Early VA Meachams -- Wm. Meacham ancestry

On the ancestry of William Meacham Sr. d. 1808

[April 7,2000]

About a year and a half ago, in response to an inquiry from me about our Meacham line, a distant cousin sent me what he believed was our ancestry all the way back to 1541 in England. Unfortunately, I would find out later that all of the information claimed for the 16th and 17th centuries was erroneous, and that my line was provable only back to William Sr. who died in 1808 in Chatham Co., North Carolina, whose birth was indicated as "abt. 1720." This would emerge as the major brick wall in my Meacham line, and many others' as well, since there is no documentary evidence of William Sr.'s date or place of birth, his parents, or his marriage.

Clarence Mitcham's book Meacham Mitcham Mitchum -- Families of the South deals mainly with descendants of the eight children of William Sr. and his wife Elizabeth. It is an enormously valuable resource for anyone interested in southern Meachams generally, but it is disappointing in the way it treats the founding ancestors William and Elizabeth. Clarence begins on page 1 with a statement that "William Meacham was born about 1720." No evidence is cited for this, and it appears to be nothing more than a guess. Now estimates are fine, but there should be some reasoning given as to why this figure was chosen over say 1725 or 1730. More disappointing still is the "information" given in the Introduction: William's parents are said to be Henry Meacum and Frances Banks, and his date of birth estimated as "1720-25". This figure clearly comes from an effort to arrange the supposed children of Henry and Frances in a meaningful order. William's siblings are said to be: Joshua b. abt. 1714, Banks, Frances, Nathaniel, Henry Jr. b. 1721, Lewis, James, and John. This description of the family of Henry Sr. is probably the worst work Clarence Mitcham ever did, based on nothing more than mere guesswork, and should be ignored. All of it appears to be wrong.

Burton Meacham, in his widely circulated Meacham genealogy, put William under a different set of parents, but in doing so he ignored or fudged the facts in order to get things to fit his notions. Burton decided that William was the son of James and Mary Meacham of Middlesex County, but since William first appears in Caroline County, Burton had him born there. This plays havoc with the known offspring and residence of James and Mary, including their son WILLIAM whose date of birth was recorded (!) in Middlesex County in the Christ Church parish register as Sept. 23, 1718, and given as such in Clarence Mitcham's book. Burton was fully aware of it. There are six other children of James and Mary listed in the same parish register: Michall 1708, Mary 1712, James 1714, Ann 1721, Elizabeth 1725, and Benjamin 1729. Burton for some reason put William's date of birth as June 12, 1720; he also added Banks 1711, Henry 1718 and Sara 1727 to the list, for what reason can only be guessed, but without a shred of evidence.

It was a puzzle where Burton got the precise date of June 12 for William; later I happened across the probable source of it. There is an entry in the Christ Church register thus: "William Meacham, son of William and Jane, born June 12, 17__." The last two digits are illegible, but the parents are certainly William Meacham and Jane Aldin who married in 1748. Of course this entry has nothing to do with Caroline County, nor with James and Mary Meacham, nor with the William who died in 1808.

An argument could be made that William Meacham b. 1718 is our man, and again it is puzzling that neither Burton nor Clarence considered this possibility. Clarence believed William b. 1718 is the one who went on to marry Jane Aldin, and that might very well be the case. What complicates things is that there were other William Meachams in Middlesex Co. at the time. John and Macall Meacham had a son William born in 1694; there was also a "William Micham" who witnessed a land sale in 1701, and so must have been an adult at that time. So which one married Jane Aldin, assuming that it was one of these William Meachams who was either born in or long a resident of Middlesex Co.? Clearly not the adult in 1701, who would have been at least 68 in 1748 and 72 when their last child was born in 1762. The logical candidate would be William b. 1718 (marriage at 30 and last child at 44), but William b. 1694 is also an outside possibility (marriage at 54, last child at 68). In sum, even though unlikely, the possibility cannot be excluded that William Sr. d. 1808 was the son of James and Mary born in Middlesex Co. in 1718. However, it is strange that his name only appears in Caroline County from 1765, when he would have been 47, and his children are born about 1758-72 when he would have been 40-54. Possible, just, but not a very good fit.

The most likely ancestry of William, however, came to me in a flash, after staring the evidence in the face for more than a year. The clue is in William's wife Elizabeth, namely who she was and more importantly who she was not. Clarence and everyone since has labelled her as Elizabeth Crutchfield, sometimes with but usually without the "?" and the speculative terms that Clarence used. He wrote:

"It is quite possible that Elizabeth Meacham's maiden name was Crutchfield, since William Meacham's will is signed by Thomas Crutchfield and Anderson Crutchfield. Two professional genealogists have told me that a will or deed was almost always witnessed by a relative."

Other evidence is the fact that John Crutchfield sold William a tract of land in Chatham County, North Carolina in 1790. Now all of this certainly indicates a strong relationship between William Meacham and the Crutchfields. The problem lies in trying to identify his wife with any known Elizabeth Crutchfield. Clarence suggested the daughter of Henry Crutchfield, sister of Thomas and Anderson. It was found later that she married someone else and moved to Tennessee. Another suggestion was Elizabeth, daughter of James Crutchfield, but she was born entirely too late (1760s) to be William's wife.

And then there is the curious fact of Joseph Meacham who married an Elizabeth Crutchfield, as recorded in the Christ Church register on Jan. 9, 1728. This fact bothered me, and apparently Clarence was not too comfortable with it either, as he raised questions about whether it was Cruthhfield rather than Crutchfield, and whether it was Ann instead of Elizabeth. There is however no doubt about what the register actually says. Multiple marriages between clans are common, but to find two Elizabeth Crutchfields both marrying Meachams is highly improbable. A lengthy correspondence with a Crutchfield researcher has convinced me of two things: the Crutchfield family trees are well documented, and there is no Elizabeth who fits the vital profile of William's wife: born between 1720-40, child bearing 1758-72, still alive in 1813, and of course not married to somebody else after 1758!

A third element was necessary, before the conclusion fairly exploded into view. Joseph Meacham apparently moved to Caroline County in the 1730s. These are the facts I could find about him after his marriage to Elizabeth Crutchfield in 1728:

So the "Crutchfield connection" was through the wife of Joseph -- first Eureka! Now if William Sr. d. 1808 really was the son of James and Mary born 1718 in Middlesex Co., he and Joseph were cousins. Perhaps this William, then in his teens, accompanied Joseph to Caroline Co. in the 1730s to seek his fortune, and became part of the Meacham-Crutchfield extended family there. But it is very odd as noted above that his name does not appear anywhere until he is 47. Joseph's brother James may have accompanied him as well. There is a James Meacham whose estate was appraised in Caroline Co. in 1759.

The very close links that William had with the Crutchfields carried on into North Carolina, with the sale to him of 640 acres of their land in Chatham County, and of course the witnessing of his will. The more I considered Clarence's statement -- "professional genealogists have told me that a will or deed was almost always witnessed by a relative" -- the more perplexed I was to explain the situation. Yes, the Crutchfields were his neighbors, but somehow this was not quite satisfactory as an explanation.

Then a big Eureka! William's first son was named Joseph ................. William's father was Joseph!!! This would explain the close bond to the Crutchfields: he WAS one, his mother being nee Elizabeth Crutchfield. He was probably born in the middle or late 1730s, just after the move to Caroline County. If this lineage is true, it could also explain the naming of William's first daughter Jane. William's paternal grandmother was Jane, although admittedly she died (1722) before he was born.

This scenario is not of course proven, but it is supported by the available evidence, and it explains that evidence better than the notion that his wife "must have been" a Crutchfield.

Then came the monumental Eureka -- several sources give the date of Joseph's death as 1765. Clarence has this (p. 192), in his usual confusing style:

Joseph Meacham b. 7 Oct 1705 resided Midd. Co. VA. Christ Ch Parish (perhaps he is Joseph B. of Carolina Co. VA.) m. 9 jan 1728 Midd. Co. VA.(Christ Ch.) to Elizabeth Crutchfield. He d.1765. Will 1765 Midd. Co. VA. Inf. Elizabeth as Exor. see "Colonial People" fod death.- father Joseph Meacham mother Jane. ? issue--- Meacham, Mary b. Nov 11 1729 Middlexex Co. VA. Source- "Colonial People" descendent 1765 Meacham Joseph Exor. Elizabeth Meacham (Carolina Co. VA.)

I have been unable to find the reference "Colonial People." Next, I found the following data from T.E. Campbell's book Colonial Caroline - A History of Caroline County, Virginia: in 1765 Joseph Meacham is listed as deceased and the executors of his estate are Joseph and Elizabeth Meacham. I then attempted to locate the original source for this data. Assuming that it must have been the Caroline County court records, I tracked down someone who had access to the indexes prepared by John F. Dorman and published as Caroline County Virginia Court Order Books 1732-1788. The following references were located for 1765: Elizabeth Mitchum 8-9-1765 and 9-12-1765. Neither of these had any mention of Joseph. I then resolved, in order to find the reference to Joseph's will, to read all the original text of the court order books for 1765. This was a daunting task, for while the microfilm is generally as good a reproduction as can be expected, the pages are often faded, the script faint, and the handwriting often very difficult to decipher. After two hours of reading, I found it. The first sentence set my heart racing. There it was -- a break through the brick wall: "The last will and testatment of Joseph Meacham Deceased was brought into Court by Elizabeth Meacham Executrix and William Meacham Executor therein named..."

The practice was, and often is still, that a man's widow and/or his eldest son would be named the executors of his estate. It was not an iron-clad rule, but it was certainly a general custom. This is what Joseph seems to have done. It is not proven beyond doubt that William was not his cousin, but combined with the other circumstances already discussed above, the evidence is fairly compelling that William was his son born after the family moved to Caroline County.

Finally, there is another curious fact which it is tempting to tie into the story. In 1732 Joseph Meacham was compensated 1200 lbs. of tobacco for taking an orphan child on indenture from Petsworth Parish in Gloucester County. We do not know the age of the child, but we have her name -- Elizabeth Knoles. Is it possible that this adopted child/indentured servant to the household could later have become William's wife? This would have been an almost incestuous marriage, but legal (vide Woody and Soon-yi Allen). Or did Elizabeth Knoles take the family name Meacham, and is she the "Elizabeth Meacham" who is sued for debt in Caroline Co. in September,1765, the year Joseph died? It would seem unlikely that this is Elizabeth the widow of Joseph, since as a Crutchfield she apparently had many wealthy relatives to call upon. Furthermore, if the debt was one owed by her late husband, the defendant in the action would have been named as "Elizabeth Meacham Executor of the Estate of Joseph Meacham" or simply "The estate of Joseph Meacham." If it was against her personally, it would probably have named her "Elizabeth Meacham widow," especially as she was widowed only a few months previously.

The reader will have no doubt noticed that there are altogether too many Elizabeths in this clan, for if William did not marry his adoptive sister, then he had a mother, sister, AND wife all named Elizabeth. And of course he named one of his daughters Elizabeth too.

Opinions, data and comments on the above are welcome.

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