Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Covering Ground While Standing Still


One difficulty in dealing with my research goal to discover the parentage of Mary Carroll Gordon was realizing the number of places this woman's family lived during a lifetime which began before the birth of our own nation. To see her possible father mentioned as originating in Great Britain and settling first in Annapolis, before traveling over rugged terrain to reach Monongalia County in the far western reaches of colonial Virginia sets the stage, mentally, for us to assume that when Mary married William Gordon in Monongalia County and moved to Pennsylvania, that she likewise faced an enormously challenging journey.

Not so, it may turn out. Much like a limber tourist to the Four Corners monument might plunk down one limb in each of four southwestern American states, these Carroll and Gordon ancestors of my mother-in-law might have owned property contained within what, in their time, was considered all part of one county.

We noticed the first sign of that possibility yesterday, in pondering the identity of the fourth "child" mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will: a person by the name of James Walls. Whether finding the right James Walls, we stumbled upon an account of one person by that name who at first had settled in what was then Monongalia County—until the county lines were redrawn to form the new Preston County.

It will probably be helpful, at this point, to review what we had learned last week about the geography of this remote back corner of colonial Virginia. In what could be called by some a greedy land grab, the Virginia colony had entertained some impossibly grandiose notions as to what their domain should encompass. Their neighbors to the north, in Pennsylvania, had done likewise.

Actually, these geographic designations were originally set by what apparently were conflicting charters granted by two different English kings—one to Lord Baltimore by King Charles I, creating the colony of Maryland, and the other to William Penn by King Charles II. In time, the border disputes which arose prompted a fair appraisal in the form of a land survey, thus engaging the services of two land surveyors by the names of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

The dividing line they proposed, while figuring prominently in future years of America's history, somehow fell short, just when approaching the very territory where Anthony Carroll and some of the Gordon family members had settled. That region, if you remember, just a few years later was established by colonial Virginia as the District of West Augusta. Because the Mason-Dixon line had not been extended beyond the western border of Maryland, both Virginia and neighboring Pennsylvania laid claim to the land lying within the District of West Augusta.

That, as it turns out, puts us right inside the original domain of Monongalia County, itself a far more encompassing region than in subsequent years. So large was its claim that, at its start in 1776, three counties which eventually became the domain of Pennsylvania were included in Monongalia County. And two of those counties—Washington County, from which Greene County was later carved—figure in the continuing story of Mary Carroll and her husband, William Gordon.

When the border dispute was resolved by the extension of the Mason-Dixon line westward in 1781, part of that land claimed by Virginia in Monongalia County became part of the state of Pennsylvania. While I might have imagined that Mary, after her marriage to William Gordon—likely in 1793 in Monongalia County—traveled long distances to arrive at the couple's new home in "Tenmile Country" in Washington County, what might actually have happened was that the land they lived on simply experienced a shift in political control from one county—and state—to another.

All of Mary and William's children—and the best I can tell was that there were eleven of them, beginning with their son James in 1794—were born in either Washington County, Pennsylvania, or the newer Greene County after 1796. Perhaps even then, that designation of a newer location was simply due to politics, not the buying or selling of property on the part of the Gordons.

All along, they could have been standing still on the same turf. And I, in turn, need to disabuse myself of the notion that Mary, having left her father's home, had traveled far beyond her community to settle in a distant land. They all lived within the greater river basin of the Monongahela, whether in one state or the next.

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