Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Tilson Trail to Tennessee


All that stands between me and membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants is a paper chain of documentation stretching through the then-wilderness areas of southwest Virginia. I already know the end of the trail landed in the northeastern tip of Tennessee by the start of the nineteenth century. And, of course, I know the story began in Massachusetts, long before anyone called that stretch of land by that colony's name. It's just that gap in the middle of the trail which is giving me grief.

What brought that one branch of the Tilsons to Tennessee, I'm not sure. What I do know is that, on the twelfth day of September, 1822, my third great-grandmother Rachel Tilson married James C. Davis in Washington County, Tennessee, giving her sons—and their sons after them, including my own maternal grandfather—the patriline of this Davis family.

According to the mostly reliable Tilson Genealogy of Mercer Vernon Tilson, Rachel was daughter of Rachel Dungan and Peleg Tilson. Rachel and Peleg, according to that same source, had been married in a place known as Saint Clair, Virginia. Peleg didn't move to Tennessee until 1803, if Mercer Tilson was correct, meaning that his children—up through daughter Rachel Tilson Davis, herself—were born in Virginia.

It is that specific location in Virginia which gives me grief. According to the 1911 Tilson book, Peleg's family home in Virginia was known as St. Clair. Finding that particular location in Virginia is a challenge for multiple reasons, which I've gone over in the past.

However, not only is there a barrier to accessing records in Saint Clair—wherever those records might have been held during the time Peleg Tilson lived there—but we have an added challenge. As unusual a name as Peleg might seem to us, the extended Tilson family had more than one descendant by that same name. In fact, there were at least three. And, judging by what I've found when perusing other researchers' trees, there might have been some confusion about the separate identities of those three Pelegs.

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