Friday, February 23, 2024

Before Hannah

Sometimes, it seems as if ancestors disappear into thin air. Though we may find assertions about their lives, these are the ones who leave no trace of their existence. Such may be the case with one wife of my fifth great-grandfather John Carter—the one whom he supposedly married before taking my ancestor Hannah Chew as his bride.

Before Hannah—at least according to the 1912 Carter genealogy by Joseph Lyon Miller, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford"—John Carter was married to a woman named Elizabeth Armistead. Elizabeth was the daughter of Francis and Sarah Armistead. Author Miller gave as his source for this information a Carter manuscript dated 1858. Miller explains this manuscript further in the introductory pages of his book: written by yet another John Carter, this one of "The Nest" in Lancaster County, the text was derived from the oral reports of that man's aunt, Fanny Carter, who was born in 1738. Presumably, if that John Carter's report of Aunt Fanny's stories held true, we could assume she got it right about this first wife preceding my Hannah Chew's marriage to my ancestor John Carter.

Joseph Miller gave Elizabeth Armistead's date of birth as March 28, 1716, born to Francis and Sarah Armistead of Richmond County. This information becomes helpful, not only for tracing Elizabeth's family line, but because it points us to a different location in the colony of Virginia than John Carter's residence in Spotsylvania County.

Indeed, thanks to transcriptions and abstracts of crumbling colonial records, we can find mention of Elizabeth's birth in Richmond County—entered as July 12, 1716 instead of Miller's March 28 of the same year—as well as that of her brother John nearly two years later, and their father's passing in 1719. Thankfully, in the same county, an abstraction of the will for Francis "Armstead" that year lists his two young children and his widow Sarah, including the helpful mention that young Elizabeth inherited eighty five acres of her father's land in Richmond County, a detail which might help us trace her later associations.

Complicating matters, we also learn from a document many years later that Elizabeth's mother Sarah had remarried. Regarding a will presented in court in Richmond County concerning a Joseph Russell "of the province of Maryland," the record's transcriber noted that Joseph's "beloved wife Sarah" had previously been the widow of Francis Armistead. At the date of Russell's 1748 will, Sarah was living in Maryland, but if she didn't accept and move to the property Joseph Russell was leaving her in Virginia "within three months" of his death, the bequest would be revoked.

This brings up the question of what became of the two young children left fatherless at Francis Armistead's passing. The transcriber's note to the Russell will indicated that Joseph married Sarah by November of 1722. By then, her daughter Elizabeth would have been barely six years of age. At some point, both Elizabeth and her younger brother John should have been appointed a guardian, providing yet another court record to check. Depending on whether Elizabeth remained in her mother's household—and where her mother eventually moved upon the subsequent marriage to Joseph Russell—that location will likely reveal which county's marriage records would provide the missing detail we are seeking: documentation of Elizabeth Armistead's marriage to John Carter.   

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