Friday, January 5, 2018

52 Ancestors #1: Benjamin Jennings (c1740-1815): Beginnings and Endings

Ancestor: Benjamin Jennings, four times great grandfather
DNA Haplogroup: I-M253

Benjamin Jennings was my four times great grandfather, Revolutionary War patriot, Virginia farmer, and one of my brick walls. He was the first documented direct ancestor in my paternal Jennings line. I have no idea who his parents were or where in the Colony of Virginia he was born. Many of his ancestors thought they were descendants of William Jennens (or Gennens), who lived in England and was believed to be the wealthiest commoner in the country at the time of his death in 1798. The ensuing court case about his real and personal estate inspired Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

We know very little about Benjamin Jennings' life before the Revolutionary War. The only bit of known information was that he or his son, Benjamin, Jr., worked as an overseer in 1775. This reference was found in a 1798 case heard at the Powhatan Chancery Court, I assume the plantation on which he worked was located in the eastern portion of Cumberland County, which later became Powhatan County.

Even if we know very little about Benjamin's life in Colonial Virginia, much has been written about the time period and we can use that information to place Benjamin's life within the context of his time and place. It is possible Benjamin did not yet own land as overseers were often young men who wanted the experience of managing a plantation before owning their own land. As an overseer, he would have been responsible for ensuring the enslaved laborers were doing sufficient work and everything possible was being done to improve the crop yield. Frequently, they were given a small house on the estate and enough land to have their own garden.

Drawing of a tobacco plant c1779; courtesy of
Reusable Art

Powhatan County was formed in 1777 from the eastern portion of Cumberland County. It lies south of the James River about 20 miles southwest of Richmond. The Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco) plant grew well in the rich bottomland soil near the James River. It produced a milder, dark leaf that was the European standard by the time Benjamin Jennings was born. Tobacco was the main cash crop of the colony and the General Assembly had developed a regulated system of tobacco inspection in order to keep standards high. Inspections took place at several locations around the colony, including Manchester[1] a port city on the highlands on the south side of the James River opposite Richmond.

Tobacco was typically packed in a hogshead for shipment to an inspection warehouse. The standard size of a hogshead at the time was 48 inches by 30 inches. Because plantation on which Benjamin worked was above the James River fall line, he had three options for transporting the tobacco hogsheads to a warehouse:
  • By a small river craft called a flat or a shallop, which would have landed at Westham, located just above the falls and then been taken to the port by wagon. 
  • By wagon directly to Manchester.
  • By rolling the hogsheads along the road, which was often an old Indian path. 
One such Indian path began at Manchester and went west to the areas that became Lynchburg and Roanoke. Current day U.S. Rt. 60 generally follows its course. This might well have been the route taken to bring tobacco from Powhatan County to port.

Drawing of men and tobacco hogsheads; courtesy of the National Museum
of American History

No evidence of Benjamin Jennings' family life has been unearthed for the period before the Revolutionary War. Based several documents, such as census records, tax lists, and death record indexes collected for his family, he was certainly married and already had several children before the Revolutionary War began.

Colonial Virginia was described as having a three-tiered society with the top 5 percent or so being landed gentry often called the planter class. However, the society was a really a bit more complex:
  • Enslaved field hands, usually brought from Africa or descendants of the enslaved who typically worked in the tobacco fields.
  • Enslaved house servants, performed skilled tasks such as cooks, laundresses, blacksmiths, coopers, etc.; they were generally considered "better off" but they were still enslaved.
  • Indentured servants, room and board were provided for a specific time period in exchange for learning a trade.
  • Free blacks, they did not enjoy the same rights as white persons but they could own property and work at a wide range of skilled tasks.
  • Farmers, worked their own small farms usually with the help of their children or a small number of slaves.
  • "Middling," these men and women worked in skilled trades but did not own farm land 
  • Gentry, considered the "upper crust" of society, were large land owners, wealthy merchants, and financiers. They own large tracts of land and many slaves. They served as magistrates, councilmen, church vestrymen and so forth.
I believe Benjamin Jennings was likely of what I would call a "middling" social class at this time in his life. This group gained a larger role in society during the 18th century. While they knew and worked a trade, they were less educated than gentry.  Benjamin made his mark to sign his will so could not read or write and to our knowledge did not inherit land, though he acquired land later moving into the farmer class.

Revolutionary War

Benjamin Jennings served during the Revolutionary War on two separate occasions. He was in the Virginia Militia with Capt. Thomas Gaddis' Company and then served in the Continental Army with Col. Daniel Morgan's Corps, known as Morgan's Riflemen. His war service will be described next week.

Life in Powhatan County

Benjamin returned home from the war and settled in Powhatan County. His wife died sometime after that -- between 1780, which was about the time their youngest child was born, and 1796 when Benjamin Jennings married for the second time.

Virginia's economy was in turmoil after the war. Lack of specie to pay off foreign debt hit the low and middle classes hard. Farmers were unable to sell their produce. When they could sell, it was for much less than before the war. How the economy specifically affected Powhatan County and Benjamin Jennings is unknown.

In 1783, Benjamin Jennings and his son, Benjamin Jennings, Jr., appeared on the tax lists for Powhatan County. These lists were collected by the U.S. Bureau of the Census in order to reconstruct the 1790 census for Virginia, which had been destroyed when the British burned Washington, DC, during the War of 1812. To have appeared on tax lists Benjamin and his son would been 21 years of age or older and have owned land and/or personal property. At the time, neither Benjamin Sr. or Jr. owned slaves. Voting, however, was limited to white male citizens over 21 years of age and owning, by 1785, a 25-acre lot with a house 12 feet square or 50 acres of open land. We do not know when Benjamin Jennings became eligible to vote.

In 1779 the Virginia Land Office was established. It was the responsibility of the office to manage obtaining and selling "waste and unappropriated land." Any person could purchase as much land as desired for a fee of forty pounds for a hundred acres. It's important to remember Virginia was a bigger state than it is today.

Virginia in 1779; courtesy of Map of the U.S.

The process of obtaining land was a complicated one, which involved a trip to the Auditor of Public Accounts to exchange the receipt received after payment for a certificate. This certificate was taken back to the Land Office and presented to the Registrar, who then issued a warrant to have the land surveyed. The purchaser was required to deposit the warrant with the surveyor in the county in which the land was located. Once the survey had been completed, the warrant was returned to the purchaser who had to file it at the Land Office and wait six months. If no claims against the warrant were recorded, the purchaser received a grant, which was signed and sealed by the governor. The grant included a description of the property.

On three separate dates in 1788 a Benjamin Jennings was granted over 6,500 acres of land near the Cheat River in Monongalia County (now part of West Virginia). At this time I do not know if "our" Benjamin Jennings received these grants or if they were granted to another man with the same name. Benjamin had served in the area with the Virginia Militia so it is possible he was familiar with the area. I do not believe he ever lived on the land and perhaps purchased it for speculation. The tax lists for Virginia between 1782 and 1786 only include two men named Benjamin Jennings -- "our" Benjamin and his son, Benjamin, Jr., but that is not definitive proof.

It could be possible these grants were awarded to Benjamin Jennings for his Revolutionary War service. In order to qualify as a war veteran, he would have had to have served in the Continental Army for three years continuously. Service in the militia did not count. The land given to veterans by the Commonwealth of Virginia was located in what is now Kentucky and Ohio. This is the main reason I do not believe these grants were related to his war service if they granted to "our" Benjamin Jennings.

Benjamin's children began marrying in 1792 when Benjamin, Jr. married Kisiah Roper. Benjamin, Jr., was at least 30 years old when he married. Daughter, Dorothea, was next to marry when she wed John Pemberton in 1796 at the age of 18 or 19; Edmund or Edward followed in 1798. Two years later Daniel married; followed by John in 1805. The last two children to marry before Benjamin's death were Elizabeth in 1810 and James in 1811. Benjamin Jr.'s wife likely died sometime soon after the new century began and he married a second time in 1804.

Second Marriage

On 13 February 1796, Benjamin Jennings married for the second time to Elizabeth McGruder, daughter of William Miles McGruder, also of Powhatan County. She was likely at least 20 years Benjamin's junior. Their only daughter, Martha, who went by Patsy" was born around the time of their marriage.

By 1810 when the third U.S. census was enumerated, Benjamin, Elizabeth and Patsy continued to live in Powhatan County and owned three slaves. Benjamin was listed as being 45 years and older; Elizabeth between 26 and 44 years of age; and Patsy, between 10 and 15.

Death of Benjamin Jennings

Benjamin Jennings wrote his last will and testament on 27 March 1815; it was proved on 19 July 1815 and an appraisal of his personal property was filed with the court on 24 July 1815 by the executor, Edward B. Jennings, who was listed in the will as a "faithful friend." The details of the will are described in a future post. His burial location is unknown.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I participated in 2014 and 2015 by writing about any interesting ancestor I was researching at the time I wrote the post. In 2017, I am taking a more disciplined approach and will be writing about the ancestors in my direct line only. My hope is by the end of the year I will have the makings of a book I can share with my siblings and cousins. The theme for this week was "Start, so I am starting with my four times great grandfather, Benjamin Jennings, who is the first definitively proven ancestor in my Jennings line.

A big thank you to all the researchers of this Jennings line who came before me, including my father, Janie Darby, Logan Jennings, Ann Maddox, and so many others. I merely collected documents and validated previous research.

Using the Ancestral Reference Numbering System, Benjamin Jennings is Ancestor No. 64 on my family tree.

64. Benjamin Jennings, born circa 1740[2] in Virginia; died in 1815; will written on 27 March 1815 in Powhatan County, Virginia and proved on 19 July 1815 in Powhatan County; married 1) to an unknown woman (many people believe Sally Dickerson, or Dickinson/Dickenson) before 1765 and 2) to Elizabeth McGruder, daughter of William McGruder, on 10 Feb 1796 in Powhatan County. Known issue are listed in order they appear in Benjamin's will:
      64.1 Elizabeth "Betsey" Jennings married Benjamin Waldron[3] on 11 January 1810 in Powhatan County. This Benjamin is not a known relative of Anna Maria Waldron[3], John W. Jennings' wife.    

     64.2 Dorothea Jennings born circa 1777-1779; died after 1860; married John Pemberton on 18 February 1796 in Powhatan County.

     64.3 Benjamin Jennings, Jr. born before 1762[4]; married 1) Kisiah Roper, daughter of Shadrach Roper, on 4 December 1792 in Powhatan County and 2) Sally Boles, daughter of Henry Boles, on 9 January 1804 in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

     64.4 Daniel Jennings born between 1771-1780; married Martha Watkins, daughter of Joseph Watkins, on 17 December 1800 in Chesterfield County.

     64.5 Edmund (or Edward) Jennings born between 1771 and 1780[5]; married Jemima Chappell, daughter of Ann Chappell, on 23 May 1798 in Chesterfield County.

     32.0 John W. Jennings, Sr. born circa 1776-1777; died 19 December 1858 in Amherst County, Virginia; married Anna Mariah (or Anna Maria) Waldron[3], daughter of Benjamin Waldron, Sr., on 19 January 1805 in Bedford County, Virginia.

     64.6 James Jennings married Rebecca Waldron[3] on 8 April 1811 or 1816 in Bedford County, Virginia. Rebecca is likely a sibling or cousin of John W. Jennings, Sr.'s wife, Anna Mariah or Anna Maria Waldron.[3]
     64.7 Martha "Patsy" Jennings born circa 1795 to Benjamin Jennings' second wife; died in 1854 in Amelia County, Virginia; married Benjamin Burton, son of Benjamin Burton, on 11 November 1816 in Powhatan County.

[1]The native place of Manastoh was named Rocky Ridge by the English until 1769 when it became an incorporated town in Chesterfield County named Manchester. It eventually merged with the City of Richmond.
[2] The birth date for Benjamin Jennings, Sr., is from another researcher and I do not know the reasoning behind it. The only document that notes his age is the 1810 census, which categorizes him as 45 and older. We do know his son Benjamin Jennings was born on or before 1762.
[3] There were three men in Virginia, who were alive at this time named Benjamin Walrond. All three used the Sr. and Jr. suffixes on different occasions. Anna Maria Waldron's father, Benjamin, Sr.,  lived in Pittsylvania and Campbell counties and her brother, Benjamin, Jr., lived in Bedford County. Elizabeth Jennings' husband was neither of these men. He lived in Powhatan and Chesterfield counties. His possible relationship to Anna Maria is not known. (See Did John W. Jennings, c1777-1858, Marry His Niece? for more details.) Waldron was most commonly spelled Walrond before the Civil War.
[4] Benjamin Jennings, Jr., appeared on the 1783 Powhatan County Tax List as a head of family. Assuming he was at least 21 years of age, then the latest he could have been born was 1762.
[5] Based on Edmund Jennings being 50-59 years of age in 1830 and 60-69 in 1840.

1790 U.S. Federal Census (Reconstructed), Virginia State Enumerations 1782-1785), Benjamin Jennings in Powhatan County, Virginia, pages5 8-59 (accessed 5 September 2012)
1810 U.S. Federal Census, database, (accessed 5 September 2012), Benjm Jennings, 1810; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference Roll: 70; Page: 236; Image: 00451; Family History Library Film: 0181430
About the Virginia Land Office, Library of Virginia (accessed (4 January 2018)
Colonial Social Classes, Colonial Williamsburg (accessed 3 January 2018)
Couture, Richard T. Powhatan: A Bicentennial History, (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, 1980), page 97
Doughtie, Beatrice, Documented Notes on Jennings and Allied Families, (Decatur, GA: Bowen Press, 1961), pages 637-641)., Ancestral File for Benjamin Jennings, A062263 (accessed 1 May 2014).
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 404 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 455 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 464 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 482 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 864 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 865 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 866 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 868 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Land Grant Office Records, Land Grant No. 870 (accessed 14 December 2017)
Library of Virginia, Virginia Chancery Records, Powhatan County 1806-03 Samuel Panrey v. Benjamin Jennings (accessed 14 December 2012).
History of Virginia, Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2018)
Interactive Map of Virginia County Formation History, Map of U.S. (accessed 3 Jan 2019)
Manchester, Richmond, Virginia, Wikipedia (accessed 2 January 2018)
Overseer's Place on a Southern Plantation, History Engine, The (accessed 3 January 2018)
Piedmont of Virginia, Virginia Places (accessed 3 January 2018)
Powhatan County, Virginia, Wikipedia (accessed 2 January 2018)
Powhatan History, Town Square Publications (accessed 3 January 2018)
Tangled Roots and Trees, British Surrender at Saratoga, 17 October 2015 (accessed 4 January 2018)
Tangled Roots and Trees, Did John W. Jennings (c1777-1858) Marry His Niece?, 4 May 2016 (accessed 4 January 2018)
Tangled Roots and Trees, Revolutionary War Soldier, 4 July 2014 (accessed 4 January 2018)
Tobacco in Colonial Virginia, Encyclopedia Virginia (accessed 3 January 2018)
Virginia Department of Transportation. History of Roads in Virginia: The Most Convenient Wayes, October 2006 (accessed 3 January 2018)
Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940," database, FamilySearch, Benjamin Jennings and Kisey Roper, 04 Dec 1792; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 33,067 (accessed 5 December 2014)
Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940," database, FamilySearch, Benjamin Jennings and Elizabeth Mcgruder, 10 Feb 1796; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 33,067 (accessed 5 December 2014)
Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940database, FamilySearch, Benjamin Jennings in entry for John Pemberton and Dorothea Jennings, 18 Feb 1796; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 33,067(5 December 2014),
Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940database, FamilySearch, Benjamin Jennings in entry for Benjamin Walrind and Elizabeth Jennings, 03 Jan 1810; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 33,067(5 December 2014)
Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940database, FamilySearch, Benja Jennings in entry for Benjamin Burton and Martha Jennings, 11 Nov 1816; citing Powhatan, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 33,067(5 December 2014)
Virginia Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, database,, Benjamin Jennings 27 Mar, 19 Jul, 24 Jul 1815, Powhatan County Virginia, images 11, 236-238, 241-242 (accessed 1 January 2018)

Who Was the Original Jennings Immigrant?
Did John W. Jennings, Sr. (c1777-1858) Marry His Niece?

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