Friday, November 18, 2022

Navigating Those Shifting Boundaries


When researching those ancestors who once lived in the eastern counties of our nation's early years, one can never be too certain that the county in which the family's name is now mentioned was a place originally contained within the current boundaries. Let's see what shifting boundaries await us as we explore how to find more documentation on Peleg Tilson and his family of Tennessee, previously residing in colonial Virginia.

The reason I knew Peleg Tilson was from Tennessee is that is where I found his descendants: in Washington County, Tennessee. And yet, one significant genealogy of the extended Tilson family notes that Peleg married his wife in Saint Clair, Virginia. Indeed, that same Tilson genealogy showed most of Peleg's children also being born in Saint Clair, Virginia.

My first question, upon learning that, was: where is Saint Clair, Virginia? That was a question not easily answered—at least by the current means of online searches. One of the most promising leads contained a mention of a cemetery attached to the early American congregation known as the Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Church.

According to Find A Grave, the church and its associated cemetery were located in Chilhowie, Virginia. Chilhowie, in turn, is part of Smyth County. However, back when Peleg's family was growing, that would not be the case, as Smyth County was established in 1832, long after Peleg had moved to Tennessee, at least according to the Tilson genealogy.

So where was Saint Clair Bottom located before 1832? Smyth County was apparently carved from Washington County, Virginia. And there we have the beginnings of confusion.

If Washington County, Virginia, was where Peleg Tilson emigrated to live in "Greasy Cove" in Tennessee by 1803, he once again ended up living in a place called Washington County. Before Tennessee statehood, achieved in 1796, that same region was once known as the Washington District.

According to some sources, the residents of Washington District may have once believed that they were, indeed, part of "trans-Appalachian Virginia territory." Once moving from colonial times to the era of the newly-established American government, that same district petitioned first the Virginia government, then—rebuffed—the North Carolina state government, to become part of that state. Upon that approval, the old Washington District became part of North Carolina and was renamed Washington County, North Carolina. Until, that is, the state of Tennessee was established.

Whether part of Virginia, or North Carolina, or even Tennessee, one thing is clear: we've got to find the correct location for the records explaining the connection between Peleg Tilson and his parents, residing back near Saint Clair Bottom, whatever county claimed that place before 1803.


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