Possible Origin of James Stewart

Based purely on circumstantial evidence, it could be that our James Stewart was from  Augusta (later Rockbridge) County, Virginia.  While a good deal more research is needed to explore this possibility, here is what I know as of early 2014.  (The name is spelled both Stuart and Stewart in records.  I’ve used “Stewart” except when quoting a specific record.)

John & Robert Stewart

Two men named John Stewart and Robert Stewart settled in Augusta County Virginia in the early 1740s.   Because they settled on adjoining tracts at about the same time, we assume they were brothers.   They settled on part of a massive tract patented by a speculator named Benjamin Borden, who died in 1743 before perfecting the titles of many of his buyers.   His executors later made deeds to confirm purchases made years earlier.   John Stewart apparently made a purchase in 1742 which was confirmed, along with additional acreage, in 1752.   Robert Stewart’s deed for 200 acres was executed on 25 February 1750/1.   Robert Stewart must have arrived at about the same time as John Stewart, for a neighbor named William Edmiston testified more than fifty years later that he had lived on Borden’s tract between 1740 and 1745 on land bounded by Robert Stewart, Robert and Joseph Culton, and John Buchanon.1   Both tracts were on Hays Creek in the part of Augusta County that became part of northeastern Rockbridge County in 1778.

Robert Stewart rarely appears in the records and is not easily distinguishable from other Robert Stewarts living elsewhere in the county.   Whether he had a wife and children is unknown, as is when he may have died.   He appears to be the same Robert Stewart who was listed as a buyer at an estate sale in 17512 and on a road petition in 17523 but it isn’t clear whether he was the same Robert Stewart who appears in subsequent records.  The Augusta County fee books, which list John Stewart six times, do not mention him at all (although I should note that the fee book abstracts are unreliable).4  He may have been dead by 1767 when the Augusta County fee book listed both John Stewart and James Stewart living on Borden’s tract.   Despite a mountain of internet and printed claims to the contrary, he was not the same person as Major Robert Stewart of the Virginia Regiment, as explained in this separate document.

John Stewart is somewhat better documented.  The Augusta County Fee Books, recording fees charged by the county for a variety of services, list John Stewart “of Borden’s Land” (to differentiate him from other men named John Stewart) in 1764, 1765, 1767, 1768, 1769, and 1772 but not thereafter.5  He was ordered to be Levy free in November 17686 probably due to age or infirmity, and he does not appear among the first tithables of Rockbridge County in 1778 and 1779, suggesting that he died sometime in the mid-1770s.   His grandson, Rev. Robert Stewart of Kentucky, wrote that when he was a child his grandmother, John Stewart’s widow (whose maiden name was Mary Shaw)  told him that she and her husband John Stewart came to Pennsylvania from Ireland in 1740 and shortly thereafter removed to Augusta County, Virginia.  Rev. Stewart also recalled her telling him that she bore only two children:  Rev. Stewart’s father John Stewart Jr., and another child who died young.   Although it is possible that John Stewart had an earlier marriage in Ireland and came to America with one or more children of that earlier marriage, we have no evidence of it.

John Stewart’s only child, according to his grandson Rev. Robert Stewart, was John Stewart Jr. who was born circa 1740 and who married Elizabeth Walker, daughter of James Walker.  In 1805 John Stewart deposed that he had lived on his father’s land on Borden’s tract since 1748 or 1749.  His 1831 will named his children as Walker, James, John, Robert, Hugh, Alexander, and Mary Walker.

James Stewart “Heir at Law” of Robert Stewart

On 20 October 1782  in Rockbridge County, Virginia James Stuart, as “heir at law” of Robert Stuart, and his wife Margaret Stuart of Montgomery County sold 200 acres adjacent to John Stuart and Samuel Steel that had been purchased 32 years earlier by Robert Stuart. 7   Among the witnesses were a Robert Stuart, James Culton (a nearby landowner), William Kennedy, and Robert and Mathew Elder.

His characterization as “heir at law” as opposed to “eldest son” or “son” suggests that he was not Robert Stewart’s son but rather his heir under the law of succession in effect at the time — a law that would apply only if Robert Stewart were childless.   If Robert Stewart had no children of his own then the first persons in the line of succession would have been Robert Stewart’s brothers beginning with the eldest first.  If all the brothers were dead, then their places would be filled by their own eldest sons.  8   If we assume that John and Robert Stewart were brothers, then clearly James could not have been the son of John Stewart since the condition that would make him the heir of Robert Stewart would make him the heir of John Stewart as well — and John Stewart’s heir appears to have been his only known son, John Stewart Jr.

That leaves three possibilities:

  • James Stewart may have been the son of a third brother to Robert and John (necessarily the eldest of the three) whose identity we cannot know.   (Note that this possibility also accommodates the possibility that John and Robert were not, in fact, brothers.)  There is no sign of such a brother, which raises the question of how James Stewart arrived in the area.
  • Robert Stewart may have died leaving two sons of  his own:  Robert and James.   If Robert Jr. were the eldest he would have inherited the land, even if he were an infant.  If he then died, perhaps in childhood, James Stewart would have inherited the land by virtue of being the  heir at law of his brother Robert Stewart.   There is no evidence that this was the case, but it would neatly explain the phrasing of the deed.
  • The final possibility is that this was simply a case of awkward phrasing and James Stewart was the son of Robert Stewart.

In 1790 the purchaser, John Carrick deposed in a chancery suit that the title to the tract was not clear because “the dower of a certain James Stuart’s wife has never been relinquished to said tract of land.”9  If we’re grasping at straws, that might mean that James Stewart and his wife had left the state and were inaccessible to release her dower. (Note that it also implies that Carrick believed her to be alive, as her dower interest was limited to her lifetime.)

Could this have been our James and Margaret Stewart?

The evidence is paper-thin.  He was about the right age to have children born in Virginia in the 1770s and 1780s (his youngest son gave his birthplace as Virginia in censuses), his wife was named Margaret, he evidently left the area not long after the 1782 deed and was not readily available for his wife to release dower in 1790.    We also know that our James Stewart, or his wife, was related in some way to a Shaw family, a number of who lived in Rockbridge County (and one of whom was John Stewart’s wife.)

One other connection is intriguing, given the later connection with Moses McSpadden.  The 1778 and 1779 tithables lists for Capt. Lyle’s militia company list a Robert Stewart with three tithables in 1778 but only one in 1779, as well as Moses, John, and Samuel McSpadden.10  James Stewart was not listed among the tithables, but Capt. Joseph Moore’s list contained the names of neighbors Samuel Steel and Joseph Culton.

James Stewart in Augusta/Rockbridge Records

Augusta County was rich in people named Stewart and there were several men named James Stewart.   In the general area where John and Robert Stewart settled was a James Stewart who some think may have been a third brother.   He was killed by Indians in 1757, leaving a widow and several children.  Among his children was a son named James Stewart who was 18 years old in 1762 when he chose a guardian.  (Note that this James Stewart could not have been the heir of Robert Stewart as he was not James Stewart’s eldest son and, in any event, had left the county by 1772.)   There is no evidence among the records of the elder James Stewart’s numerous children and grandchildren of any relationship to either John or Robert Stewart.

The first certain mention of “our” James Stewart is the 1767 fee book entry mentioned above which referenced a James Stewart “on Borden’s Land”.   He must have been at least 21 by that time, but his age can only be guessed at.

The only other clear mention of James Stewart is as an adjoining landowner in a 1 March 1770 deed by Borden’s executors to Samuel Buchanan for 240 acres “corner to James Stewart”.11  He is not listed in the bare handful of surviving 1778 tithables lists, and must have left the county by the time the more complete 1779 tithables lists were constructed.

James Stewart of Montgomery County

The 1782 deed described him as a resident of Montgomery County.   There was a James Stuart on the 1782 land tax list of Montgomery County, taxed on 200 acres.

The 1782 deed in Rockbridge County by James Stuart to John Carrick involved a third party named James Wilson.   (A title dispute over the tract resulted in a chancery suit by Carrick against Wilson in 1790.)   Perhaps coincidentally, only four days earlier, on 16 October 1782, a survey was made for two men named James Stewart and James Wilson of a tract of 447 acres in the part of Montgomery County that became Wythe County in 1790.12   The land was not granted until ten years later on 4 May 1792.13

Montgomery County personal property tax records do not begin until 1787, by which time no one named James Stewart was left in the county. 14   And an undated list of tax delinquents who had removed from the county, perhaps predating 1787,  listed a “James Stuard”. 15   Whoever that James Stuart was, he had evidently moved on by 1787.   If he was “our” James Stewart he may already have been in Tennessee laying out the tract in Knox County that he was granted in 1790.

I should note the presence of a second James Stewart in the general area, though he doesn’t appear to have been the man charged with the tax in 1782.  To avoid confusion, he is covered in this footnote. 16

  1. Reported in Stewart Clan Magazine Vol. 17, No. 10, page 149. William Edmiston gave his deposition in Washington County in 1806. []
  2. Will Book 1, page 518. []
  3. Reported in Chalkley, Vol 1, page 437 which spells the surname “Stewart”.   An independent abstract shows John and Robert “Stuart”.  The petition was presented by the Stuarts and 17 of their  neighbors on Borden’s tract. []
  4. Chalkley’s volumes of Augusta abstracts are notorious for their omissions. []
  5. Lyman Chalkley, Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 (Rosslyn, Va., 1912-1913; reprint, 1965), Volume 2, pages 401-407. []
  6. Ibid., page405. []
  7. Rockbridge County, Virginia Deed Book A page 370. []
  8. See the paper on primogeniture and succession elsewhere on this website for the details of inheritance of land prior to Independence. []
  9. Virginia Memory: Chancery Cases online, Rockbridge Case No. 1790-009. []
  10. Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 18, No. 4, page 308 and Vol. 19, No. 2, page 97. []
  11. Augusta County Deed Book 16, page 347, as abstracted by Chalkley in Vol. 3, page 30. []
  12. Virginia Grant Book 26, page 205. []
  13. Ibid. []
  14. In the three tax districts of 1787 and 1788 were men named John, Ralph, Daniel, and William Stewart. []
  15. Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Vol. 38, No. 1, page 25. []
  16. A Dunmore’s War warrant for 200 acres was issued to a soldier named John Hill and promptly  assigned to a James Stewart and Andrew Reid on 16 August 1774. [Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Vol. 33, No. 3, page 211.]  The warrant was addressed to the surveyor of Fincastle County, the predecessor of Montgomery County,  and on 12 February 1780 William Preston, the surveyor for Fincastle County, wrote on the warrant that no survey had yet been made.    The survey was conducted nearly two years later on 18 December 1781 and a patent issued to Reid and Stewart on 15 June 1784 for 200 acres on the Green River in Lincoln County, Virginia (later Kentucky). [Virginia Grant Book N, page 169.]   All of these transactions were external to Montgomery County and, from other evidence, this was not the same man formerly in Augusta County. []