Legend: Two Supposed Children of Joseph Witt


The following two Witts are frequently claimed in genealogies as children of Joseph Witt Sr. and his wife Sarah.   Neither was his child.   We can prove that one of them was his nephew and the other was probably unrelated altogether.

Joseph Witt (c1775 – c1805) husband of Sarah Earles

A Joseph Witt of Jefferson County who married Sarah Earls by license dated 25 April 17971 has been thought by most researchers to be the son of Joseph Witt Sr.  While Joseph Witt Sr. did have a son named Joseph, he was a different person than the man who married Sarah Earles (see Joseph Witt page).

This Joseph Witt was actually the son of Elijah Witt.  This is shown by a deed conveying rights in the estate of Elijah Witt. On 21 January 1824 John Witt conveyed to Eli Witt “all the wright (sic) title and claim that Joseph Witt the father of the said John Witt had to two certain tracts of land lying on the waters of Long Creek, it being part of the property of Elijah Witt deceased…2 The deed was executed in Jackson County, Alabama and witnessed by John Gilliam and John Meek of that county and state.  John Witt, according to descendants, was briefly in Alabama before moving to Tennessee.

This Joseph Witt was of age when he married, indicating a birth year before 1777.  He is surely the Joseph Witt on the 1800 Jefferson County tax list in the same district as Ayres, Noah, and Elijah Witt.3   Indeed, Noah Witt was security for his marriage bond.

He was the Joseph Witt, “labourer”, who in July 1800 was indicted for the 11 April 1800 stealing of a plowshare belonging to Joseph Prigmore Sr., valued at ten cents.4   Elijah Witt made his bail, and several witnesses, all in that same 1800 tax district, were called to testify.  A jury found Joseph Witt innocent, and Elijah Witt assumed $15 of the court costs.5

A 1915 obituary of Joseph Witt’s grandson, Rev. John Hutchinson Witt, states that his father Rev. John D. Witt (the one who sold the land in 1824) “was a native of Adair County, Ky., having been born there into the home of Joseph and Sarah Earl Witt on the first day of the year 1802. Joseph Witt was killed by a falling limb and Sarah Earl Witt was left with two little boys and five girls to fight the unequal battle of pioneer life with only moderate means at her disposal.6   Despite this account, it is possible that Joseph actually died prior to the family’s arrival in Adair County, since there is no record of either Witts or Earles in Adair County until a grant to Thomas Earles was surveyed in 1813.  No Witts or Earles appear on tax lists prior to 1810 or in the 1810 census, and Sarah Witt first appears on the tax lists of Adair County from 1814 through 1820. (She evidently died about 1821.) The two sons mentioned in the above account were John D. Witt (1802-1851) and Hutchinson Witt (c1800-aft1853), both of whom may actually have been born in Tennessee.

Joseph Witt may have been a member of Big Pidgeon Church in Cocke County, which was located just over the Jefferson County line.  The minutes of that church for 6 July 1799 include the notation “Bro. Witt mov’d for a letter of Dismistion granted – and his wife the same but was lade over for further consideration.”7  His wife was apparently Sarah Witt, for nearly four years later, on 1 January 1803, “ the matter conserning sister Sarah Witt being brought under consideration and Bro. Lane made his objections against her having a letter of Dismission…” but she was granted the letter on 3 March 1803.  ((Ibid. Both references on original page 41.))   Whether “Bro. Witt” was Joseph Witt or not is unknown, but the timing appears to fit the departure of the Witts from the area of Jefferson County.  Unfortunately, a courthouse fire in 1876 destroyed essentially all other records of Cocke County, denying us any further mention of Joseph or Sarah Witt.

Sarah Earles’ father, Thomas Earles, had been in Warren County, North Carolina in late 17918  and first appears in Jefferson County, Tennessee records after Joseph Witt’s marriage to Sarah Earles in November 1797 when he was sued by Thomas Brannum.9  The first record of him in Kentucky is his consent for the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth on 7 December 1802 in Washington County, Kentucky. The first reference in Adair County is a survey dated 20 June 1813.  He died sometime in 1831. A lawsuit after his death identified one of his children as “Sally Witt, late Sally Earls”.10  A deposition in the suit speaks of “the old place where Sally Witt formerly lived” and mentions among the children of Thomas Earles “Sally Witt…who also departed this life before the death of her said father”.

Elizabeth Witt (c1776 – 15 November 1855) wife of Charles R. Sevier

Elizabeth Witt, who married Charles Robertson Sevier about 1800, is also thought by some descendants to have been a child of Joseph Witt Sr.  Indeed, as noted elsewhere, Mrs. Norton’s contribution to Virginia Soldiers of 1776 in 1927 lists an Elizabeth Witt among the children of Joseph Witt.   [I note, however, that Mrs. Norton was unaware of Joseph Witt’s estate records so it’s not clear how she reached her conclusion.]   And a book on the Sevier family identifies her as the daughter of Joseph Witt and Sara Kimbrough, but gives no supporting evidence.11

I am unable to find any evidence whatsoever that would place her in this family.  In fact, the evidence is strongly against this claim.   It seems more likely that she was related to the line of Hezekiah Witt:

  • No marriage record exists in Jefferson County, whose records are fairly complete for the period.  If she were a daughter of Joseph Witt, a deacon of the church, one would think it likely that she would marry near her home.  The absence of a marriage record implies that she was living elsewhere when she married.  Sevier & Madden placed the marriage in Greene County, although it is more likely to have been in Washington County.12   Charles Robertson Sevier had been living in Washington County prior to and after the marriage, and it seems likely that the marriage took place there.  There is no evidence that either Elizabeth or Charles ever set foot in Jefferson County.
  • She is not among the heirs who sold Joseph Witt’s land in 1821.  Even though she was by then in Madison County, she and her husband would have had a legal interest in the estate if she were indeed a daughter of Joseph Witt.
  • The 1850 census of Madison County gives her age as 73 and her birthplace as North Carolina. (The eldest son also gives his birthplace as North Carolina.)  But Joseph Witt never lived in North Carolina.  Further, this would make her the eldest child of Joseph Witt, making it even more surprising that she is not mentioned by any of his descendants.
  • Charles Robertson Sevier lived several days away from Joseph Witt.  According to Sevier & Madden he was raised by his uncle Col. Charles Robertson after his father’s death in 1780. Charles Robertson lived near the present Johnson City in Washington County from 1786 through his death and owned considerable land on both sides of what is now the Washington-Carter county line.  This was more than sixty miles from Joseph Witt’s land in Jefferson County.  Charles Robertson’s will, dated 31 August 1798, left land to his nephew Charles Sevier in what is now Carter County. 13
  • Charles Robertson Sevier testified on three occasions as to his age, placing his birth in 1777. He first appears on the 1798 tax list of his uncle Charles Robertson, in Washington County. On the same tax list for that district are Burgess Witt, Aires Witt, and Rutherford Witt – all sons of Hezekiah Witt who had arrive in the area in the early 1790s from North Carolina. In fact, Aires Witt witnessed Charles Robertson’s will. In addition, some descendants claim that Parthenia Witt, a daughter of Hezekiah Witt, was married to a Sevier.

Both Elizabeth and Charles Sevier died in Ellis County, Texas in 1855. Their children were: Valentine, Robert, Mary, John, Keziah, Bathenia, Nancy, Catherine, Joseph, Elizabeth, Charles, Adam, and Elbridge.

  1. Jefferson County Marriage Book 1, p17. []
  2. Jefferson County Deed Book R, p381. []
  3. Early East Tennessee Tax Lists, Mary Barnett Curtis, (Arrow Printing Co.), p?. Only Elijah was taxed on land, the other three taxed on one white poll each. []
  4. Jefferson County Court Minutes 1792-1802, p181-2. []
  5. Jefferson County Court Minutes, p11. []
  6. The Memphis Conference Yearbook, 1915, p111. []
  7. “Big Pidgeon Baptist Church Minutes  1787-1874”, The Magazine of the Tennessee Genealogical Society, Volume 17 (1970). On page 33 of original minutes. []
  8. Warren County, NC Will Book 6, p115. Thomas Earles witnessed the will of James Paschal dated 18 December 1791. []
  9. Jefferson County Court Minutes 1792-1802, p102. []
  10. Summons dated 24 February 1837. Courtesy Gerald Witt. []
  11. Sevier Family History, Cora B. Sevier and Nancy S. Madden (1961), p420. []
  12. When the Sevier Family History was written there was some confusion in distinguishing Charles Robertson the son of General John Sevier and Charles Robertson the brother of General Sevier. The elder Charles Robertson did not, apparently, own any land in Greene County on which he might have installed his grandson Charles Robertson Sevier. His lands lay in Washington and Davidson counties, and he actually lived on the Wautauga River in Washington County, near the border with present-day Carter County. His will implies that his daughter Keziah Sevier, Charles’ mother, lived in Washington County. []
  13. Washington County Will Book 1, p44. In the distribution of the estate, a grant filed by Charles Robertson was transferred to Charles Robertson Sevier. []