Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Clues in Camden County


It is sometimes more of a challenge to research our ancestors while moving backwards in time. Not everyone dwells on where they came from, but many will lay out broad hints of where they intend to move to in the future. We don't, however, have the luxury of learning either detail from my fourth great-grandfather Charles McClellan, and need to rely on close scrutiny of any clues scattered in his path.

Right now, we've learned that a possible daughter of Charles—Margaret E. McClellan—married a man named Benjamin Stephens in Camden County, Georgia. Since at the end of his life, Charles lived in Jefferson County, Florida, that was a help to discover. But what about Camden County? Could that be a possibility for the previous stop on the McClellan migration pathway?

We already know, from another branch of my family, that Charles McClellan had shown up as a witness to the will of Job Tison, Charles' son George's future father-in-law. Job Tison, at the time of his death, lived in Glynn County, one jurisdiction to the north of Camden County. One could hardly be expected to serve in such a capacity for a mere stranger passing through the area; Charles McClellan living in Camden County could reasonably be expected to know someone in nearby Glynn County. After all, one generation before that, Charles' friend Job had married a woman whose father was buried in another nearby county, Wayne, in an area now considered part of yet another Georgia county, Brantley.

The wedding of Margaret E. McClellan and Benjamin Stephens, as we already discovered, occurred in Camden County in 1821. By the time of the 1830 census, Margaret and her young family were already enumerated in territorial Florida, giving us the latest date estimate for the McClellan family's presence in Camden County. But what could be the earliest date of their arrival? After all, Margaret—if, indeed, she was Charles' daughter—was said to have been born in South Carolina, not Georgia.

Records for Camden County in those early years seem to be sparse. For one thing, the region's earlier history seemed to be rocky, with threats from the British offshore, and from across the river—and international boundary—to the south as the Spanish claim was relinquished to the British and then, ultimately, to the Americans as neighboring Florida became a territorial possession of the United States.

One encouraging clue was that of the history of Camden County's main town, Saint Mary's, Georgia. Originally a Spanish settlement, founded in 1566, local inhabitants drew up a charter establishing the town as part of the state of Georgia in 1787. Looking at the area now designated as the Saint Mary's historical district, it is interesting to note that a Methodist Church was founded there in 1799—and that this particular church was considered to be the "father of Florida's Methodist churches."

Why for Florida churches, if it was located in Georgia? This gleaning from local history may serve to point us to the way that Charles McClellan was once directed, arriving in Camden County with the end plan of continuing on to Florida. Yet, if he were indeed there in Camden County before his (supposed) daughter's 1821 marriage, wouldn't he be in the preceding year's census record? There, it turns out, we encounter another problem.


  1. I learn so much from your stories!

    1. This one's a steep learning curve for me, too, Miss Merry, as my goal involves learning more about the overarching local history and social connections surrounding this McClellan family. History and geography can become way markers for genealogists lacking records.


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