The Gorham – Vandiver Connection

Sanford Gorham’s will of 9 October 1772 directs that the estate be sold and the proceeds be used for the support of “my wife & children”.  The will bequeaths the increase of a negro woman “belonging to my wife Ann Gorham” equally after her death to “my sons Lamken, William, and Harving”.  A bed and furniture was bequeathed to “my daughter Sarah Vandever.”   One of the witnesses to the will was a Sarah Vandiver.1

The question is:  Who was “my daughter Sarah Vandever” – a stepdaughter or a natural daughter married to a Vandiver?

There are two competing theories among descendants that bear on the identity of Sanford Gorham’s wife.

Theory #1

The evidence overwhelmingly favors the notion that Sanford Gorham’s wife was the widow of George Vandiver and that Sarah Vandiver was her daughter by the prior marriage.  This hypothesis neatly explains every fact.

Sanford Gorham, who was born about 1744 or 1745, was no older than 28 when he wrote his will, much too young to have had a married daughter.   And a married daughter would not have witnessed the will, for that act would invalidated her inheritance.  We have a far better explanation.

George Vandiver died in late 1764 leaving a pregnant widow named Ann and four small children named Edward, Sarah, Tabitha, and Armentia.2  (The child she was pregnant with was George Jr., who stated in his Revolutionary pension application that he was born in 1764.)  He left his 216-acre  plantation as a life estate to his wife Ann.   A widow in her position would have been motivated to remarry, and we know that Sanford Gorham was married the following year to a woman named Ann from the 1765 debit to Christopher Neale’s estate.  According to Vandiver researchers, Edward Vandiver was baptized on 21 January 1753, meaning he should begin to appear in the tihables in 1769.    A marriage of Sanford Gorham to the widow Ann Vandiver would neatly explain why Sanford Gorham would pay the tithe for Edward Vandiver for the years 1769-1772, and why Ann Gorham would pay for him in 1773-1774 after Sanford’s death. It would also explain why Sarah Vandiver could be referred to as a “daughter” yet also witness the will – a legitimate action for a stepdaughter who would have had no legal interest in the residual estate.

Further, it would explain Sanford Gorham’s lack of land transactions, since he would have been living on the plantation that George Vandiver left to his widow.   Indeed, Sanford appears in the tithables in the same district in which Vandiver’s land lay.   I would also note that no Ann Vandiver appears in any Loudoun records subsequent to 1764, but Mrs. Ann Gorham appears beginning in 1765.

Although this theory appears to fit all the facts, there is one flaw. Edward Vandiver and “Ann his mother” sold George Vandiver’s land in 1774, the year Edward Vandiver turned 21, but Ann’s surname recorded by the clerk beside her mark was “Vandiver”, not “Gorham”.3  Given that no Ann Vandiver ever appeared among the tithables for her slave or sons, this seems likely to have simply been a clerical error in copying the deed.  But it forces us to consider an alternate theory.

Theory #2

An alternate possibility — but a much inferior one — is that the “Sarah Vandiver” named in the will was Sanford’s natural daughter and the wife of a Vandiver.   Edward Vandiver is seemingly the only candidate, despite being a teenager at the time.   This might explain Edward Vandiver’s presence in Sanford’s household.   It does not, however, explain why Sanford would have paid his tithe or why Edward’s mother-in-law, a widow with few assets, would have been responsible for his tithes subsequent to Sanford’s death.  Nor does it meet the test of “reasonability”, since it implies that Edward Vandiver had married by the age of 16.   [Not to mention that it implies a 28-year old Sanford had a daughter old enough to marry.]  Furthermore, this theory implies two persons named Sarah Vandiver. A natural daughter could not legally have been the witness to Sanford’s will, meaning that the Sarah Vandiver who witnessed the will must have been the unmarried daughter of George Vandiver who had been named in Vandiver’s will eight years earlier.

I also note that there is no supporting evidence that Edward Vandiver was married at the time, nor that his wife’s name was Sarah.   Indeed, barely three years later Edward Vandiver was married to a woman named Helena.   A 19 March 1776 “three lives” lease to Edward Vandiver, his wife Helena, and daughter Sarah proves that.


The first theory fits all the facts except one — for which a plausible explanation exists.  The second theory is a far poorer fit that requires us to explain away too much evidence to the contrary.   On balance, the first theory is the better fit to the evidence.

Whichever was the case, there was clearly some connection between Sanford Gorham and the Vandivers. Tabitha Vandiver (another daughter of George Vandiver) married Joseph Frost and in 1777 the Frosts executed a “three lives” lease with the third person being “Harvin Goreham, orphan of Sanford Goreham”.4  Whether Harvin Gorham was a step-brother of Tabitha Frost (Theory 1) or her brother’s brother-in-law (Theory 2) is uncertain, but it seems highly likely that he was living with the Frosts at the time.   Harvin Gorham was clearly under 16 at the time, for while Joseph Frost was tithable Harvin Gorham was not.

  1. Loudoun County Will Book B, p29. []
  2. Loudoun County Will Book A, p120 and p128. []
  3. Loudoun County Deed Book A, p49 and Deed Book C, p531. []
  4. Loudoun County Deed Book L, p294. []