Finding my Roots

Cattle Grazing near North Garden

Sunday -March 20, 2016 seemed like a good day to take  my family history research outdoors in search of the area in Albemarle County Virginia where Samuel and Elizabeth Powell raised their 13 children in the early 1800s. Samuel was a farmer as were most of his nine sons.

The forecast was for a chance of snow and it was a cold and dreary day for the first day of Spring but thankfully no snow. By consulting old maps in the Charlottesville Albemarle County Historical Society on Saturday, I had a pretty good idea of the general location of the Powell land. It was south of Charlottesville, just east of what is now Route 29, the direct route I take from my home in Greensboro, North Carolina to Charlottesville. In fact the land was just to the east of Appleberry Mountain, a good landmark.  Roads and place names may change, but it’s pretty hard to move a mountain.

A few years ago I spent a day doing courthouse research but the book that contained Samuel’s will was out for rebinding. This year I had better luck and found his will and some deeds to land that Samuel bought in 1812 and in 1822. Unfortunately, Samuel’s will didn’t help unravel one mystery I was hoping to solve.

The children born to Samuel and Elizabeth Powell were born between the years of 1809 and 1834. Samuel died in 1841 and I found guardianship papers for his three youngest children – Thomas A Powell, Walter M. Powell and Eliza Ann Powell. I’ve also got fairly strong evidence of the family connection for his first four sons who left Virginia for Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s. But there were three sons born in 1811, 1812 and 1813 (and some family trees show two of them born in the same year.) If all three were their sons, it would mean that for three years in a row, Elizabeth got pregnant within a month or two of giving birth.  Certainly possible but hard for me to fathom.

House Near Powell Corner
Overgrown House near Powell Corner


If Samuel’s will had identified all of his children by name it would have helped solve this mystery but as is so often the case,  it did not. Instead his will only mentioned two of his sons, Samuel M. Powell who he named Executor, and his son Franklin who he identified specifically in the following paragraph:

6th – I wish the Interests arising from my money lent out, to be appropriated, or so much thereof as may be necessary to schooling for my younger children, to enable them at least to read, write and cast accounts correctly. And I wish my son Franklin especially to be educated sufficiently to qualify him well for the Counting room or for Teaching school.

Uh oh – I didn’t have a son named Franklin. But I did have Francis F Powell who would have been about 14 when Samuel made his will on Christmas Day in 1840, so I think he is the Franklin identified in the will.

When I found the appraisement of Samuel Powell’s estate, I understood why he would identify “counting” potential in one of his sons and want to cultivate it. In addition to a long list of farm equipment, 21 head of sheep, 30 head of hogs, 5 milk cows, 6 head of young cattle, 4 horses (which were quite valuable compared to the other animals) and corn and hay growing in the field – all things you would expect a farmer to have, there was an even longer list of “bonds” made to well over 50 different people. The greatest value of Samuel Powell’s estate was in money people owed him. I wonder if those debts were ever paid?

Family burial plot at VA Route 717 and Irish Road

So even though I didn’t find the Powell family burial plot, I had fun driving around and imagining what it would have been like 200 years ago to have a farm and sufficient resources to serve as the local banker.  I did find burial plots with surnames that matched the list of debtors in Samuel Powell’s will and I am more intrigued than before to figure out how he had that much money to lend.

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