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 [and slightly updated in 2022].

Note:  The name is spelled both Stuart and Stewart in records.  I’ve used “Stewart” except when quoting a specific record.

Sorting out the many John Stewarts, Robert Stewarts, and James Stewarts of Old Augusta County

There were at least four, perhaps five, John Stewarts living in Augusta County in the 1750s and 1760s and more than one Robert Stewart and James Stewart as well.  The presence of multiple men with the same name has created rampant confusion and numerous inaccurate internet postings among genealogists tracing Stewart families.  Several different John Stewarts are often conflated into a single person by (dare I say it?) lazy researchers, as have two different Robert Stewarts.

The John and Robert Stewart who settled on the Borden tract — and who were the only Stewarts in that area — can be distinguished in most records either because they are explicitly referred to as residents on Borden’s grant or are associated with adjacent landowners on the tract.

The Borden Tract

In 1739 Virginia granted a massive 92,100-acre tract in the part of southern Augusta County that became Rockbridge County to a trader named Benjamin Borden who had recruited 90-odd settlers to whom he was supposed to sell tracts at a nominal price.1  John Stewart and Robert Stewart were among the first settlers on the Borden tract — and the only Stewarts among the 400 or so eventual purchasers.  In 1954  John R. Hildebrand drew a map of the tracts on Borden’s grant showing the locations of the Stewart properties along with a few hundred others, and in 1983 Walter Turnell identified the 400 or so initial residents of the tract.2

John & Robert Stewart settle on the Borden Grant

John Stewart and Robert Stewart settled in Augusta County, Virginia sometime in the early 1740s.   Because they settled on adjoining parcels at about the same time, we assume they were brothers.  Benjamin Borden died in 1743 before perfecting the titles of many of his buyers, and his executors later made deeds to confirm purchases made years earlier.  Robert Stewart’s 200-acre claim was confirmed by deed on 25 February 1750/1.3   John Stewart’s deed for an adjacent 313-acre tract was signed on 20 May 1752.4

That they were actually settled on their land several years earlier is shown by a deposition by an adjacent neighbor named William Edmiston who testified that he had lived on Borden’s tract between 1740 to 1745 on land bounded by Robert and Joseph Coulton, Robert Stuart, and John Buchanan.5  Indeed, the deed to John Stewart describes his parcel as “beginning at a corner post corner to Stuart’s old survey“.  Both tracts were in the central part of Borden’s patent on a branch of Hays Creek now known as Pisgah, a short walk north of Hays Creek and just west of the present-day village of Brownsburg in the part of Augusta County that became northeastern Rockbridge County in 1778.6

John Stewart and Robert Stewart were among 19 neighbors signing a petition in 1752 to build a road through Borden’s tract just east of their lands.7  The road was to run from Joseph Kennedy’s mill on Hays Creek just east of the Stewarts through John Huston’s tract a short distance to the east.  In 1753 Borden’s executors deeded an adjacent parcel to John Wilson, the description of which mentions Robert Stuart and his Buchanan and Edmiston neighbors.

In 1756 their lands were processioned under the headings of  “John Stuart Company — Robt. & John Stuart 313 (acres)” and “Robert Stuart 200 (acres)”.8 (Incidentally, among the 24 properties in that processioned district of Borden’s grant were those of four different Walker families.).

Robert Stewart died in the 1760s.

Apart from the above references, Robert Stewart rarely appears in the records.  Most references appear to apply to different men named Robert Stewart living elsewhere in the county or are ambiguously unattributable.  Whether he had a wife and children is unknown, as is when he may have died.   Apart from the records above, his only other certain appearance in the records was as a buyer at a neighbor’s estate sale in June 1751.9  The Augusta County fee books, which list John Stewart six times, do not mention Robert Stewart at all, although I should note that the fee book abstracts are somewhat unreliable.10  He was evidently alive as late as 20 August 1765 when John Stewart’s deed (see below) described his land as bordering Robert Stewart.  He may have been dead by 1767 when the Augusta County fee book listed both John Stewart and James Stewart of Borden’s tract.11 He was certainly dead by 1 March 1770 when Borden’s executors sold a tract adjacent to Robert Stewart’s land that referred to it as James Stewart’s.12

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, presumed brother of Robert Stewart

John Stewart is somewhat better documented.  In May 1765 John Stewart and his wife Mary bought an adjacent 148 acres from John Edmiston13 and three months later sold 132 acres of their original tract to Samuel Steel.14  Both John (“O”) and Mary (“M”) signed the latter deed by their marks, and among the witnesses were John Stewart, presumably their son, and the adjoining landowner William Edmiston. 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.15  He was possibly the same John Stewart ordered to be levy free in November 176816 probably due to age or infirmity, and he does not appear among the first tithables of newly-formed Rockbridge County in 1778 and 1779, suggesting that he may have died sometime in the mid-1770s. No probate record exists.

John Stewart’s grandson, Rev. Robert Stuart 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 immigrated to Pennsylvania from Ireland in 1740 and shortly thereafter removed to Augusta County, Virginia.17  Rev. Stuart also recalled her telling him that she bore only two children, John Stewart Jr., father of Rev. Stuart, 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 older children of that earlier marriage, we have no evidence of it.

Note: Rev. Stuart also claimed that his parents settled on Walker’s Creek.  That appears to be faulty memory, as the Stewart grant on Bordens land was five miles east of Walker’s Creek on a branch of Hays Creek.18 He may have confused the location of his Walker grandparents, who were on or near Walkers Creek, with that of his Stewart grandparents.

John Stewart’s only child, at least by Mary Shaw, according to his grandson Rev. Robert Stuart, was John Stewart Jr. who was born in Ireland about 1740 and who married Elizabeth Walker, daughter of a neighbor named James Walker.19 In 1805 John Stewart Jr. deposed that he had lived on his father’s land on Borden’s tract since 1748 or 1749.  He left a will dated 22 January 1817 (with an 1826 codicil) and proved 5 September 1813 naming his wife Elizabeth, sons Walter, James, John, Robert, Hugh, and Alexander, and daughter Mary Walker.20

Note that our James Stewart who died in Knox County, Tennessee had a son who called Dorcas Shaw his cousin and a grandson named Walker Stewart.  Is this just coincidence?

James Stewart “Heir at Law” of Robert Stewart

The great majority of the Borden grant, including the Stewart tracts, fell into Rockbridge County when it was formed in early 1778.

On 20 October 1782  in Rockbridge County, Virginia James Stuart, styling himself as “heir at law of Robert Stuart deceased”, and his wife Margaret Stuart of Montgomery County sold to John Carrick the 200 acres adjacent to  John Stuart and Samuel Steel that had been purchased 32 years earlier by Robert Stuart.21 Interestingly, the description of the tract used precisely the same word-for-word language as in the deed of 32 years earlier.  James Stuart signed his name, while Margaret Stuart used a “W” mark.  The witnesses were a Robert Stuart, James Culton (a nearby landowner), William Kennedy, and Robert and Mathew Elder.  The deed was proved several weeks later on 3 December 1782 by the oath of William Kennedy, the clerk also noting that Margaret Stuart had relinquished her dower right.22.

James Stewart’s characterization as “heir at law” as opposed to “son and heir” raises the possibility 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.  (See the paper on primogeniture and succession elsewhere on this website for the details of inheritance of land prior to Independence.)  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 was his only known son, John Stewart Jr.

That leaves three possibilities, the first two seemingly remote:

  • 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 thorny 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.”23  If we’re grasping at straws, that might mean that James Stewart and his wife had left the state and were inaccessible to testify as to her dower release.  It’s important to also note that this testimony implies that Carrick believed her to be alive, as her dower interest was limited to her lifetime. (Note that the clerk entering the deed in 1782 indicated that Margaret had, in fact, relinquished dower.)

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 and one of whom was John Stewart’s wife.  Our James Stewart also named his eldest son “Robert” who named one of his own sons “Walker” and Margaret signed the 1782 deed with a “W” mark.

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.24  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, but outside the Borden tract, 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”.25  He is not listed in the bare handful of surviving Rockbridge 1778 tithables lists.

James Stewart of Montgomery County

The 1782 deed described him as a resident of Montgomery County.   There was a James Stuart on the 1782 personal property tax list of Montgomery County with 2 horses and 7 cattle.  Unfortunately, tax lists from 1783 through 1786 are lost, but he was no longer taxed in the county by 1787.

An undated list of tax delinquents who had removed from the county, apparently predating 1787,  listed a “James Stuard”. 26   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 surveyed in 1788.

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 1790.27   The land was not granted until ten years later on 4 May 1792.28

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. 29

  1. Virginia Patent Book 18, p360. In theory, the first 100 acres was free to those who built a cabin and additional acreage could be bought for 3 pence an acre. []
  2. Walter G. Turnell, The Borden and Beverly patents of Orange and Augusta Counties, Virginia (Southern California Genealogical Society, 1983).  See the map of Borden’s patent and its grants on page 22 and the six-page list of purchasers. []
  3. Augusta County Deed Book 3, pp151. []
  4. Augusta County Deed Book 4, pp250. []
  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, p272 abstracting a “Book marked ‘Records'”. Also reported in Stewart Clan Magazine Vol. 17, No. 10, page 149. William Edmiston gave his deposition in Washington County in 1806. []
  6. Turnell, p22. []
  7. “Original Petitions in County Court Records”, abstracted in Chalkey, Vol. 1, p437. []
  8. Augusta Parish Vestry Book, p178. []
  9. Will Book 1, page 518. All the names mentioned were purchasers from Borden. []
  10. Chalkley’s volumes of Augusta abstracts are notorious for their omissions. []
  11. Chalkey, Vol. 2, Fee Book Abstracts, pp398. []
  12. Augusta County Deed Book 16, page 347, a deed to Samuel Buchanan for 240 acres that shared a corner and a line with James Stewart., When plotted, this tract clearly adjoined the east boundary of Robert Stewart’s tract. []
  13. Augusta County Deed Book 11, p861 []
  14. Augusta County Deed Book 12, p78. []
  15. 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. []
  16. Ibid., page405. []
  17. Joseph Addison Waddell, Annals of Augusta County, Virginia from 1726 to 1871 (1902), p370-371. []
  18. See the Hildebrand map. That it is reasonably accurate is shown by later deeds to the Kennedy mill on Hays Creek and properties adjoining John Stewart that include Moffat’s Creek to the east — see, for instance the deeds to and from the Edmistons and John Wilson. []
  19. No marriage records for the period survive. []
  20. Rockbridge County Will Book 7, pp40. []
  21. Rockbridge County, Virginia Deed Book A page 370. []
  22. Ibid. []
  23. Virginia Memory: Chancery Cases online, Rockbridge Case No. 1792-009. []
  24. Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 18, No. 4, page 308 and Vol. 19, No. 2, page 97. []
  25. Augusta County Deed Book 16, page 347, as abstracted by Chalkley in Vol. 3, page 30. []
  26. Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Vol. 38, No. 1, page 25. []
  27. Virginia Grant Book 26, page 205. []
  28. Ibid. []
  29. 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. []