Cook-McAllister Connection

On 14 October 1704, “Hannah Mackallister wid’w”, of King William County signed a power of attorney to “my loving son in law Abraham Cook of St. Paul’s Parish in New Kent County” to recover all debts due to her “within the Colony of Virg’a” and to sell or lease “my plantation.”1  She is presumed to have been the widow of Andrew McAllister, who patented land in King William County in 1701.

What was the precise nature of the relationship between Hannah McAllister and Abraham Cook?  “Son-in-law” covers several different possible relationships.   In an effort to explore the possibilities, I present the notes below.

Andrew McAllister

We have almost no information about this man, who is the only McAllister mentioned in the records of King WIlliam and surrounding records.   Two records mention him, the first in June 1699 and the second in 1702.  We find him in Pamunkey Neck, for which a brief diversion might be helpful.

Virginia’s Pamunkey Neck encompassed the area between the Mattapony and Pamunkey Rivers, which nowadays encompasses  King William County, the southern part of Caroline County, and southern Spotsylvania County.  It was administratively part of New Kent County until 1691 when it became part of King & Queen County.   When the Pamunkeys subjugated themselves to the King in 1701, it became King William County.   The Neck was originally Indian land in which white settlement was forbidden by a 1625 treaty with the Pamunkey King.  Beginning in 1679 the Pamunkey Indians leased land to a few enterprising whites, who then subdivided their rights into smaller parcels sold to other settlers. In addition, because the Crown had neglected to formally issue a patent to the Indians, claims within the Pamunkey reservation began to be surveyed for settlers by 1694. The confusion over title, and a desire to clarify quit rent obligations, resulted in the formation of a committee to resolve the question of ownership of land in Pamunkey Neck. In its report of June 1699, this committee noted that Richard Yarborough, an Indian interpreter and trader, was among those who held a 99-year lease with the Pamunkeys, evidently obtained sometime after 1679.2  Among those claiming rights to this land was “Andrew Mackallaster”, who had purchased 100 acres from Yarborough.3   (It is uncertain when this land was sold to McAllister, only that he claimed a right to it as of June 1699.) The Governor recognized the rights of these settlers, providing that they obtain patents to perfect their titles. Each of the settlers claiming land from Yarborough applied for grants, and over the next few years were issued patents for their land.

A patent was issued to Andrew McAllister for 86 acres on 24 October 1701 for importation of himself and his wife Hannah.4 The land can be located fairly precisely, as the patent describes it as bordered by the south bank of the Mattaponi River, the courses of branches of Fort Swamp, the land of William Rawlins5, and “old Richard Yarberough’s whole tract leased of the Pamunkey Indians.”

We have no idea when Andrew McAllister and Hannah arrived in Virginia. In fact, we cannot safely conclude from this record that Andrew and Hannah arrived at the same time or even that they were married at when they arrived.  Although the patent proves that they were married when he applied for it,  that does not prove that they were married at the time they immigrated. Therefore we cannot eliminate the possibility that McAllister was only recently married to Hannah.  All we can conclude is that they were married by 1699, for the certificate was probably obtained and the patent applied for shortly after the June 1699 committee report.6

Note also that neither he nor anyone else claimed any McAllister children as headrights. Thus it is not clear whether he was childless, or had children born in Virginia, or had children elsewhere whom he imported.  Note, though, that only two headrights were needed to claim the 86 acres, and any other rights he may have been due would either have been used for other property or assigned to others.

There are two reasons, though, to suspect that he had no children. First, 86 acres was a very small landholding for a man with a family. There was land aplenty available in Pamunkey Neck at this time, thus we might find it suspicious that he claimed only enough land to support a single male worker.  Indeed, only three holdings in the 1704 Quit Rent listing were under 100 acres, none as small as 86 acres.7  Second, the circumstances of Hannah McAllister’s power of attorney suggests that there may have been no children to inherit this land — as explained below.

Nevertheless, descendants of two different families claim marriages to women named McAllister, who could conceivably have been daughters of Andrew McAllister. Descendants of Joseph Crenshaw [aka Grainger] claim a marriage to Sarah McAllister and descendants of Robert Hester claim a marriage to Rachel McAllister. The Crenshaw claim is, as best I can tell, purely speculative with no supporting evidence. The Hester claim is based on a supposed Bible record which, I believe, is suspect enough that it is unreliable.8  I strongly suspect that both of these claims might be traced to the theories of early researchers attempting to explain the relationships of both men to Abraham Cook Jr. (whom they generally confused with his father.)

Hannah McAllister

Other than her mention as a headright in her husband’s patent, there is only one other record of Hannah McAllister. On 14 October 1704, “Hannah Mackallister wid’w”, of King William County signed a power of attorney to “my loving son in law Abraham Cook of St. Paul’s Parish in New Kent County” to recover all debts due to her “within the Colony of Virg’a” and to sell or lease “my plantation.”9  The plantation was presumably the 86 acres patented by Andrew McAllister in 1701, though neither he nor Hannah appear on the 1704 quit rent rolls for King William County.

An interesting question to consider is how Hannah McAllister came to own a plantation.  If Andrew McAllister had died intestate, his land could not have been inherited by his wife since spouses were not natural heirs of one another.  If he had died intestate, his land would either have descended to his children or other blood relatives, or escheated to the Crown.10  Of course he could have willed the land to his wife — but no such will exists among King William County records.

An Explanation of her Land Ownership

The language of the power of attorney clearly implies that she held title to the land, for she authorizes Cook to sell or rent it. Yet the only land in King William County owned by a McAllister was the 1702 patent to Andrew McAllister.

The obvious explanation lies in a Virginia statute of March 1661/2.11.  This statute established a process for obtaining title to the land of men who died without heirs.  It provided that anyone who occupied the land for a period of two years could then claim a fee simple title by paying a modest fee of one hundred pounds of tobacco for every fifty acres. Crucially, though, it provided that a widow could not only continue to occupy the land during her lifetime but was given the right of first refusal to obtain title by paying the fee after two years of occupancy.  This statute neatly explains why Hannah McAllister might claim that she owned the land if she were expecting to claim title under its provisions.

There does not seem to be any further mention of this land.  Neither a McAllister nor a Cook were listed among the quit rents for 1704 — a circumstance neatly explained if Andrew McAllister were deceased less than two years, since it would be Crown land during that period.  Nor is there a deed executed by either McAllister or Cook — which suggests that Hannah either died herself or abandoned the plantation.

The Abraham Cook Relationship

Hannah calls him her “son in law.” In those times this phrase was used in a much broader sense than today. Generally speaking, it meant any relationship created by a legal event (usually a marriage) rather than by a natural event. That is, the term “son-in-law” was applied to a stepson, the husband of a daughter, or even the husband of a stepdaughter. And, of course, any of these relationships could have been created by a prior marriage.

Can we sort this out? Let us first consider whether we can identify Abraham Cook. We know that Abraham Cook was in New Kent County by the 1690s, for the births of two children are recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish register. And we know he owned 200 acres in the 1704 quit rent rolls. Finally, he is mentioned several times in parish records from 1707 through 1720, never as “Senior”.  He had a son named Abraham Cook, who first appears in 1723 patenting land as “Abraham Cook Jr.”  Abraham Cook Sr. apparently died not long afterwards and Abraham Cook Jr. thereafter appears without the “Junior” suffix.  It therefore appears that Abraham Cook Jr. (whose wife was named Sarah) was much too young to have been the son-in-law mentioned by Hannah McAllister. The son-in-law must have been Abraham Cook Sr.

We cannot be absolutely certain of the background of Abraham Cook Sr. The fragmentary New Kent records merely tell us that he was married and having children in the 1690s, and had acquired land in present Hanover County before 1704. We have good reason to believe that he had older children not mentioned in the Parish register, and probably lived elsewhere prior to 1690. [Abraham Cook Jr.’s birth, for example, is not recorded in the parish register.] It seems plausible that he was the same person as the Abraham Cook married to Martha who appears in the records of Old Rappahannock (later Richmond) County until 1690.

If he is the same person, then he married, probably in Old Rappahannock, to Martha sometime prior to 1689 when they appear as husband and wife. But how do we deal with the complete absence of any McAllister records in Old Rappahannock? He could have married elsewhere, but we must consider the possibility that Martha was the daughter of Hannah by another marriage. There is, in fact, some reason to think that Martha was a daughter of William Clayton, who died by 1680 leaving a widow named Hannah. Beyond the association of Abraham Cook with the Claytons, we have the knowledge that he named a daughter “Hannah” and one of his sons named a child “Clayton”. Could the widow Hannah Clayton be the same person as Hannah McAllister?

Hannah Clayton

Let’s look at that question more closely. Hannah Clayton was widowed by 28 January 1680/1 when her husband’s son, William Clayton Jr., was called an “orphant”12  We know that Hannah Clayton was still a widow as late as 3 May 1688 when she was granted an attachment against the estate of Roderick Jones.13  The 28 May 1689 deed from William Clayton Jr. and his wife Mary to Abraham Cook of half the homeplace tells us that Hannah Clayton was still living on the land, for the deed described it as land “which belongeth to my mother’s plantation and her hundred acres of land that she doth now live on”.14  However, she evidently moved off the land within a year or so, for Abraham Cook and William Clayton both sold their inherited halves of that land to John Morgan.  Abraham Cook sold his half on 22 February 1689/90 and Clayton sold his half a year later on 1 May 1691. Clayton’s deed no longer describes it as the land his mother lives on, but it does make it clear she was alive by excepting “my mother’s thirds”.15  It seems obvious from these deeds that Hannah Clayton retained her dower interest in the land, but was no longer living on it. Whether she was living with her son William or had remarried is unknowable, but the possibility of a remarriage is certainly a plausible one. She does not appear in any later Old Rappahannock record.

Could Hannah have remarried? Our best guess is that she was barely middle-aged in 1688, when we last know she was unmarried. If she were typical of 17th century free women in Virginia, she would have married in her teens and had her children before her late-20s. Her son William reached majority in 1686, thus placing his birth in 1665. We can plausibly surmise that Hannah herself was probably born ca1640-45, and was therefore most likely in her 40s by 1688. To be fair, I should note that she remained a widow for at least eight years – quite a long time in those days. However, her son’s maturity and his desire to move elsewhere may have prompted a remarriage by the late 1680s. And men still outnumbered women by a considerable margin in those days, providing a large pool of potential husbands.

Could she have remarried Andrew McAllister? There is no evidence either way, but that is a possibility we can’t ignore.   It would conveniently explain why she would call Abraham Cook her son-in-law thirteen years later. On the other hand, Hannah would have been past child-bearing age and such a marriage would have been very unlikely to have produced children. This if McAllister had children, surely they would have been by another wife.


We are left with several possible explanations for the 1704 power of attorney, all of which are possible:

  1. Abraham Cook was her stepson. This would be possible if Hannah McAllister had previously been married to a Cook with children of his own. That is, if she married a Cook widower with children, was widowed herself, and then remarried to McAllister, then Abraham Cook would literally be her “son-in-law.” However, this makes it quite unlikely that Hannah McAllister and Hannah Clayton were the same person, since it not only introduces another marriage for her but also requires that the Cook marriage took place earlier than 1665 when her son William Clayton was born.
  2. Abraham Cook was married to a McAllister daughter. If this is the case, then Hannah Clayton and Hannah McAllister cannot be the same person. Further, it casts considerable doubt on the idea that the Abraham Cook of Old Rappahannock and the Abraham Cook of New Kent were the same person – for there is no evidence at all that McAllister was in Virginia, much less Old Rappahannock, when Abraham Cook married.
  3. Abraham Cook was married to a Clayton daughter. This requires that Hannah McAllister and Hannah Clayton be the same person, and that the Abraham Cook of Old Rappahannock and the Abraham Cook of New Kent be the same person. The latter seems very likely, based on other evidence. The theory that Hannah Clayton and Hannah McAllister were the same person is plausible, and supported by the appearance of “Clayton” among the names of Abraham Cook’s grandchildren.

The bottom line is that there are at least three possibilities, any of which might be true. Although the last possibility is attractive, the evidence is not sufficiently strong to declare any of these as most likely.

  1. King William County Deed Book 1, p288. []
  2. English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records, Lewis des Cognets, Jr.,  (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981), pp 57-66 duplicates this committee report. []
  3. Des Cognets, p59. []
  4. Virginia Patent Book 9, p386. []
  5. The patent to William Rawlins is at VPB 9:505.  William “Rawlings” will was dated 27 May 1704 and proved 20 June 1704 in King William County.  This may explain why he is not listed among the 1704 quit rents.  See King William County Record Book 2, part I, p30, etc. []
  6. I should also note that no system existed to account for headrights.  That is, no method beyond the patentee’s own testimony existed for verifying that an importation actually occurred or that a headright had not already been used.  The result was that the headright system was rife with corruption by the late 1680s.  All that was necessary was to convince a county court to issue a certificate.  The certificate was then used like a warrant, with the names of the headrights copied from the certificate into the patent. []
  7. This was a very small landholding for a tobacco farmer. The economics of tobacco cultivation required about 50 acres of usable ground to employ a single person for twenty years – only a few acres could be cultivated by a single person, playing it out in two or three years after which the land would be nearly worthless for the purpose. []
  8. On June 25, 2000, Emily Van Hazinga posted a transcript at Genforum purporting to be “notes from a Hester bible once owned by my great-grandfather…  My mother writes the bible itself apparently went missing about 12 years ago. This information was copied by either of two family genealogists, probably in 1940s.” This record includes the line: “Robert [Hester] his wife Rachael McAllister were married 1706 in this Parish.”  It is obviously not clear if this line was actually in the Bible, or was added by one of the “family genealogists.”   Since Bibles were rarely used to record family information until several decades later, any purported Bible record dated this early is suspect.   When we add the lack of provenance, the record becomes unreliable.  Even if correct, the only tie to Andrew McAllister is a fairly weak proximity argument. []
  9. King William County Deed Book 1, p288. []
  10. See separate page on the laws of succession elsewhere on this site. []
  11. See Hening’s Statutes at Large, Vol. 2, p56 and p156. []
  12. Old Rappahannock County Deed Book 1677-1682, Ruth & Sam Sparacio, (The Antient Press, 1996), Vol II, p299.  Benjamin Goodrich, son and heir of Thomas Goodrich, sold his father’s patent to Edward Hill in exchange for Hill paying whatever debts “might become due from Col. Thomas Goodrich deceased unto William Cleaton, orphant” and other considerations. []
  13. Rappahannock Orders 1687-9, p70 []
  14. Old Rappahannock County Deed Book 8, p58. []
  15. Old Rappahannock County Deed Book 8, p317. []