Friday, March 17, 2023

William Tilson in Virginia:
When and Where?


We've found a claim that William Tilson, despite already having been given land in Massachusetts, had settled in Virginia by 1763. That claim, as we've seen, may have run contradictory to the rules and regulations of the colonial jurisdiction in which he lived. With so many snippets of history hinting that the Tilson claim couldn't have been possible, are there any other signs to counterbalance that assertion gone awry?

I poked around the Internet, thanks to a little guidance from Google, to see if I could find further information. From a newspaper article introducing a reference book on land grants after the French and Indian War—Bounty and Donation Land Grants in British Colonial America, written by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck—I learned a few key details.

One was that the king of England had authorized colonial governors to issue grants for bounty lands to those participating in the French and Indian War, with the amount of the land awarded based on the rank of the person serving. While the Proclamation of 1763 limited governors as to the location of land granted, there was none so limited as the governor of Massachusetts Colony; in Massachusetts, there was no land available to be awarded within their own borders.

In order to receive such an award, an eligible person needed first to apply. The resultant paperwork thus could reveal to a researcher not only that an ancestor received such a grant, but what rank was held by that ancestor, which colony he served for, which military engagements he was part of, and the size and location of the land he received.

Presumably, the paperwork would also provide us with some dates. After all, I'm trying to ascertain whether the William Tilson who lived in southwest Virginia was one and the same as the grandson mentioned in the Massachusetts will of John Murdock. And I've found some roadblocks to a clear understanding and confidence that the William in Massachusetts would be one and the same as the William in Virginia.

We already can see from the 1810 census that there was indeed a William Tilson living in Washington County, Virginia. In fact, the names surrounding his entry on that enumeration point to possible family members and other associates: Sampson Cole, likely namesake of William's grandson born that very year; "Hellin Dungans" and Levi Bishop, mentioned as grantees in the 1797 land record we've already examined; and probable sons Thomas and "Lamuel" Tilson. Despite any squabbles over transcription problems in the 1797 land record, other tax records showed that someone named William Tilson was already paying taxes in Washington County, Virginia, by that date.


But when we rewind history to those more messy years, I don't find any land records. What I do find, again from history records, is another warning in the guise of the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. That agreement sought to revise the colonial boundary line previously established in the 1763 Royal Proclamation. With the later treaty, some of the land previously excluded from colonial settlement was now open for claims to the bounty lands promised after the war. So, could William Tilson have settled in southwest Virginia by 1768?

Complicating matters was that the process for obtaining the requisite certificate showing proof of military service was apparently bogged down in its own red tape. Some certificates were issued by 1774—at least, those in Virginia—but some were not provided until issued by Virginia county courts in 1779 or later.

Granted, the push to revise the former treaty was a slow and messy process. In addition, history already indicates that some land speculators as well as settlers already had exercised their claim to land which was subsequently impacted by the Royal Proclamation.

Could William Tilson have been among such settlers? Hard to say, at this point. But whether he barged right in and took up residence at the first chance in 1763, waited until 1768—or even later—we do have another chance to track William's whereabouts and family connections: his service in the Revolutionary War. We'll examine what can be found of that subsequent military service next week.


Image above: Excerpt from Personal Property Tax Lists of Washington County, Virginia, 1782-1850, for 1797 entry for William Tilson; digitized image courtesy  


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