Monday, March 28, 2022

"My Trusty Friend Charles McClellan"


Charles McClellan may have been my fourth great-grandfather, but in his time he was apparently trusted friend to many in the communities in which he lived. As I trace signs of his whereabouts from his final home in territorial Florida through his 1820s residence in Camden County, Georgia, I now find records that point to him—possibly—in South Carolina.

We've already watched Charles and his relative Andrew McClellan arrive in southeastern Georgia from South Carolina, and have spotted what might have been the two McClellans in the 1800 census in Orangeburgh District in South Carolina. But here is where the going gets tangled: at that very juncture in 1800s South Carolina. The reason: geopolitical changes in that very region of the state.

According to some genealogical guides, Orangeburgh District—the place where I found Charles and Andrew in the 1800 census—in that same year had given up some of its territory for the formation of a new district, called Barnwell District. One report noted that Barnwell District was actually carved from Orangeburgh District in 1797, but the change didn't become effective until 1800. Yet another source indicated that all South Carolina districts' establishment became effective on New Year's day of 1800

If that is so, was Charles McClellan living in Orangeburgh District while he was in South Carolina? Or Barnwell District?

To add to the confusion—after all, there could possibly have been two men by the same name in neighboring counties—there was mention of a Charles McClellan in legal documents filed in Barnwell District. Take, for example, this 1810 will drawn up by Peleg Wood Chase of Barnwell District, naming one Charles McClellan as executor:

Thirdly, I do hereby constitute and appoint my Dear Wife as Executrix, and my trusty friend Charles McClellan as Executor to this my last will + Testament.

In another will—this time for James Erwin, also of Barnwell District—Charles McClellan served as witness to the 1815 document.

Thanks to a tip from reader Charles Purvis, who directed me to the website of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, I was able to quickly locate three documents in Barnwell District which included Charles McClellan's name. I was particularly delighted to spot the third document, a "plat" for thirty seven acres in Barnwell District, surveyed by one James Dougharty, and dated January 23 of 1809. So, he was in Barnwell District, after all!

But if Charles McClellan was in Barnwell District in 1810, I couldn't find any sign of him in the 1810 census. Nor could I locate any clues from the 1800 census to help answer my underlying question: who might have been Charles' relatives—especially a potential father—in that South Carolina home? Other than Charles and Andrew, there were no other McClellans showing in the 1800 census in either Orangeburgh District or Barnwell District. Not even by wildly concocted spelling variations.

This certainly gave me pause to ponder just where the McClellan duo might have emerged from, prior to their arrival in Orangeburgh District. Were they previous residents of yet another state? There not only didn't seem to be a parent living nearby, there wasn't even a sign of another brother. Even that cliched immigrant scenario—"There were three brothers"—didn't seem to fit the narrative. What now?

Image above: Excerpt from the 1810 will of Peleg Wood Chase of Barnwell District, South Carolina, designating Charles McClellan as executor; image courtesy

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