Monday, January 19, 2015

Thomas Whitwell: A Legal Orphan (#3 of 52 Ancestors)

(Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow at "No Story Too Small" for creating "52 Ancestors" where we can share our ancestors stories, one week at a time.)

Thomas B Whitwell, my 5th great grandfather, wasn't even a year old when he was legally declared an orphan. I say "legally" because we are uncertain as to whether his mother was still living or not. But, the law stated that he was an orphan if his father died. So, Thomas and his older brother, Robert, were orphans.

What happened to orphans in the 1770's in Virginia? They'd be legally "bound out" to a master or mistress who were to provide them with "diet, clothes, lodgings and accommodations and teach him to read and write and at the expiration of his apprenticeship to give him the same allowance appointed for servants of indenture." [Quote from What Genealogists Should Know about 18th Century Virginia Law by Mr. John P. Alcock]

Thomas was bound out to a man named William Brumfield and his brother, Robert, was bound out to a William Overton. Some researchers believe William Brumfield was their grandfather, but I'm still looking for evidence.

Fourteen years later, in 1790, Thomas' older brother was discharged from service to his master. This would usually happen at the age of 21, but I believe Thomas was only 18 or 19. On that same day, Thomas was bound to a different man, a Benjamin Morton. A few months later, that order was rescinded and he was bound to Samuel Johnson. And, a few months later, Samuel Johnson died so Thomas was bound to his brother, William Johnson. As a young teen, this must have been a difficult year for Thomas!

John Anderson giving permission for his daughter, Polly Anderson, to marry Thomas Whitwell
Witnesses are Elkanah Anderson, Polly's brother, and Robert Whitwell, Thomas' brother
Image from "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954" on Family Search

I haven't found a record of when Thomas was released from his bond, but by 1796 he had crossed the Cumberland Gap and joined his brother in Mercer County, Kentucky. (What an adventure that must have been!) In 1798, he married Mary "Polly" Anderson and they had their first of eleven children in 1799.

Shortly after the birth of that first son, the young family packed up and moved again, this time to Barren County, Kentucky. Over the next decade, Thomas and Polly had six more children before they moved to Dickson County, Tennessee.

In December 1814, Thomas traveled with his wife's brother, Elkanah Anderson (who is also a 5th great grandfather of mine), to fight the British in New Orleans. He left behind his wife, Polly, with their eight children, including the youngest who was only 15 months old.

Thomas and Elkanah joined the 2nd Regiment of the West Tennessee Militia. Their regiment was "part of a flotilla that went down to New Orleans via the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers." Once there, they fought in the famous Battle of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson. During the bloody, one-sided battle which lasted only about 30 minutes on January 8th, the British suffered over 2,000 casualties while the Americans only had about 100.

The Tennessee Archives site says there weren't any battle casualties in Thomas' and Elkanah's regiment, but there were "many deaths due to sickness" in February and March. Elkanah Anderson, Thomas' brother-in-law, died on January 14th just 6 days after the biggest battle. Was he one of the first to die of disease? Or did he die of a battle injury? And was he buried in New Orleans as family stories tell us?

Thomas returned home and had to break the news to his wife that her brother had died. Elkanah's wife, Sally, also had to be told. I'm not sure how many children Sally and Elkanah had, but their daughter, Margaret, was my 4th great grandmother.

After returning home, Thomas' wife had one more child before they packed up again and moved to Hickman County, Tennessee with extended family members. According to Spence's "History of Hickman County, Tennessee," they settled on Cane Creek "immediately after the withdrawal of the Indians" as early as 1815. Six heads of family are listed, and the Whitwell's and at least two other families are related to me. Another sentence states this was "yet in the Indian country" and I can only imagine the rough existence they had. They had their 11th child, their last, in Hickman County in 1820.

Thomas B Whitwell's headstone in Beech Grove Cemetery, Pleasantville, Hickman County, Tennessee
Headstone erected c 1992 by Mark Hubbs & Harvey Whitwell
Photo by Eunice posted at Find-A-Grave

Thomas' wife, Polly, died in 1838 and he passed away in 1846. Though family story says they were both buried in "box tombs" on land they owned in Hickman County, they now both have markers in Beech Grove Cemetery in Pleasantville, Hickman County. Pleasantville is possibly named after their son, Pleasant, who was my 4th great grandfather.

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please write me at


  1. My name is Kevin Whitwell and my father was from Hickman county Thomas was my 6th grandfather Thomas,Pleasant, Ruben,William and my father James

    1. Hi, Kevin. I'm so glad you left a reply! Could you email me at I'd love to talk more. Thanks! Dana

    2. Or you can leave your email address & I will write you back.

    3. Sry I just saw your reply my email address is

    4. Sry I just saw your reply my email address is

  2. One of my ancestors from Hickman County was George Whitwell Buchanan. I've always wondered if his mother, Caroline, was a Whitwell. Do you know of any Whitwells who have done autosomal DNA testing?

    1. Vicki, I am part of a Whitwell DNA Circle on All of us are Whitwell descendants who have taken the autosomal test. I will try to get in touch with you and we can talk more.

  3. I have Curry ancestors from Hickman and Perry Co.,TN. David Anderson Curry and James E. Curry were born between 1820-1827. I find James G.(E.) in the 1850 Perry County census but by 1860 both brothers are living in Searcy Co.,AR. Why am I writing you? I have found a tiny bit of DNA connection to the Anderson and Whitwell families. David Anderson and James were forced into the Civil War and when David returned he went by Elcana Curry on one census. James did not return. I cannot seem to place these men with anyone. David's line died out but James has quite a few descendants.

    1. Hi, I have some info on the Currys and Andersons that might help. Elkanah Anderson and his wife Sarah Sally Murray Anderson moved to Dickson County about 1806, he then died at the Battle of New Orleans, and Sarah moved with her family to Hickman County around 1829. One of their daughters, Polly, married a John Curry, likely your ancestor and that's why you link with both Andersons and Currys. John's father was probably David Curry, he shows up in the Hickman County District 10 tax records. The Andersons and Currys were part of the Cane Creek community. If you want to know more, shoot me an email I have a lot of info on the Anderson side, not much on the Currys and would like more.

      Bill Anderson


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