Thursday, February 8, 2024

Kenyon or Kenner? Gets Stickier


I admit it: I'm already deep into the family history forest's latest rabbit trail. And with every step, the trail gets thicker and stickier.

Last month, I spent time trying to locate all the information I could find on my fifth great-grandfather John Carter of Spotsylvania County in colonial Virginia. This month, the plan was to move to John's supposed second wife, Hannah Chew, and examine what could be found on her family line. And yet, there was a snag. There's always a snag.

The problem is that John Carter may have had yet another wife. No, take that back: the wife we thought he had might not have been the right person. After all, even the D.A.R. entry for the Captain seems to indicate otherwise.

The complications, however, burrow deeper than just that glitch. For one, we spotted yesterday the possibility that the name he gave in his will for his granddaughter might not have been entirely correct. According to her grandfather, that child's name was Sarah Kenyon Thomas. But according to the will of her own father, her name was Sarah Kenner Thomas.

Which one was the correct name?

To try to answer that question, I began by first searching for anything I could find in county court records for the surname Kenner, followed by another search for the surname Kenyon, which we will consider in a later post.

As it turned out, there were several entries containing that Kenner surname in abstracts of Spotsylvania court records, from which we can piece together a story of possible relationships. And that's where things get sticky, when it comes to piecing together a family tree. Apparently—and I've heard this before—families in the early years of colonial Virginia were quite intermarried. We'll see this as we trace the Kenner connections.

Before we run through this obstacle course of court resources, to put this rabbit trail in perspective, the mention of Sarah Kenner Thomas was made in her father's will dated in 1772. Yet, the only other references I could find for a surname Kenner occurred several years before that point. Here's how they unfolded.

First was the discovery in Spotsylvania County of one and only one name attached to that search: a man identified as the Rev. Rodham Kenner. I found mention of him in several Spotsylvania County records, but then, since property owned by the man who got me started on this chase—John Carter, Sarah's grandfather—spanned the border between Spotsylvania County and Caroline County, I discovered more entries in that second county.

To set the stage—though not the order of original discovery—I found mention of the nuncupative will of the Reverend Kenner listed in Caroline County. The abstract mentioned the will was proved by Judith Kenner, and that the estate was divided by an unnamed wife and son. Digging further for Rodham Kenner's wife's name, I found a Spotsylvania County mention of a 1729 (or 1730) marriage license issued for Rodham Kenner and Judith Beverley.

Thus, the Judith Kenner mentioned in Rodham's will could very possibly be this same wife identified as Judith Beverley. The interesting point here is that we've already found a Beverley family connection in the mother of my fifth great-grandmother, Hannah Chew, who married John Carter. Hannah's mother, Margaret, was daughter of Harry Beverley, who also was the father of Judith Beverley. When Hannah's husband John Carter was drawing up his own will and thinking about his orphaned granddaughter, did he somehow recall the wrong name when he meant to identify his in-laws' Beverley connection?

A guardianship proceeding from Spotsylvania County brought up another tie-in to that same Beverley family: at about this same time, Hannah's father John Chew had been designated as guardian of his wife's younger sister, Agatha Beverley. Security for the appointment was provided by none other than this Rodham Kenner, in-law by virtue of his marriage to Judith Beverley.

While indications were solid that Judith Beverley was Rodham Kenner's wife, who was the unnamed son in his will? Back in Caroline County, abstract of a March 1740 court entry revealed the son's name to be George Kenner, specifically naming his father and noting that the man was already deceased. (An interesting side light, which we'll save for later, was that the guardian appointed for the still-underaged George Kenner was a man named Thomas Roy.)

The court record also indicated that young George Kenner, through his new guardian, was to receive (in trust, presumably) "all the estate" from his "late guardian" Howson Kenner. That set the stage for a final record found back in Spotsylvania County. Fast forward another twenty five years, and the now-married George Kenner—along with another party by the name of Roy—is selling his portion of an inherited property passed from his grandfather Harry Beverley through Harry's five daughter, with the portion of George's now-deceased mother falling to him. Judith apparently had left no will—or at least did not mention this particular parcel of inherited land in her will, if she did draw one up.

This last court record provided a neatly-summarized overview of part of the Beverley family tree, listing the daughters whose husbands could now claim they had been in-laws of a significant colonial Virginian. But other than discovering the identity of three additional men with the surname Kenner—Rodham, his relative by the name of Howson Kenner, and Rodham's son George—this excursion taught us nothing more than that those colonial Virginians had multiple family connections. It certainly didn't reveal just who it might have been whose namesake became Owen Thomas' daughter and John Carter's granddaughter. 

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