Thursday, September 21, 2017

About That "A" in the FAN Club

Following after those bright-shiny research objects spotted during the malaise of project goals gone awry is not all lost time or effort. In the long run, research detours can be quite productive, especially if we remember that the principle of the FAN Club—the friends, associates and neighbors of our ancestors—can often help uncover clues which otherwise would have remained invisible to us in our most challenging searches.

This week, I've been poking around in any material I could find online concerning the land where my Tilson ancestors settled in the southwest wilderness of 1763 Virginia. Yesterday, we discussed the process of obtaining some of the colony's original land grants which much pre-dated my Tilsons' arrival from Massachusetts.

Finding the names of surveyors James Patton and Thomas Walker turned out to provide surname landmarks on which to peg my progress as I followed along. As it turned out, a subsequent discovery of an interesting paper—who knows how accurate that material itself is—caught my eye solely because of those Patton and Walker names, and then led me to a useful discovery.

The paper was from a presentation given at the Blockhouse Visitor's Center at Natural Tunnel State Park nearly three years ago. The speaker was Lawrence J. Fleenor, whose subject was "The First People from the Old World to Come Into the Greater Holston Valley in Virginia."

While the article deserves a good read by anyone researching the same geographic area I'm currently studying, it led to yet another rabbit trail emerging from this presentation that helped me further on my research way. If you recall the cemetery in the region in which some of my Tilson ancestors were buried—a place curiously called Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery—you may remember my difficulty trying to find out more about both the cemetery and the place where it was located.

I hadn't made much headway finding more information on Saint Clair Bottom—even using the variant "St. Clair" and the possessive form of the name.

In the Fleenor article, however, I found not only a curious history of migration into the area which my Tilsons eventually called home, but some hints on alternate names for that Saint Clair Bottom designation.

Being that it was located at or near the south fork of the Holston River in Virginia, naturally I assumed the "Bottom" referred to low-lying land close in to the river, itself. But the designation "Saint Clair" had me stumped.

As it turned out, that Saint Clair referred to an actual person by the name of Charles Saint Clair. That very Saint Clair, as it turned out, was somehow involved in the explorations of the surveyor we met yesterday, James Patton.

The Fleenor paper referenced another version of Saint Clair's surname; it turns out he was also called Charles Sinclair, and his property referenced as Sinclair's Bottom (and various possessive forms of that name).

Once I found that detail, I tried my hand at googling everything I could find on that new name. There was a great deal to be found, including a website and a blog on a DNA research project focusing on that specific family from colonial southwest Virginia.

In addition, my search turned up yet another version of that name: Charles Sinkler (or Sincler), which was evidently how the Virginians of that time pronounced Saint Clair. (Not surprising, as I've already learned the Virginians had an entirely unexpected take on how to pronounce the surname of another of my ancestral lines, the Taliaferros.)

Thus, now armed with the knowledge that Saint Clair Bottom—as at least the historic church was originally called—might also be referred to as Sinclair's Bottom or Sinkler's Bottom, I started afresh with research vigor.

It was a long rabbit trail to wade through all the material I could find. In the end, I discovered Charles Sinclair led an adventurer's life that may actually have been stranger than fiction. Tucked within that insane narrative, I learned, for one thing, that he and his family had to retreat for safety to North Carolina during the period between the end of the French and Indian Wars and the time of the colonies' war of independence, and that, upon his death back at his regained property in Virginia, portions of the land inherited by his children eventually were bought by a man with the name Joseph Cole in 1785.

While I cannot yet ascertain the exact relationship, what is interesting to me is that that specific name, Joseph Cole, happened to be the same name of the man who married my William Tilson's youngest daughter, Jennet. That Joseph Cole also happened to grant property for use of the local congregation to build their church and establish their cemetery—the cemetery, in fact, where William Tilson himself was eventually buried, the Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery. 

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