John Edwards, Sr.
of Orange County, NC
John Edwards, Sr., was born around 1710, possibly in Dinwiddie Co., VA, and died 1801 in Orange Co., NC. He married Mary Stokes, possibly the daughter of Sylvanus STOKES, Jr., of Sussex Co., VA. She died after 1796, probably in Orange Co., NC. John and Mary Edwards are believed to be buried at the Edwards-Cabe Cemetery in Orange Co., NC.
Children of John Edwards, Sr.:
- +John Edwards, Jr., born c. 1730's, probably in Virginia; d. 1818, Orange Co., NC; m. Lucy CATE, possibly a daughter of Thomas CATE, Sr., & Rebecca SYKES.
- +David Edwards, Sr., born c. 1740's; d. Dec. 6, 1782, Orange Co., NC; m. Elizabeth MORRIS (b. c.1740's; d. Oct. 13, 1827, Bedford, Lawrence Co., IN).
- Edward Edwards, born c. 1740's; d. Sept. 13, 1781, Battle of Lindley's Mill, Alamance Co., NC.
Edward Edwards was a Loyalist who was killed at the Battle of Lindley's Mill (see The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning (1865), pp. 21, 76; Rev. Eli Caruthers, Revolutionary Incidents (1854); and S.A. Ashe, History of North Carolina Vol. I (1908), p.695). His children are not mentioned in John EDWARDS' will in 1796. However, two sons of Edward EDWARDS, James and Henry, became wards of John EDWARDS, Jr., in Nov. 1785. He may be the Edward EDWARDS who received a land grant for 680 acres on Haw River, Beaverdam Fork, & Pokeberry Creek, Dec. 15, 1762 (Orange Land Grant No. 88).
- Mary Edwards, born c. 1740's; m. John CAMPBELL. Son: Archibald CAMPBELL.
Mary CAMPBELL is named in her father's will dated Apr. 2, 1796 (Orange WB D:56) Apr. 12, 1769, John EDWARDS, Sr., of Orange deeded a slave "to my grandson Archibald CAMPBELL of same." Apr.-May 1782, John CAMPBELL & Mary CAMPBELL filed a petition on behalf of the orphan children of Richard EDWARDS (see below under Richard EDWARDS).
- Susannah Edwards, born c. 1740's-1750's; m.
Susannah ODEAN is named in her father's will dated Apr. 2, 1796 (Orange WB D:56). Her husband may have been Thomas O'DEAN (ODAM, ODIEN) who owned land on Presswood Creek & New Hope Creek (Orange Land Grant No. 98, issued Dec. 20, 1762) and died testate in Chatham Co., NC, in 1805.
- Richard Edwards, born c. 1750's, Orange Co., NC; d. Sept. 12, 1781, Battle of Kirk's Farm, Orange Co., NC. Children: Richard, Elizabeth, Mary, Edward, & Sarah Edwards.
Richard Edwards was a Loyalist who was killed at the Battle of Kirk's Farm. (See The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning (1865), pp. 21, 76, and Rev. Eli Caruthers, Revolutionary Incidents (1854).) A Rev. War pension application filed by Edmund JONES of Chatham Co., NC (NARA File No. S7086) describes a battle with Tories in 1781 in Hillsborough under the command of Capt. Richard Edwards who fell in the action. In Apr.-May 1782, John & Mary CAMPBELL filed a petition on behalf of the orphan children of Richard EDWARDS, requesting that land in Orange Co. owned by the deceased, which was taken because he failed to perform his tour of duty in the militia, be returned to his children. No action was taken on the petition. (Source: NC Archives, State Records Collection, General Assembly Records Group, Session of Apr.-May 1782, Folder No. 22.214.171.124.5, "Miscellaneous Petitions.") In Aug. 1782, letters of administration for the estate of Richard EDWARDS were issued to Robert MELLCKEN [MILLIKEN] in bond with Robert REA. Richard's children are not mentioned in John EDWARDS' will. However, court records indicate that Richard's orphans (Richard, Elizabeth, Mary, Edward, and Sarah EDWARDS) were made wards of John EDWARDS, Jr., in Feb. 1785. There is a Richard EDWARDS who entered a claim for 192 acres of land on Little Cane Creek at Dick's & Marshall's Branch on Oct. 23, 1779. The land grant was issued July 14, 1794 (Orange Land Grant No. 1140). This was 13 years after Richard's death so maybe this was a different Richard Edwards, or maybe the land was claimed by one of his sons.
- Sylvanus Edwards, born c. 1750's; d. bef. 1790. Had children but none are identified.
He appears on the 1766 and 1779 tax lists of Orange Co., NC. Entered a claim for 192 acres on Collins Creek on Aug. 13, 1786; land grant issued July 16, 1795, "including improvement where he lived" (Orange Land Grant No. 1140). This land grant must have been issued to his heirs as he was deceased by 1790 based on the Orange Co. tax list of that year which refers to "Heirs of Sylvanus EDWARDS." The will of John EDWARDS, Sr., dated Apr. 2, 1796, bequeaths a slave to unidentified children of "Sill EDWARDS."
- William Edwards, born c. 1750's; d. Jan. 1784, Orange Co., NC.
In his will dated Jan. 24, 1784, proved Feb. 1784, William Edwards identifies himself as a son of John EDWARDS, Sr., of Orange Co., NC; also refers to beloved wife and children (not identified); exec'rs: friends Benjamin DAVIS & Sackfield BREWER; wits: Benjamin LACY, John DURHAM, John EDWARDS. (Orange WB A:300.) The will of John EDWARDS, Sr., dated Apr. 2, 1796, bequeaths a slave to unidentified children of William EDWARDS (Orange WB D:56).
- +Henry Edwards, b. abt. 1759, probably Orange Co., NC; d. June 1850, Orange Co., NC; m. Elizabeth LINDSEY, daughter of John LINDSEY & Mary ROBERTSON (b. Oct. 14, 1764; d. Sept. 10, 1850); bur. Edwards-Cabe Cemetery, Orange Co., NC.
ohn Edwards, Sr., arrived in Orange County, North Carolina, by 1759 when he purchased a total of 400 acres of land in two transactions from Benjamin Clements (80 acres) and William Mebane (320 acres). His land was located in the area around upper New Hope Creek, a few miles south of Hillsborough near the present-day towns of Durham, Carrboro and Chapel Hill (view map). John Edwards does not appear on the 1755 Tax List of Orange County, so he probably arrived sometime between 1755 and 1759.
The following letter about the Edwards family appeared in the Raleigh Star & North Carolina Gazette on July 8, 1846, page 1, col. 4 (many thanks to Leah Sims for sharing this extraodinary find!)
Raleigh Star & North Carolina Gazette
July 8, 1846, page 1, col. 4
For the Star.
Before the Revolutionary war, a Mr John Edwards came from the banks of Buckskin Creek, near Petersburg, Va., and settled on Collins' Creek, in Orange county, N. C. At the time Mr. Edwards settled in Orange, his nearest neighbor was four miles to the East and his next nearest neighbor was ten miles in the same direction. Mr. Edwards made a small farm and lived by farming and hunting. He died over one hundred years old. His son Henry Edwards, sen. is now living on the original settlement, and is 87 years old, having a wife 81 years old; they having lived together 66 years. Mr. Henry Edwards never has taken but one dose of medicine. He has over 100 children, grandchildren, and great grand children, who also have children. Mr. Henry Edwards has a nephew older than himself, living in the same neighborhood, viz Allen Edwards. This gentleman was 89 years old last May. His wife, Charity, is 91 years old, and has been married 63 years. She is still exceedingly lively and loves a good joke. This, indeed, is a remarkable family for good health and long life. They live plain and work hard, and thereby they have doubtless perpetuated their lives and preserved their health. Plain living, hard work, honesty and long life generally go together. Yours truly, E. L. P.
The newspaper article provides two important facts about John Edwards: (1) he came from Buckskin Creek, Virginia, which (2) was "near Petersburg." Unfortunately, what the author meant by "near" is unknown. The nearest Buckskin Creek to Petersburg, VA, is in Dinwiddie County about 25 miles southwest of Petersburg. This creek appears on Fry & Jefferson's 1751 map of Virginia. It arises a few miles east of the present town of McKenney, VA, and runs southeast to the Nottoway River.
There is no record of a John Edwards directly associated with Buckskin Creek. However, there was a William Edwards who patented 117 acres on the upper fork of Buckskin Creek in Prince George County on Oct. 3, 1734. (VA Patent Book 15, pp.351-352). Prince George County was the parent county of Dinwiddie County (est. 1752). There was also a John Edwards who patented 50 acres on Second Swamp in Prince George County on Sept. 5, 1723. (VA Patent Book 11, p.202.) Second Swamp is only a couple miles from Petersburg, although it is nowhere near Buckskin Creek.
John Edwards' wife, Mary STOKES, might be a daughter of Sylvanus STOKES, Jr., of Sussex County, VA. Sylvanus Jr. arrived in Sussex (formerly Surry) County in 1717 when he patented 200 acres of land on Raccoon Swamp, on the south side of the Nottoway River. (VA Patent Book 10, p.362.) He obtained another 365 acres on the Raccoon Swamp in 1723. (VA Patent Book 11, p.276.) He is believed to be the son of Sylvanus or Silvanus STOKES, Sr., and Mary BISHOP of Charles City Co., VA. Sylvanus Jr.'s will, dated Mar. 18, 1742, proved Mar. 21, 1748, doesn't mention a daughter named Mary Edwards. However, like many testators, he may not have listed all of his children in his will, just naming those who received specific bequests. The book Southside Virginia Families by John B. Boddie states that the chiildren named in Sylvanus Jr.'s will "were evidently his youngest children for he had older ones not mentioned in his will." The children named in the will were his sons Jones STOKES, Sylvanus STOKES, and Hamlin STOKES, and a granddaughter, Agnes EZELL. Most researchers seem to agree that Sylvanus Stokes, Jr., probably fathered several other children.
Raccoon Creek in Sussex County, VA, is 30-40 miles east of Buckskin Creek in Dinwiddie County. I have not been able to find any records documenting an association between the Edwards and Stokes families in Virginia. However, similar names are found in both families, particularly the unusual first names "Young" and "Sylvanus." One of Sylvanus, Jr.'s older sons was Young STOKES (c.1700-1770), a.k.a. Sherard Young Stokes, of Lunenburg County, VA. Young Stokes, in turn, had sons named Sylvanus, Allen, William, and Henry Stokes (among others). John EDWARDS, Sr., of Orange Co., NC, had sons named Sylvanus, William, and Henry Edwards (among others), and grandsons named Young, Allen, and Stokes Edwards. It's hard to believe that this could just be a coincidence! Therefore, it's at least plausible that John Edwards' wife Mary Stokes might have been a sister of Young Stokes and a daughter of Sylvanus Stokes, Jr. (Young Stokes was born about 1700; John Edwards, Sr., was born about 1710; assuming John Edwards's wife Mary Stokes was also born about 1710, she could easily be Young Stokes' sister.)
John Edwards' Origins
According to a journal written Jan. 6, 1855, by Col. R. M. Edwards, published in the Chatanooga Sunday Times, Aug. 26, 1934 (reprinted in the Edwards Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, Oct.-Dec. 1984), John EDWARDS a.k.a. John EDWARDS II was born in Dinwiddie Co., VA, soon after the arrival of his father John EDWARDS I and mother from Wales. The journal entry further states that John EDWARDS II married Mary STOKES, and had the following children: 2 daughters, including Mary, who married John CAMBPELL in Orange Co., NC; and sons John, David, Sylvanus, Richard, William, Henry, and Edward. (Thanks to Henry Barfield for sharing this info!)
Researcher Henry Barfield believes that John Edwards I (the father of " John Edwards II" of Orange Co., NC), is the John Edwards who died testate in Bute Co., NC, in 1765. The will of John EDWARDS, dated May 15, 1765, proved July 1765, names wife Jane and children Mary IRLAND, John EDWARDS, Elisabeth ALLEN, Jane HAWKINS, Hannah EDWARDS, and Philemon EDWARDS; wits: Joel MOODY, Joseph EDWARDS. (Bute Will Book.)
Bute County was formed from Granville County in 1764, which was formed from Edgecombe County in 1746. Bute was subsequently abolished in 1774 and split into Warren and Franklin Counties. So, if John Edwards lived in the Bute County area before he came to Orange Co., NC, in 1759, we actually need to look for him in the records of Edgecombe County (prior to 1746) or Granville County (after 1746). It turns out that a John Edwards obtained a land grant in Edgecombe County on June 17, 1741, adjoining Rocky Swamp. Rocky Swamp is located in the area that became part of Granville County in 1746. It is now in Halifax County (formed in 1759), very close to the border of Warren (formerly Bute) County. A John Edwards also appears on the 1742 tax list of Edgecombe County and served in the Granville County militia during the 1750's, along with a Nathaniel Edwards. There is also a John Edwards on the 1754 and 1755 tax lists of Granville County, NC.
Of course, "John Edwards" is a very common name. But one key piece of evidence ties together the Edwards in Bute County with those in Orange County. There was a bastardy bond that was filed in Orange Co., NC, in June 1758, which states that Phillemon EDWARDS was judged the father of Tabitha RIGBY's female child. The bondsmen were Henry BREWER and John EDWARDS. Philemon Edwards is named in the 1765 will of John Edwards in Bute Co., NC. In May 1766, Mary RIGSBY, 8 years old, Phillemon EDWARDS the adjudged father, was bound over to John & Mary CAMPBELL. Mary Campbell was the daughter of John Edwards, Sr., of Orange Co., NC. (Thanks again to Henry Barfield for this info!)
In other words, we have this possible family tree:
Some sources claim that John Edwards, Sr., of Orange Co., NC, was born in Brunswick Co., VA. There was a John Edwards who died in 1713 in Brunswick Co., leaving a will that names sons William, John, Benjamin, Nathaniel, and daughters Mary, Sarah, and Ann. According to an article in the William & Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Vol. XV (Oct. 1906) (reprinted in Genealogies of Virginia Families, Vol. II (Gen. Pub. Co. 1982), p.252), John Edwards, the son mentioned in John Edwards' will, "probably settled in North Carolina" but no further explanation is given. The same article states that John Edwards who died in 1713 in Brunswick Co., VA, was the son of William Edwards (c.1615-c.1673) of Surry Co., VA. It is possible that previous researchers concluded that John Edwards, Sr., of Orange Co., NC, is the missing son of John Edwards of Brunswick. Unfortunately, I have not found any direct evidence of a connection, although many families from the Brunswick County area did migrate to North Carolina in the mid-1700's. It is certainly plausible that John Edwards of Orange Co., NC, was related to the Edwards families in Brunswick and/or Surry Co., VA. That doesn't even rule out a connection to Dinwiddie County, because Dinwiddie adjoins the northern border of Brunswick and it also adjoined Surry County until Sussex County was created in 1753. More research is needed.
Children of John Edwards & Mary Stokes
According to family lore, John Edwards had six sons, three of whom fought on the British side in the Revolution, and three on the American side, and four were killed during the war. See Alleghany County Heritage (Alleghany Co. Hist.-Gen. Society, 1983), p.196 (article no. 300 by Thomas D. Hamm). This may be an exaggeration. However, according to Revolutionary Incidents by Rev. Eli Caruthers (orig. published in 1854), there were three men named Edwards in Orange County who were "Tories" or loyal to the British: Richard Edwards, Edward Edwards, and Meredith Edwards. Capt. Richard Edwards was killed at the Battle of Kirk's Farm (Sept. 12, 1781) and his brother Edward Edwards, who succeeded to the command, was killed at Lindley's Mill (Sept. 13, 1781). (See also The Narrative of Colonel David Fanning (NY: Joseph Sabin, 1865), pp. 21, 76.) Meredith Edwards was captured at the Battle of Hillsborough and sentenced to be hanged, but later reprieved, along with Thomas Estridge, William Duke, and Thomas Hunt of Orange County, on condition they enlist in the army for one year. (State Records of NC, Vol. 19, p.194, "Copy of Reprieve to Prisoners in Hillsborough.") Richard Edwards and Edwards Edwards were probably sons of "our" John Edwards. Meredith Edwards may have been unrelated to our Edwards family. Nevertheless, it appears that at least two of John Edwards' sons were British loyalists who were killed in the war.
Of John Edwards's other sons, David Edwards died in 1782 so it is possible he was killed in the war. Although the Revolution was winding down by then (Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in October 1781), there were a handful of battles in 1782 in South Carolina. Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence that David Edwards was a soldier of the Revolution. There is a Sgt. David Edwards on the roster of the 10th NC Regiment, Bailey's Company, but that was a different David Edwards from Wayne County, NC, based on his pension application (NARA Pension File #S6812).
None of John Edwards' other known sons died in the Revolutionary War. William Edwards died in 1784 (after the war ended), Sylvanus Edwards died sometime between 1786 and 1790, and John Edwards Jr. (who fought on the American side) died in 1818. John Edwards's youngest son Henry Edwards was born about 1759 and was just old enough to have served, but if he did so, there is no record of his service. Moreover, he wasn't killed (he lived until 1850). Nevertheless, there appears to be a grain of truth to the legend. The Edwards family must have been torn apart by conflicting loyalities, and one can only imagine the anguish that John and Mary must have felt as their sons joined different sides of the conflict, some of them ultimately losing their lives.
The will of John Edwards, Sr., dated April 2, 1796, names wife Mary (all estate during her life), son John Edwards (10 shillings), Henry Edwards (5 "Negroes"), children of sons David, William, and Sill (1 Negro each), and daughters Mary CAMPBELL and Susannah ODEAN (10 shillings each). (Orange Co., NC, Will Book D, p.56.) John does not mention any children of Richard or Edward, although we know they had children who became wards of John Edwards, Jr., after the war. It appears John left them out of the will for some reason. It is possible that John only named the heirs who were receiving specific bequests and he simply intended the rest of his property to be divided equally among his heirs after the death of his wife Mary. Others have speculated that Richard's and Edward's children could not inherit because their fathers were Tories whose property would have been forfeited to the state. In that case, however, John should have included language to expressly disinhert them, such as leaving them only one shilling. Therefore, the first, benign explanation is probably the most likely.
DO NOT trust genealogieseven published onesthat trace this family to Capt. Robert Edwards of New York or Glamorganshire, Wales. The descendants of Capt. Robert Edwards are allegedly the rightful owners of 77 acres of prime real estate lying under downtown Manhattan. There has been sporadic litigation over this claim since the 19th century, none of it succesful. A New York court rejected the most recent lawsuit over "the Edwards Fortune" in 1999. The group that organized the litigation was later sued by its investors for fraud and misappropriation of funds. Although the legend of the Edwards Fortune is a fascinating one, involving a famous sea captain, a shipwreck, and a mysterious lease discovered in a trunk, any connection between our Edwards family and Capt. Robert Edwards is entirely speculative and totally unproven. The myth of the Edwards fortune was debunked in an article in Ancestry Magazine, Nov./Dec. 1995, Vol. 13, No.6.
Searching the New York Times website for phrases like "Edwards heirs" or "Edwards estate" will link to numerous newspaper articles about the Edwards fortune dating back to the 1870's. The century-long saga is described in "Family Tale Of a Legacy: 2 Centuries Of Setbacks," New York Times, Sun. Jan. 1, 1994, Sec. 1, p.6.
The Edwards legend may be true or false, but what's happened over the years is this: numerous con artists, unethical attorneys and other unsavory characters have periodically contacted random people named Edwards and asked them to contribute funds to the litigation to recover their "inheritance." These solicitations were often supported by pamphlets containing fraudulent family trees. The pamphlets still circulate and are cited by descendants as evidence of their ancestry. Just one example of the problem was reported by the New York Times on Mar. 2, 1890.
How Alleged Heirs to New York Property Have Been Swindled.
LONDON, Ontario, March 1. -- There was a stormy meeting last night of claimants to alleged lands lying in that part of New York City near Broadway and the Battery. Some time ago the heirs of one Edwards were informed that they were the rightful owners of lands in New York valued at $85,000,000. The claim was based on the alleged fact that Edwards had a patent for the lands, and had leased them for ninety-nine years, and that as the lease had expired the heirs were the owners of the property.
About seventy heirs responded to a call for subscriptions to prosecute the claim. Nothing having been heard from the claim lately, the heirs met here last night and demanded of their agent, Henry Edwards, an explanation. Edwards stated that he had delegated one Benjamin Franklin of New York to act for him, and that a settlement had been made for $500,000 for the Canadian heirs. Franklin cannot, however, be found, and Edwards claims to know nothing further about the matter.
The heirs came to a conclusion that the claim was a fraud and was set up for the purpose of obtaining their subscriptions. It is likely that the originators of the scheme will be prosecuted.
(New York Times, Weds. Mar. 2, 1890, p.8.)
Sadly, the truth is that "Edwards" is one of the most common surnames in both England and Wales. There were hundreds if not thousands of people named Edwards in America during colonial times, and it is hardly likely that we would all be descended from the same individual. For example, the indentured servant register on the "Virtual Jamestown" website includes 29 men with the surname Edwards or Edward who came to Virginia between 1654 and 1686and these are just the men whose contracts were recorded in the city of Bristol, England. The Library of Virginia's index of land patents and grants has 91 records for "William Edwards" and 109 records for "John Edwards."
The internet has given the legend of the Edwards Fortune new life. People share family trees without even knowing about the legend, totally unaware that their alleged connection to Capt. Robert Edwards is a complete fake! Please do what you can to stop the madness.