowing into the Mississippi.

This river carried my ancestors to Kentucky sometime around 1780-83.

William Edward Collings and his wife Anne (my 6th great grandparents) were in their 60s when they moved to Kentucky. Several, if not all their grown children came as well.

Their son Zebulon was around 38 and unmarried

Another son, Spencer was 35. He and his wife Jane Jones had five children.

Daughter Elizabeth (Betsey or Besy) was 33 and married to George Heinrich Crist. They had three children.

William Elston was about 25, married to Phobe Hoagland (my 5th great grandparents) and at that time they had two boys, Richard and Zebulon.

Other family probably traveled with them, but these are the family members for whom I have the best records. These are the family members who will be present through the rest of my story.

They traveled down the river on flat-bottomed vessels, called Kentucky boats or Natchez boats, which were approximately 16 ft. wide by 55 ft. long. There was typically a pen at the back for livestock, boxes and barrels of supplies stacked in the center, and a small cabin in front where the passengers could sleep and stay relatively dry on rainy days.

As a woman, I can only try to imagine packing for such a trip. The men had just returned from war where they carried everything they needed on their backs. As a woman overseeing the move of an entire family, I’d have to make sure we had cooking utensils, bedding, food and medical supplies, candle molds, sewing materials, and clothing.

The items I would assume necessary for a family would have to share space with the men’s hunting equipment, tools to build cabins and plant crops, as well as seeds and cuttings, and livestock.

Travel on the river involved a special set of difficulties. Those traveling in this manner had to carefully choose (or build) their boat to ensure that it would survive the trip. A boat made of old lumber or not sealed well could spell tragedy halfway to Kentucky.

There were hidden sandbars that could ground a boat high and dry and the boats themselves were difficult to steer. For this reason, the boatman had to keep constant watch. They usually pulled into shore for the night to avoid hidden dangers that were even more invisible in the darkness.

The river itself was broad enough that Indians on shore were not usually a danger…until nightfall. Tied up on shore, the boat and occupants were vulnerable to attack. Well-built boats were like floating forts. The cabins had thick walls, no windows, only shooting holes, and one door which could be padlocked.

The trip from Pittsburgh to Louisville could take from 20 to 30 days, long days floating with the current, long nights waiting anxiously for daylight so they could push away from the shore and into the river again.

For mothers, the trip was a time of anxiety, worrying about children falling overboard, wondering if they had packed enough, wondering what they would find ahead…wondering if they would even make it to their new homes.

The Ohio River is extremely navigable. For nearly 700 miles between Pittsburgh and Louisville there were no impediments, but for travelers who planned to travel on to New Orleans, the so-called Falls of the Ohio near the tiny settlement of Louisville offered the first navigational challenge.

You could say the city of Louisville owes its existence to the Falls of the Ohio, because it became the custom for boats traveling to the Mississippi to stop at that tiny settlement. There the passengers disembarked and traveled by land to meet their boat a few miles downriver. Meanwhile the boatman navigated through the rough water of the “falls,” usually successfully but not always easily.

I’m not sure who called this part of the river a “falls.” It’s more rapids than falls, lacking the precipitous drop one would expect. It is a rather long stretch of rough water with sharp limestone ledges. The river surface drops some 24 feet but it does so over a distance of about 2 miles, so a skilled pilot could work his way through to smoother water.

At this spot in the river, in this tiny settlement of less than 100 small cabins, some travelers chose to end their river journey and travel by land to new homes in Kentucky.

This is how my family came to Kentucky. At Louisville, they unloaded the boat and somehow transported all their belongings to an area some 20 miles south. Here, at a settlement that came to be known as Breshear’s Station, they began their new lives.

For the men who had already seen and walked this new territory, responsible only for themselves and the man next to them, there was the new pressure of having their families with them. They knew the dangers and the work that awaited, they knew they had to build shelters and plant crops and find game to feed, but there was industry here along the salt creeks.

This was not a trip taken lightly. Their lives and the lives of their families…and even the lives of future generations…my life…was changed dramatically by the decision to make this journey and the choices they would make in the future.

This was my family. This is how we came down the river to Kaintuck.

Goin’ to Kaintuck

The Crist Journal has led to both questions and answers.

Even though I find areas of questionable information in the Crist Journal, for the most part, I believe the significant facts. For instance, in May of 1783, the journal reports: “Me, Henry, Nicholas and William and our families and Besy’s parents and their families along with many more it’s about three hundred in all are going to leave in two days to go to Kaintuck. More settlers in the Colony are going to come later.”

The William in that statement would be my fifth great grandfather, William Elston Collings. The Besy mentioned was Elizabeth, married to George Crist and sister to William Elston Collings. Their parents, as mentioned, are William Edward and Anne Elston Collings.

William Elston and Elizabeth were two of the five (plus or minus) children of William and Anne. Their children that I can most accurately document are Zebulon, Spencer, Elizabeth, William Elston, and Thomas.

Various statements and some documentation prove that William (either father, son, or both), Zebulon and Spencer Collings, all fought in the Revolutionary War. Family legend says they probably fought with George Rogers Clark during the rugged Illinois Campaign in the Northwest Territory.

Although the Americans had effectively won their independence from England following the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781, sporadic fighting continued in remote areas until 1783.

The most remote and most critical western campaign was known as the Illinois Campaign or Clark’s Northwestern Campaign of 1778-1779. While the citizens of the Eastern states were fighting for their independence, the rebels in the western territory were struggling to secure vast areas of unsettled land.

Clark and a ragtag band made up of seasoned soldiers, and wild, wooly militiamen from Virginia were based in Kentucky. They took control of most of the territory we now know as Illinois. This allowed negotiators at the 1783 Treaty of Paris to demand from England the entire area known as the Northwest Territory, nearly double the size of the land offered by England.

Those were my guys, those ragtag, sometimes undisciplined militiamen. Their exploits were legendary, and James Alexander Thom wrote a riveting account of their exploits in his historically accurate, but fictional novel Long Knife.

Against great odds, these men slogged back and forth across what became the states of Illinois and Indiana, swimming icy rivers and crossing half-frozen, muddy marshland to defeat professional English troops. Some historians say the United States looks the way it does today due to the efforts of these men. In bold battles and with shrewd negotiation, George Rogers Clark secured lands that few of the politicians and generals back East had the vision to value.

After the dust of the Revolution began to clear, the men went home to their families and announced they were going to pack up and move to Kentucky, the land for which they had fought. Much of the area that became Kentucky was set aside for soldiers who wished to claim land and settle there.

Those were my guys who fought for the land, then claimed it and brought their families to tame it.

They came down the river Ohio on flatboats with what they could carry, some animals, some food, some household furniture, wives, and children. The journey was simple, but it was risky. Travelers brought what they needed, but needed more than they brought. And they made a life in this new country, this Kentucky.

Next, I’ll tell a little bit about traveling down the river and the places my family settled. The story is getting good now, trust me! We’re getting into documented family stories that include mundane daily life on the frontier, tragic weather events that disrupt lives, and the sheer terror of surprise attacks by natives of the area.

As they used to say on TV: “Tune in next time for more exciting stories!”

The Lists, Part 2

I am so thankful for those clerks who wrote things down!

I’m still exploring the document I found listing people, who voluntarily or under law, left everything they owned or knew to travel to this country. I can’t stop thinking about their motivations, fears, hopes, and dreams as they chose this new and unknown over their own familiar lives.

The lists don’t tell me much, just their names and in some cases, their occupation, age, and marital status.

For instance, in 1634, on the ship Hercules, captained by one John Witherley were several passengers, one Comfort Starre of Ashford, England was a chirurgion (surgeon), and traveled with three children and three servants. There is no note of a wife. On that same journey was Will Hatch of Sandwich, a merchant, accompanied by his wife, five children, and six servants.

There were carpenters, yeomen, tailors, shoemakers, a schoolmaster, and several men listed with no particular occupation. Only one possible unaccompanied woman was recorded, one Em. Mason of Eastwell shown as “wid.” While this person may have been a widow, I’m only guessing. The incomplete name could have been a man, a widower. All other women listed were wives of male passengers or wives of immigrants who had already traveled to the New World.

Following the lists of ship’s passengers, there were lists of land patents, acreage that was granted to individuals by the companies formed to settle the New World. At first, the amount of land was relatively small…50 acres, 100 acres. Soon I noticed that some grants included 600 acres or 1050 acres, and I started thinking about the work involved in working those land grants. One man was not going to be able to clear and plant farms that size with the tools available to farmers in the 1600s.

I started asking myself how these people were managing to become so productive so quick. But of course, the answer was obvious.

On page 323 of The Lists, I found this: “A receipt for one hundred Prisoners to be transported from Taunton by John Rose of London, Merchant…” later described as “one hundred persons attainted of High treason…”

I found an invoice of 68 men–servants “they being sold for ten years…” their ages ranging from 15 to 40. There followed several more lists of prisoners in groups of 100 or less that were being sent to various colonies.

One note read, “the bill of Mortality of the said Rebells that dyed since they were received on Board and were thrown overboard out of said Ship are these…”

I think I will name these few deceased men in case any of their ancestors are searching for some long-lost soul in their family. They were recorded as Thomas Venner, William Guppy, John Willis, Edward Venn, Phillip Cox, Robert Vawter, William Greenway, and Peter Bird. These men all died on their forced journey westward on board the ship Betty out of London in 1684-85.

The lists of “rebels” and men convicted of “High treason” went on for several pages. These men, forced to come to this country, toiled for years to buy their freedom or pay their debts. It seems we have always profited from the labor of unfortunate immigrants.

Conspicuously absent are lists of “captured” Africans, but in these early historical records, there are hints of the practice. Following the lists of political and criminal prisoners, I found detailed records of the residents of Barbados and the numbers (no names) of servants and slaves. There is no doubt who the citizens of that day considered servants and who they considered slaves.

This document is a treasure trove of the earliest immigrants coming here from England, and I found it on Archive.org. I found two Collings and several Collins names listed, but it will take a lot more investigation to discover whether they are in my line of ancestors.

The fact is, I just got lost in these lists. These names represent individual lives from so long ago, all hopeful or desperate to make a new life in a new country.

History just seems to repeat itself over and over and over.

The Lists

Thousands of immigrants risked the dangerous ocean journey to the new land.

It’s been a long dry spell in my family search. Some days I feel as if I’ve seen all there is to see on the internet. Everything. I can’t seem to prove that the man I thought was my immigrant ancestor is really related to me. And if he is not, I can’t connect the man I thought was his son to any other person of record.

So I left that line of research and went on to the man and family members I could trace back to Pennsylvania/Virginia immediately before they traveled to Kentucky. Turns out, he didn’t do much that was worthy of record either.

Then one day, I stumbled onto a document that stopped me cold. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the stories I’m discovering whether they contribute to my family story or not.

So imagine my delight when I came across a publication (from 1874) with the fascinating title: “The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices, Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700”

Now how could I resist? Of course, I quickly did a search to see if any of my ancestors were listed. When I found no family names, I couldn’t just leave it alone, I had to dig further. The lists were just too fascinating.

I can absolutely identify with the reason John Camden Hotten stated for pulling together all this data. In the introduction, he states:

“Of the history of the Colonies, and the eventual establishment of Independence, I have nothing to say. My object is simply and briefly to point out some of the causes which contributed to the early emigration of English families to America; and then to estimate the practical value of the contents of the present volume as a means of assistance in making genealogical researches in the mother country.”

Somehow, he knew that one day, it would be important to be able to read when, how, and why our ancestors arrived in this country.

And the “why,” of course, was both economic and political.

Sometime around 1625, Charles the First, King of England began levying taxes on the country without the permission of Parliament. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and was determined to govern according to his own conscience. As with all political acts by a leader, the lawmakers and citizens quickly chose sides. Some said he was the leader, and it was perfectly okay for him to do as he saw fit. Others saw his actions as arrogant, unlawful, and a dangerous precedent.

Strangely familiar, isn’t it? His acts triggered a civil war from 1642 to 1645, at which time he was defeated and in 1648 executed for high treason.

Through these years, those who strongly opposed his arrogance were very vocal in their resentment. It’s not a good idea to resist a king who believes he has a divine right because, after all, he does hold power.

One of the king’s critics, Lord Say and Sele stated: “I would rather lose half my estate than risk the impoverishment of my posterity by the establishment of so dangerous a precedent as a loan without the sanction of Parliament.”

This uproar set the stage for both voluntary and involuntary emigration to the New World “beyond the seas.”

The lists of people leaving for the New World and the notes made on the lists, while in no way complete, caught my attention for several days.

Probably of enormous interest to genealogists is the list of passengers aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The notes on these passengers are heartrending as the listmaker also recorded their fates. Here are some samples:

  • Mr. John Carver, chosen as the first Governor upon arrival, died during the first spring. Katherine, his wife, died a few weeks after her husband.
  • Roger Wilder, a servant, died in the “first sickness.”
  • William Butten, a servant, died on the passage.
  • Mr. Christopher Martin and his wife died soon after arrival, as did Solomon Prower and John Langemore, servants.
  • John Tillie and his wife both died soon after they came ashore. Their daughter Elizabeth survived and went on to marry John Howland.
  • Digerie Priest died in the “general sickness.” His wife and children came afterward. I can’t help but wonder if she knew her husband had died when she set sail to follow him. I imagine she came ashore expecting to see him and the home he had prepared for the family only to learn she was a widow with no resources.

It was recorded that there were 100 souls on the Mayflower. During the voyage there one child was born, and one passenger died, so 100 immigrants arrived on the shores of the New World.

Of those 100 souls, 51 died during the first year. Think about those numbers—over half the new citizens didn’t survive a year in the New World.

The writer of this particular list doesn’t mention any cause of death other than “general sickness” or “during the first sickness.” I didn’t see any accidents with axes or barroom fights or any other cause of death. One has to wonder if these travelers were prepared for what they had undertaken. Did they expect a paradise, a land of richness and gentle weather? Did they realize they would have to construct shelter and plant food crops very quickly? Did they even know how hard the journey itself would be? Did they know the passage would leave them weak from seasickness and poor nutrition at the time they needed to be at their most robust?

They fled political turmoil, ethnic and religious conflict, and poverty to come to a land that promised to solve all their problems. This New World may not have been the promised land they expected, but look at what we, their children, have accomplished.

Maybe that’s a bigger picture we should be trying to see today.

He Just Went Home

This is a pay card for one William Collings.

When you’re a writer, there is no acceptable excuse for not writing. A couple of weeks of not writing begins to create nagging thoughts that go like this: maybe I’m not a writer, maybe I have nothing to say, maybe I should give this up.

I’ve been struggling with a kind of roadblock in my family story. The things I believe, I can’t prove. The things I can prove don’t always make sense in the context of what I believe. And the fact is, my family is a very ordinary one. The records that exist about them are the standards…birth records, death records, cemetery stones with dates, occasional legal documents (both good deeds and bad).

I was lucky to discover the Crist journal. That discovery has made me a proponent of journals, even journals that do no more than record the daily weather or the mundane events of life. In later years, those daily proofs of life will be golden for some researcher who is seeking his or her past.

Here are the “facts” and here is where I am in my own search: I believe, but can’t prove, that the Collings branch of my family came to America in the late 1600s. Like every immigrant at that time, they landed on the east coast and perched there for a time, then began edging westward, apparently searching always for something better.

Without finding any solid proof of the journey, I can get them to western Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s sometimes as farmers, sometimes as hunters but forever struggling to make a life, always working for something more.

At this point, I am researching my family in the Revolutionary War. Family stories have the men of the family fighting alongside General George Rogers Clark, who was the historical hero of the Western Front of the War for Independence.

This has proven difficult to document because if they did fight with him, they did so as the rough and ready mountain men of Virginia and Pennsylvania, not as regular army.

I also found a vague hint that some of the Collings men fought at the Battle of Brandywine, so I’ve spent a few weeks chasing that story and found some intriguing records, a series of “pay cards” in the Revolutionary War Rolls collection of Ancestry.com.

Unable to prove that this William Collings is my ancestor, this is still a good story of a young man who, if he is my relative, would have been about 19 years old.

William Collings (the records sometimes spell his name Collins, sometimes Collings even on the same card) first appeared in of May 1777 as a Private in Capt. Gourley’s Company, 9th Pennsylvania Regiment. This soldier’s salary appeared to be “6 2/3 dollars” per month.

On the pay card for October 1777, Collings was noted to have been “wounded on September 11.” The Battle of Brandywine was fought on September 11-12, 1777.

The pay card for December also notes “wounded,” so presumably he was recovering in hospital. The January and February 1778, pay cards confirm this with the notes “In hospital.”

His May 1778 pay card contains the note: “Sick Yellow Springs.” I went to Google on this note and found that Yellow Springs was the only hospital commissioned by the Continental Congress. It was the first military hospital built in North America and was constructed in 1777-78.

There was a strange note on the June 1778 pay card: “Returned from Hosp. Left out of April pay roll through mistake.” Collings’ pay card for July of 1778 notes “returned.” In September of 1778, he was shown as “In Camp.”

William Collings’ last pay card, undated, is not a pay card at all, rather a “Depreciation on Pay of the Army” in the amount of £73 – 18p –1s” with a statement in the Notes section: “Deserted 17 Mar 80.”

Once again, to Google. How much did William Collings owe the new government of the United States?

Turns out there is no answer. The monetary system of the 1700s makes no sense to us today. Pounds aren’t dollars, shillings aren’t dimes, pence aren’t pennies. If this helps (for me, it did not), 12 pence equaled a shilling, and there were 20 shillings in a pound. I could not find a satisfactory answer to how many pounds equal a dollar. Every state used the pounds, shilling, pence designations, but they determined the value in each state. Conversion to dollars and cents just doesn’t work. I did find a statement that a teacher in 1759 could earn approximately £60, which very roughly (in 2000) would translate to about $4000.

Clearly, William Collings owed a lot of money to the government. That never comes up in any family stories, nor can I definitively prove that this William Collings is my ancestor…which is probably a good thing. I sure don’t want to have the government come after me for that unpaid debt, compounded over 300+ years.

But here’s what I think: I think he was still hurting two years after spending almost 10 months in the hospital recovering from wounds, and I think the War was over, and I think the young government was reluctant to dismiss the soldiers who had really only signed up out of patriotism, not as a career choice.

So this is what I think…I think he just went home.

This Journey

What do you think of when you hear the word “journey?” Merriam-Webster defines it this way:

journey   a noun    jour·​ney | \ ˈjər-nē  \     plural journeys

1 : something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another

2 : an act or instance of traveling from one place to another : TRIP

Journey is not a word we use often, and I think that’s because a journey is more serious, more monumental than a trip or even travel. A trip is routine…a trip to the store, a trip to the doctor, etc. A journey is something we plan for and anticipate, something more calculated and purposeful.

A journey involves more serious consideration. How long will it take, what do I need to bring along, how difficult will this journey be, do I dare subject my family either by preparing them for my absence or by taking them along?

I don’t think the vast majority of people undertake a journey lightly. Journeys are usually something we consider necessary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys while I do my family research. Everyone I know in my life is here because of a journey someone took years ago to reach this country, a country of freedom and opportunity. For the most part, those journeys were dangerous and difficult and involved leaving an entire existence behind to create a new future.

I seriously doubt any of those long-ago travelers just jumped on a tiny ship thinking, “What a lark this will be. When I arrive, all my troubles will be solved.”

I’m pretty sure they knew, or at least suspected, some of the dangers they were facing. I’m also pretty sure they looked at the lives they were living and the futures they were facing and made a hard decision that that sort of life was not what they wanted for themselves or their families.

Of course, there were always those few, a small percentage, who came because they heard the streets were paved with gold, or because they thought their past misdeeds would not follow them or because they thought this was a fertile new ground for lawless activities.

But that was not the majority. The majority was us, or rather those ancestors that paved the way for us. Those who survived the journey. We live in cities built by those survivors; we hold jobs at occupations that became possible because they came and created businesses or grew food and other crops or provided services necessary in the new country.

We are because they were, because they wanted a better life for their children, and because they took the risks, they journeyed, and they survived.

Why do we now assume that anyone who undertakes a similar journey today has not considered the risks? How can we forget that we are the children of immigrants who fled poverty and starvation and tyranny and injustice? All of us; each and every one.

Happy Fourth of July.

The Immigrant

Thousands of immigrants braved the dangerous ocean journey to America. Many of us are descended from people who thought the possibility of a better life was worth the risk of the journey. We’re here because they took the first step.

In genealogy, the first family descendant who left the home country to seek fortune in America is called “the immigrant.”

I’ve finally located the “immigrant” of my Collings branch of the family, the guy who left England and endured the 6 to 14-week ocean journey to make a place for him (and eventually, well…me) in the New World sometime around 1700. His name was Anthony Andrew Collings, and he brought with him his wife, Jane or Jaine.

Anthony was born in Cornwall, England in 1678. Jane has been a little more challenging to track down, and I’m still unsure of her maiden name. It might have been Lancelott, or it might have been Spence. Other reports claim that he was married twice, first to Jane Spence, then to Jane Lancelott. Either scenario leads me down different paths. Because of this uncertainty, I’m not sure what year or where he and Jane were married, but I believe Anthony’s son Zebulon (my ancestor) was born in 1706 in Frederick, Pennsylvania.

In 1712, there are some reports of a daughter Winifred being born in Westmoreland, Virginia. There is also some information about a daughter Elizabeth born in 1712 in Westmoreland, Virginia. That would seem to indicate that Anthony, a twin himself, had twin daughters.

Anthony and Jane at some point moved to Charles County, Maryland where they owned property and lived until their deaths, Anthony in 1754, at age 76.

I don’t know why Anthony came to America, but I have some thoughts and theories (of course I do). There were many reasons people took such a challenging journey, but I think there were probably three main reasons:

  1. The primary goal, of course, the one we all heard in history class in school, was freedom of religion. Major religious conflicts raged throughout the countries of Europe and the British Isles during the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. People were desperate to escape persecution and to be able to worship as they wished.
  2.  Another reason was a desire to become landowners and create wealth and security for their family. There were complicated rules for the disbursement of English property upon the death of the owners and titles passed to first sons. Second, third, fourth sons and so on, made do with what they could when fathers died. In America, they could, by hard work and clever trading, become prosperous and successful.
  3. For many, though, the allure of the New World was the adventure. These are the immigrants who just could not be satisfied with the limitations they suffered in their homelands. These were the immigrants who traveled to the new world at any cost, then pushed the boundaries of the country westward.

No one can know for sure why any one particular immigrant came, but I’d like to think that I have figured out Anthony Andrew Collings. He was not the first son of Sir Roger and Elizabeth Collings; he was not the second or third son. He and his twin brother, Roger, were the fourth and fifth sons.

I think that young Anthony Collings, sensing there was little future for himself in England, decided to travel to America to build his own legacy.

Anthony started his American adventure in Westmoreland Co. in the Colony of Virginia, then for some reason moved to Charles Co., in the Colony of Maryland where he lived out his life.

Anthony Collings returned to England, probably around 1715 returning to America in 1716 when he is listed as a passenger on a ship arriving from England. It’s possible this trip had something to do with a disputed inheritance concerning his grandmother, which is an interesting side story, but I find no official records to support that.

I did find, however, that in 1717, one Anthony Collings purchased 100 acres of a 320-acre plantation called Partner’s Content, for the price of “2500# tobacco.” I can’t help but wonder if Anthony returned from his trip to England with enough money to buy this land and start his life as a plantation owner and man of some esteem in his community.

In those early days of our country, property was described on deeds and in legal paperwork by the names of the neighboring plantations and their owners. Several pieces of property in early Maryland records are listed as bordering on or bounded by the property of Anthony Collings. He was also listed in various wills as creditor, appraiser and “test.” which I took to mean that he attested to the signatures of the witnesses of those wills, possibly individuals who could only sign their name with a “mark” or X.

I also found records of his paying for land and other goods with various amounts of tobacco, which was the main crop of those early plantations. The Maryland Tax Roll of 1733 lists him as owning 1 taxable property in “Durham Parish, Upper Part.”

I believe Durham Parish was in Maryland at that time, but one of the fun little tricks of genealogy that I have discovered is that our ancestors may not have moved around in America as often as we thought. It was actually the state, county, and other boundaries that were fluid.

The states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina all disputed boundaries and claimed land that was or was not theirs well into the late 1700s. The same town could one year be in one state, the next year in another. Sometimes these changes would be accompanied by a county name change, or the familiar county name might show up in a different state at a later date.

Interesting sidebar fact: these disputes continued until two men were sent to survey the disputed areas and established a line from which all future claims could be decided. The names of those men were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and the property line they surveyed, known as the Mason-Dixon Line, played an essential part in the history of our country for many years.

I want to briefly return to the above three reasons immigrants chose to come to America. Strangely, while these immigrants were firm in their determination, second-generation Americans seemed to gravitate to the third category…adventurers.

The newly minted citizens who came seeking religious freedom did establish communities dedicated to their religious beliefs, but many of their children became dissatisfied with the rules and regulations…and began pushing the boundaries of our country westward.

Those men who came to America to obtain land or become merchants and shop owners, ambitions that were never available to them in the Old Country, were often successful and became influential citizens. Their children, though, were reluctant to be tied down by the responsibilities of those same plantations and shops…so they traveled westward to seek their own fortunes.

And the children of the adventurers who simply came to the New World to see what they could see? They kept looking and they, too, pushed west.

My family was no different. That second generation, the children of Anthony Andrew and Jane Collings moved west.

The story continues.

 

All About the Land Part 2

Early map of the 1700s.

In 1768, after tough negotiations, the Cherokee Indians and the British government finalized the Treaty of Hard Labor to establish a western boundary beyond which the Indians had full rights and the American settlers had none.

The Treaty of Hard Labor relinquished the rights of the Cherokee to most of the territory we now know as West Virginia. The Indians would own the land west of the Ohio River and white settlers (and land speculators) would be able to claim, sell and improve the wilderness in nearly the entire area we now know as West Virginia.

A month later a different set of British negotiators met with the Iroquois and finalized the Treaty of Fort Stanwix which set a different boundary pushing the Indian lands farther west, leaving them the areas that later became Kentucky and Tennessee as their “forever hunting grounds.”

While these treaties opened vast areas of new territory for settlement, government officials had actually given to the Indians territory that early land speculators such as Jacob Hite thought they had already purchased from individual Indian tribes.

You will remember that Jacob Hite, upon learning that his land purchase was voided faced losing everything he owned to settle his debts. He responded by packing up his household goods, slaves and livestock and fleeing to the disputed land he felt he owned.

The British treaties that set these boundaries also set the stage for legal battles with men whose names have become synonymous with Revolutionary patriotism. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, in particular, had been seeking to purchase land in the area now ceded to the Cherokee Indians. And of course, Jacob Hite was nearly destroyed financially by the treaties and the British insistence that settlers abide by the new boundaries.

The British had their motives. If they could establish certain boundaries to the satisfaction of the Indians, settlers could safely and legally move into new lands and the British would not be called upon to protect those settlers from the Indians who would happily hunt and live in the land further west.

That was the plan, anyway. There were two problems with that plan: 1) no words on paper could stem the flow of those early pioneers who were hungry to claim land of their own, and 2) the entrepreneurs seeking to claim and then sell the land had no intention of letting the British thwart their dreams of wealth.

Jefferson, Washington and every member of the Virginia House of Burgesses felt that the British were imposing impossible limits on the economic growth of their state and, more importantly, on their wealthy citizens. They petitioned the British to revoke the treaties and to allow the state (or colony) of Virginia to annex the areas further west including what we now call Kentucky.

The friction between Indians and settlers, and between British and Americans truly began to smolder towards an explosive situation with the signing of these two treaties.

Freedom from British oppression was something every citizen could get behind, but make no mistake, controlling the land and thus the economy was the spark that triggered the American Revolution.

So, knowing all this, why did my ancestors move from their homes in western Pennsylvania to the Indians beloved hunting grounds in Kentucky?

Because they could. Following the Revolutionary War, the British treaties were no longer valid and American speculators could now officially seek ownership of the Indian land. Individual settlers in small groups could begin to claim the land a few hundred acres at a time. They could move from the smothering rules and regulations that told them what they could and could not do and into the wilderness where they were their own law and government.

Last week when I wrote about the legal problems of Jacob Hite, I thought I was just trying to set the stage for you to understand some of the economic struggles leading up to the Revolutionary War.

This week, I found that Jacob Hite’s story directly relates to my own story. I keep forgetting what a small world that world was!

Hite’s sister, Elizabeth, married a man named John Paul Froman of New Jersey and sometime before 1780, the Froman family moved to that rugged Kentucky territory that Jacob Hite wished to claim. The Froman family established a “station” or small community near Cox’s Creek in the area of the salt licks south of present-day Louisville.

This was the area that Jacob Hite had purchased from the Cherokee.
This was the area where Jacob Hite fled to avoid authorities in Virginia who had attempted to seize his personal property.

And in 1778, George Crist, writing in the Crist family journal, wrote “Me and Nicholas and Henry want to explore the land in Kaintuck that Daniel Boone keeps talking of. He says there is thousands of acres of land waiting to be claimed. Plenty of wild game and wild horses and that the land will grow anything. The Indians are worse there but we think with enough men it will be safe enough.”

We know that Henry did travel to Kentucky several times and experienced at least one adventure as his group was attacked by Indians, an attack he barely survived.

Based on the stories Henry brought back about the rich lands of Kentucky, and the stories of Danial Boone who was actively encouraging settlers, George finally wrote in 1783: “Me, Henry, Nicholas and William and our families and Besy’s parents and their families along with many more it’s about three hundred in all are going to leave in two days to go to Kaintuck.”

William in that passage would be William Elston Collings and the “others” would be his parents and brothers and their families, and that’s how my ancestors began their journey west, settling first in the area of Kentucky known as Froman’s Creek or Froman’s Station near the land of Jacob Hite.

Later, I’ll tell you what it took to make that journey.

All About the Land

Early map of the 1700s.

In spite of the politicians and the press, wars are seldom fought for high ideals. Those advertised high principles and lofty ideals are incentives for the soldiers and the families who send the soldiers, but most wars are more often fought for economic reasons, to gain territory and power, or in retribution.

That may sound cynical but just think about it in terms of the wars you’ve known. I don’t want to get into a heated argument here, I just have some problems with wars in general, and in my genealogical studies, I’ve been reading about the Revolutionary War or the War for Independence.

The patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War, our ancestors, fought for independence from Britain, freedom from the oppressive taxes that England imposed, the ability to govern themselves and the land on which they lived. Lofty and admirable as those principles were, that war was also fought mostly because some of the prominent citizens of our country were unhappy that Britain was blocking their ability to claim and sell (at huge profits) the vast territories to the west of the settled lands of the 13 colonies.

For those of you who slept through jr. high American history, the 1700s were chaotic times in the Colonies. With Indians to the west of us and the Atlantic Ocean to the east of us, with more and more immigrants landing on our shores, owning and selling property became more and more profitable and desirable.

Some of the more well-known patriots, those men we call the “fathers” of our country early on began to look at acquiring ownership of large tracts of land to the west of the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason all were eager to acquire rights to property that lay in what we now know as Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. And they wanted those lands, not for the greater good…they intended to claim and own those lands for their personal gain.

One particular early land transaction in 1774 that sets the scene involved a man named Jacob Hite, an unapologetic land speculator in the Shenandoah Valley. Jacob’s father Jost Hite had made a great deal of money buying and selling land. Jacob aspired to build his own reputation and fortune in the same way.

Hite and a partner, Richard Pearis, conspired to acquire a large tract of land in the unsettled territories west of what is now South Carolina. This was Indian land, land the natives had hunted and lived in for centuries, but Hite and Pearis had a plan. Pearis had a son named George by a Cherokee Indian woman. Using the son’s standing with the Indians, the two men backed George to buy 150,000 acres of the Cherokee land which he then sold to his father and Hite.

It was a smart plan and should have worked to make the men rich. They would survey the land, divide it into smaller lots and sell it to settlers eager to move into the area and establish their own land holdings.

There was only one serious problem with the plan.

British officials had severe reservations about the wisdom of angering the Indians who had not been consulted or signed on to the sale of the land. The British were at that time on shaky ground as to their relations with the Indians who were attempting to form an anti-British confederation of several tribes.

In the interest of keeping the peace with the Indians, the British convinced a South Carolina court (which after all, ultimately answered to their British rulers) to void the deal.

This left Jacob Hite in severe financial jeopardy. As a land speculator, he had gambled heavily on the sale of these lands to acquire the funds to pay off debts which he now could not pay. In the domino effect often created by gambling and speculation, his creditors also had loans to pay off and at their insistence officials were ordered to seize personal property of Jacob Hite and auction off said property to raise the money to pay his debts.

Jacob was not happy about this solution to his money problems, and he vowed to stop any sale that took place. Gathering together some friends, Hite and a gang of armed men stormed the jail to take back his horses, slaves and other property. Unable to convince the jailor to turn over the keys or open the door, they chopped the door down with axes and then broke the lock on the stable door to retake his property.

Following the raid, Hite fled with his family and his belongings to the land he attempted to purchase in the Cherokee country.

Some of the perpetrators were subsequently arrested and charged with breach of the peace, but were acquitted due to sympathy by the locals for debtors who they felt were wrongly deprived of their personal property. British intervention in local business deals was an unpopular action and was already a factor in the increasing unrest in the colonies.

Following the failure of the legal system to punish Hite’s “gang,” heated verbal battles ensued as accusations flew back and forth between the sheriff, Adam Stephen, whose job it was to seize the property and Hite whose very livelihood depended on not losing his possessions.

Over the next few years Hite and Stephen carried on a bitter rivalry that involved letters in local newspapers and court cases, until in the fall of 1776 when a newspaper report stated: “…Mr. Jacob Hite, who lately removed from Berkeley county to the neighbourhood of the Cherokee country, with his family and a large parcel of negroes, were murdered at his own house by those savages, with most of his slaves, and his wife and children carried off prisoners; his son, who was in the Cherokee country, was likewise murdered.”

This incident was just one example of how important and life-altering ownership of the wilderness land to the west could be to individuals in Colonial America and how anger at the British style of government was simmering.

Next week, I’ll tell you how our patriotic forefathers were involved in similar schemes leading up to the Revolutionary War.

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