As detailed in the Records of William Rountree file, William Rountree was a sitting Justice in Laurens County, South Carolina in 1806 when he was accused of murdering a man named Thomas Owens.
In June 1806 John Owens, the father of Thomas Owens, charged William Rountree with fatally shooting his son on June 4th. After obtaining statements by witnesses and interested parties, a grand jury indicted William Rountree for the crime on 18 November 1806 and he was remanded to the local jail. Bail was denied while the case dragged on for several months.
Six months later, on 14 April 1807, the case went to a jury. After hearing the evidence the jury acquitted William Rountree two days later.
That was the last record of William Rountree in South Carolina. Whether due to financial distress, his lost standing in the community, or threats from the family and friends of Thomas Owens, William Rountree abruptly left the state. Within two years he had acquired land in southern Tennessee just above the Alabama border and been appointed one of the first justices of Lincoln County, Tennessee. Although court records tell us that his wife later traveled to Laurens District to visit her parents, William Rountree never returned to South Carolina.
The following explanation of the murder case is reproduced from an article in The South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1988), entitled “An Early Ballistics Test: The State vs. William Rountree.”
An Early Ballistics Test: The State vs. William Rountree
An English graduate student Mr. Ted Pearson brought this most interesting case (Laurens County General Sessions Roll #100) to the attention of your editor. The original case is among Laurens County records at the South Carolina Archives, and the exhibit reproduced herein is in excellent condition, especially considering that fact that it is over one hundred eighty years old.
South Carolina, Laurens District. The Examination of William Rountree Esq’r. of the District aforesaid, taken Before me Charles Allen one of the Justices of the Quorum for the District aforesaid, the 5th day of June 1806, the said William Rountree Being Charged Before me by John Owens of the District of Spartenburgh and State aforesaid with the felonious shooting and killing Thomas Owens, Late of this District at or Near the plantation of John Atterway on the 4th of this Instant, between the hours of ten and eleven o’clock in the fore noon, he the said Wm Rountree upon his Examination now Taken Before me Denieth that he is guilty of the felony that he is Char’d with taken before me the Day and year above written. Cha’s Allen, J. Q.
South Carolina, Laurens District. Be it Remembered that this day being the 9th day of June 1806, John Owens of Spartanburgh Dist & State aforesaid & Rubin Martin Senr & John Harris of Laurens district & State aforesaid Came before me & acknowledged themselves to owe to the State of South Carolina that is to say the said John Owens the Sum of Five hundred Dollars the said Rubin Martin & John Harrias the sum of Two hundred & fifty Dollars Each to be Respectively made & Levyed of their several goods & Chattels Lands & Tennements to the use of the said State if the said John Owens shall & do fail to comply with the Conditions under written– The Condition of the above obligation is such that if the above bound John Owens shall & do parsonly be & appear at the next Court of General Sesslons of the peace to be holden at Laurens Court House on the third Monday after the fourth Monday in October next & then & There prossecute a bill of indictment against William Rountree Esq’r for as it is said Feloniouly [sic] Murdering Tho’s Owens & Give such Evidence as he knoweth in behalf of the State against s’d Wm Rountree Esq’r Then this Recognizance to be void or Else Remain in full force in Law Taken & Acknowledged before me the day & year above written. John Owens (X) (Seal), Reuben Martin (Seal), John Harriss (Seal). Starling Tucker, J. Q.
South Carolina, Laurens District. Be it Remembered that on the thirtyith day of December 1806, Jen Reaves, Spencer Colbert and William Moore of Spartenburgh district and State afore said Came before me and acknowledged themselves to owe to the State of South Carolina the Just Sum of Five hundred Dollars to be Respectively made & Levyed of their several goods & Chattels Lands & Tennements to the use of the said State if Patsey Conner shall fail to comply with the Conditions under written. The Condition of this Recognizance is such that if said Patsey Conner shall parsonly appear at the next Court of General Sessions of the peace to be holden at Laurens Court House on the third Monday after the fourth Monday in March next to testify the truth in behalf of the said State against William Rountree of Laurens District who being Charged with Murdering Thomas Owens and not depart without leave of the Court then the said Recognizance to be void or Else Remain in full force. acknowledged before me Starling Tucker, J. Q. Jean Reaves (R) (Seal), Spencer Calbert (Seal), William Moore (Seal).
The 5th of June 1806. The Examination of Michael Wallace on an inquest held over the Body of Tho’s Owens who it appears was Feloniously murdered on the 4th of instant past Mike Wallace on his oath saith that on the 29th or thirtyeth day of May last he went to Wm Rountrees Esq’r after whiskey1 & s’d Esqr Rountree told this deponant that he should have quit — for this Thos Owens a damned son of a bitch had contrived his grane to be burnt & that said Esq’r Rountree said he would willingly Sacrifice one Run of whiskey to take s’d Owens life or have said Owens life Taken. This deponant not certain which Expression he also saith on this oath that about Ten day past said Sq’r Rountree Came into the field where this deponant was plowing & ast him if he had Seen anything of his muly Bull this deponant answered he had seen no bull about there but Abraham Grays & That Sq’r Rountree Replyed you do not know my meening I meen Tho’s Owens & I should be glad hope soon some one would send him to hell he further saith on his oath that in this Conversation s’d Rountree told this deponant that he had seen Tho’s Owens that morning in Mr Attawys lane & said he has passed by Attaway several times lately I never seen Owens but once he also saith on oath that on the 4th instant about Eleven oclock s’d Rountree came in to the field where this deponant was plowing and appeard to be very much Fatigued & his Countenance fell & Said he had come to make hoe helves(?) Stayed a few minutes & Went off he also says that both Times s’d Rountree had his gun & the last time being the 4th instant he believes that the pan of the gun was open & the cock as if it had just been fired & he believes the smoke on the Barrel of the gun as if she was just fired & From what he has seen & heard believes s’d Sq’r Rountree was guilty of the said murder. Michael Wallis. Before me the day and year above written. Cha’s Allen, J. Q.
South Carolina, Laurens District. Be it Remembered that on the 23rd day of June 1806, Samuel Bell, Ellis Cheek & Henderson Whitlow came before me & acknowledged themselves to owe to the State of South Carolina that is to say the said Samuel Bell the Sum of Five hundred Dollars the said Ellis Cheek & Henderson Whitlow the sum of Two hundred & fifty Dollars Each to be Respectively made & Levyed of their several goods & Chattels Lands & Tennements to the use of the said State if the said Samuel Bell shall fail in performing the Condition under written– The Condition of this Recognizance is such that if the above bound Samuel Bell shall parsonly appear before the Justices of the said State at the next Court of General Sessions of the peace to be holden at Laurens Court House on the third Monday after the fourth Monday in October next & then & There to give such evidence as he knoweth on behalf of the State in a bill of indictment to be prefured against William Rountree Esq’r of said district for as it is said Feloniously shooting & murdering Tho’s Owens of said district on the fourth of this instant past & not depart thence without leave of the said Court then this Recognizance to be void or Else Remain in full force. Taken & Acknowledged the day & year above mentioned before me. Starling Tucker, J.Q. Samuel Bell (Seal), Ellis Cheek (X) (Seal), Henderson Whitlow (Seal).
South Carolina, Laurens District. Personly appeared Henderson Whitlow before the Inquest this day held over the Body of Tho’s Owens lying dead Saith that he went to the house of William Rountrees this day he believes between Ten & Eleven oclock in the forenoon & that s’d William Rountree was not at home & saith on his oath that he inquired of Mrs Rountree the wife of him s’d William where Mr Rountree was & that thse replied he went a fishing after he Eat breckfast & that she Expected he would be at home in about one hour sworn to before me this 4th day of June 1806. Chas Allen J.Q. Henderson Whitlow.
South Carolina, Laurens District. Be it Remembered that on the 10th day of June 1806, Henderson Whitlow, Samuel Bell, & Ellis Cheek of the district aforesaid personaly came before me & acknowledged themselves to owe to the State of South Carolina that is to say the said Henderson Whitlow the Sum of Five hundred Dollars the said Samuel Bell & Ellis Cheek the sum of Two hundred & fifty Dollars separately to be made & Levyed of their several goods & Chattels Lands & Tennements to the use of the said State if the said Henderson Whitlow shall make default in the Condition – The Condition of this Recognizance is such that if the above bound Henderson Whitlow shall personly appear before the Justices of the said State at the next Court of General Sessions of the peace to be holden at Laurens Courthouse on the third Monday after the fourth Monday in October next & then & There to give such evidence as he knoweth on behalf of the State in a bill of indictment to be prefured against William Rountree Esq’r of said district for as it is said Feloniously shooting & murdering Tho’s Owens of said district on the fourth of this instant past & not depart thence without leave of the said Court then this Recognizance to be void or Else Remain in full force. Taken & Acknowledged the day & year above mentioned before me. Starling Tucker, J.Q. Henderson Whitlow (Seal), Samuel Bell (Seal), Ellis Cheek (X).
State of South Carolina, Laurens District. To wit. At a Court of General Sesslons of the Peace Oyer and Terminer assize and grand Jail delivery begun to be holden in and for the District of Laurens at Laurens Court House in the District and State aforesaid on the third Monday after the fourth Monday in March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seven. The Jurors of and for the District of Laurens aforesaid in the District & State aforesaid that is to say Andrew Rodgers Senr, foreman, and Marshal Franks, Jonathan Owens, John Parks, David Smith, John Ritchey, John Ridgeway, James Moss, Henry Rowland, George McCrary, James Roberts, Joel Fowler, Joseph Ramage, John Miller, William Bryson, William Garett and John Black on their Oaths. Present that William Roundtree Esquire late of District of Laurens not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil On the fourth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and six with force and arms at Laurens Court House aforesaid in the District aforesaid … then and there being feloniously willfully and of his malice aforethought did make an assault and that the said William Roundtree a certain rifle gun of the value of five Dollars then and there charged with Gunpowder and one leaden bullet which said rifle Gun in both his hands then and there had and held against & upon the said Thomas Owens then and there feloniusly wilfully and of his malice aforethought did shoot and discharge, and that the said William Roundtree with the leaden bullit aforesaid out of the Rifle Gun aforesaid then and they by force of the Gunpowder shot and sent forth as aforesaid the aforesaid Thomas Owens in and upon the — or back part of the head of him the said Thomas Owens then and there with the leaden bullet… did strike penetrate and wound giving to the said Thomas Owens… one mortal wound of the debth of two inches and the breadth of half an inch … on the fourth day of June in the year aforsaid died… Taylor, Sol’r.
Bond dated 16 June 1806, Michael Wallace (Wallis) Junior to appear, Isaac Gray & Jonathan Wallace (Wallis), securities, before Starling Tucker, J.Q., in the penal sum of $500 for Michael Wallis Junr, and $250 each for the securities.
Bond dated 14th November 1806, Ezekiel Attaway to appear, John Attaway, Samuel Bell, securities, before Starling Tucker, J.Q., in the penal sum of $500 for Ezekiel Attaway, and $250 each for the securities.
South Carolina, Laurens District. An Inquisition taken at John Attaways in the District aforesaid the fifth day of June 1806 before me Charles Allen, upon the view of the body of Thomas Owens then and there Lying Dead upon the Oaths of Leard B Boyd, John Ashley, William Fowler, William Higgins, Ellis Cheek, Robert Flemming, James Fleming, Samuel Flemming, Thomson Farlow, Samuel Persons, Traviss Mors, George Mosely, James Mills and Joseph Persons good and Lawfull men of the Said district, who being charg’d and sworn to Enquire for the said State when, where, how and after what manner the s’d Thomas Owens came to his death do say upon their oaths that the said Owens was wilfully and felloniciously shot in the back part of his head with a Leaden ball of which wound he lived about three hours and then died, done on the fourth of this instant, between the hours of ten and Eleven olcock in the forenoon, near the plantation of John Atterway in the District aforesaid and that they have Reasons to Believe and doth believe from strong presumtive Evidence that William Rountree Esq’r committed the felony aforesaid… Chas Allen J.Q., Leard Boyd, foreman.
South Carolina, Laurens District. To any Lawful officer. Parsonly appeared John Owens of Spartanburgh Dist before us & made information & complaint on oath & saith that his son Tho’s owens of Laurens District & State aforesaid was shot with a gun on the 4th of this instant past of which wound he the said Thos Owens in a very short time came to his death & on his oath saith that he hath just Reasons to believe & verily belives that William Rountree Esq’r did Feloniously perpetrat & commit the said Murder. John Owens (X). There are therefore to Command you forthwith to apprehend & Take the Body of him the s’d William Rountree Esq’r & bring him before us to answer s’d information… 5th June 1806. Cha’s Allen J.Q., Starling Tucker J.Q.
Bond dated 11 June 1806, Pasty Reves of Spartanburg District, John Hobby of the same District, and James Morss of the district of Laurens; Patsey Reves for $500, John Hobby and James Morss, for $250 each.
South Carolina, Laurens District. Parsonly appeared Patsy Reves before me & made oath in due form of law & Saith that she lived at William Rountrees Esq’r past two weaks she believes some time in April last past & just after s’d sq’r Rountrees Barn was Burnt & that she heard s’d Rountree say he believed that Tho’s Owens was the cause of their being burnt & that if he was sure that he the s’d Owens was the Cause nothing short of his life would satisfy him & that she herd Mrs Rountree make use of the same conversation several times this deponant saith on her oath that all this discorse was before the negroes was apprehended this deponant sworn to before me this 11th day of June 1806. Starling Tucker, J. Q. Patsy Reves (z).
Bond dated 10 June 1806, Abraham Gray and Isaac Gray of Laurens District. (Bond in same sums as above.)
Bond dated 28 March 1807, John Robertson (X), William Robertson, John Atwood. (bond in same sums as above.)
South Carolina, Laurens District. Personally appeared Samuel Bell and being Duely sworn saith on his Examination that on the 4th of this Instant Thomas Owens was shot near the plantation of John Atterway and killed, and that a Small Distance from where he lay the bullet went through a leafe on a bush and where William Rountree was suspicion’d for Doing the act, he the said Bell Took s’d Rountree’s gun and shot through a Leaf nearly the same Distance and the holes in each Leaf was of a Size (on the same Bush) and the Bullet of Rountree’s gun fitted each Hole in the Leaves and further saith that he Believes from all Circumstances that William Rountree Committed the fellony he is chargd with. Samuel Bell. Sworn to Before me this 21st day of June 1806. Chas Allen, J.Q.
On the jacket of the Roll is written The State vs Wm Roundtree. Indt Murder. Not Gullty, Arch’d Young.
Father of an Owens Child?
I received an email in March 2021 from Connie Stringer with the news that one of her distant relatives, Lou Dean Mayes, knew of a descendant of Thomas Owens who was a Y-DNA match to Rountrees. Indeed, an Owens male is a Y-DNA match to three persons descended from William Rountree. Owens descendants believe (or at least suspect) that William Rountree had an affair with Owens’ wife (perhaps named Teresa) that resulted in the birth of a son named Thornton Owens, and that Thomas Owens retaliated when he learned of it.
While it seems pausible, if not likely, that William Rountree fathered a child by an Owens woman, I’m skeptical of the details of this family legend. Records of the estate of Thomas Owens strongly suggest that he was a single man living with another family. His father John Owens made bond as administrator on 5 August 1806 and filed an inventory on 21 August.2 The estate inventory, valued at just $51, consisted of a saddle, a bed, his clothing, five bushels of corn, and a few bottles but no household goods at all.3 At the estate sale these items were mostly purchased by John Owens and David Owens, and sold for only $41. The final estate accounting filed almost three years later on 3 April 1809 by John Owens did not include any payments to a wife or child.4
It seems more likely that William Rountree impregnated a sister, or perhaps a sister-in-law, of Thomas Owens.
Sorting out the Owens family
There were other Owens families in Laurens District. The accuser John Owens was identified as of Spartanburgh while the victim, his son Thomas Owens, lived in Laurens. But there was another John Owens in Laurens District who also had a son named Thomas Owens — that John Owens wrote a will in September 1806 and probated in December 1806 leaving legacies to three sons named Thomas, Robert, and Daniel and four daughters, three of whom were unmarried.5. That John Owens was dead during the episode and his son Thomas Owens was very much alive. Thus we can eliminate that family from consideration.
John Owens was apparently the person enumerated in Spartanburgh in 1800 aged over 45 with a male and a female under 10 and another female 26-45. The 1810 Spartanburgh census lists him as over 45 with three females, two aged 10-16 and one aged over 45. There were no other males in the household.
The Thomas Owens of the 1800 Laurens census appears to be the “other” Thomas Owens.
David Owens, the other buyer in the estate sale who may have been a brother or uncle of Thomas Owens, is somewhat mysterious. Perhaps a different David Owens “of Chester District” bought land in Laurens District in November 1806 and sold it a few months later, still styling himself as “of Chester”. ((Laurens County Deed Book H, p174, p231, p254 and Book K, p323.)) Perhaps a different David Owens seems to have lived in Laurens in 1800 but in Spartanburgh in 1810. His 1810 census household in Spartanburgh lists him as 26-45 with a male under ten, a female under ten, a female 16-25, and a female 26-45. I can’t help but wonder if the younger adult female and male were Thornton Owens and his mother, but of course no evidence exists. By 1820 the young male was no longer in the household. By 1830 Thornton Owen(s), aged 20-30, was heading his own household in nearby Anderson District.