It’s been an interesting year creating my new data sheets based on the Loyalist Claims Commission and the Book of Negroes. Using these incredibly detailed document collections has allowed me to create datasets listing all of the interesting social data that will allow me to better understand my loyalists, reconstruct their communities, day to day lives, and how they spent their years after the Revolutionary War. Now I am in the data cleaning phase where I have to go through and make sure all of my columns are ready to be read by my software of choice, ‘R’. In my dissertation, a huge portion of my digital component depends on the coordinates for colonial towns, cities, and counties in 18th-century Virginia. I want to show on maps loyalist populations, geographic networks, communities, and pre/post war maps for all Virginia loyalists. My latest task is locating each of these areas and giving them coordinates. However, what seems like a simple process is actually a lot more difficult than I previously imagined. Why? Virginia changes A LOT between the Revolutionary War and today–geographically and culturally.
For my loyalist claims dataset, I have had a lot of issues figuring out geographic locations. When submitting claims, white loyalists were a lot less specific on their locations. For instance, many loyalists just say they are from “Virginia.” No city, no county, no parish. Just Virginia. However, thanks to outside sources, I’ve been able to narrow some of these areas down via clues in their claims and other document collections that mention loyalist locations. Thanks deeds, wills, and tax records!
I’ve had a completely different experience with my datasets based on the Book of Negroes. Since the vast majority of my black loyalists were enslaved before or during the Revolutionary War, they were once considered property and the details given in this book are much more specific in terms of geographic location. Therefore, I have some of my black loyalists located down to an exact location as opposed to a general region. Some of these loyalists would even include what side of the river they lived on within a town or county.
That being said, there are a few more problems I’m finding in both datasets. After referencing colonial era geographic resources, direct questions to the Virginia Historical Society, ancestry resources, and the Google machine, I have a list of locations provided by the loyalist claims and the Book of Negroes that I absolutely cannot figure out for the life of me. While there are only a handful of these questionable locations, I desperately want to have as many loyalists represented geographically as humanly possible. That means I need to locate each of these individuals so they don’t just become a vague “Virginia” geopoint.
One of the biggest problems I’ve come across includes phonetic spellings of local dialects. Dialects all over the world can make some city/county/regional names almost unrecognizable from original spellings. 18th-century Virginia was no different. British scribes for the Loyalist Claims Commission and for the Book of Negroes struggled with these dialects especially if they didn’t know North American geography well. For instance, I have two black loyalists who are from Henrico county. When interviewed, the scribe wrote their home county as “Hannaryka” and “Haurikah.” As a native Mississippian, I had no idea where in the world these two places were. It wasn’t until I showed the names to a group of Virginians that they immediately recognized it as Henrico. Who knew that to this day the area is still referred to as “Henrika.”
“Newtown” was a common name of a new city–even if that city was given a proper name. In the late 18th century, Stephen’s City was commonly referred to as “New Town” along with half a dozen other places. When this town is used in the Book of Negroes, I’ve taken the name of the former owner and been able to locate a few proper names for these Newtowns, but I haven’t had luck with all of them. When this issue comes up in the Loyalist Claims Commission, I cross my fingers that either the claim will include additional information or their name pops up in genealogical records. I’ve been mildly successful with my Newtowns, but there are still some that have yet to be properly identified.
Another issue? You can’t live on an entire river. Many people in both sources say that they lived on the James River, Rappahannock River, Potomac River, etc. After further analysis, I was able to lock down a few of these areas. For instance, my folks who say they lived on the James River were all over the map. Some in the Richmond area, others near Williamsburg, and one as far west as Albemarle county. With my leftover “James River” loyalists, I have no idea how to map them properly.
Below is a list of the last areas in these document sources that have left me scratching my head. Many of these are possibly issues with dialect and scribes. Other’s could possibly be areas that were once so tiny when they existed that there are no records of them. Some could have been regional nicknames that have been lost to time. Who knows? Maybe you do! I’ve included these places and the loyalists who say they came from there. In instances where these places appear in the Book of Negroes, I’ve also given the names of former owners to help narrow down the areas. If you think you have a good hunch or have seen some of these areas mentioned in other sources, feel free to comment below.
We’ve managed to locate or at least narrow down some of these areas. A huge thanks to my historian friends Anna Gruber Kiefer and Drew Gruber for their knowledge of the area and mad research skills! All new information will be in italics.
- Fort/Port Matuxon
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Nuse Bagshaw. Former owner listed as Rodham Kinner.
- Definitely a dialect/scribe error. There is no way a Port or Fort has gone missing in Virginia since the 18th century.
- Found: 17th-century documents listing a Matuxon Forte in Northumberland County.
- Gold Mine
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under free black, Adam Jones. Former owner listed as Thomas VanDexter.
- Too early to be the region known as Gold Vein.
- Hobbs Court House
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Nancy Lambert. Former owner listed as William Magninnis.
- Indian Land
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Savinah and Venus Miles. Former owner listed as John Miles. Also listed for Sarah Wilkins, former owner John Wilkins.
- Cannot confirm areas based off of owners. This could be the Virginia backcountry or even Shawneeland near Winchester.
- North Hampshire
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under John Costin. Former owner listed as General Ruggles.
- Found: Located in Hampshire County.
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Wynie Hampstead. Former owner listed as William Hampstead.
- This has to be a dialect/scribe issue.
- Swynyard, James River
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Nancy. Former Owner listed as Colonel Cole.
- I’m guessing this is another dialect/scribe issue. Listed as being on the James River.
- Found: Listed between Berkley Plantation and Queen’s Creek on this map.
- Cecil County
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under James Bummel. Former Owner listed as Benjamin Chew.
- Carlisle County
- Listed in the Book of Negroes under Ruben Simmons. Former Owner listed as Abraham Wilson.
- Could possibly be Carlisle, West Virginia, but the dates aren’t matching up.
- Two Virginia Witnesses–Worthington Brice and John Lambert–said they were from Bristol in Walter King’s and John Hamer’s loyalist claim
- Can’t be modern day Bristol. Was not established until after the war.
- Almost Found: Looking more and more like modern day Bristol, despite establishment dates.
- Hancock Town
- Listed as the home of John Wailing in the loyalist claims.
- Could possibly be “Hanover Town,” but not sure.
- All surrounding Hancock areas are named after the war in honor of John Hancock. Hancock, Maryland and Hancock County, West Virginia are too late after the submit date of the claim to be considered.
- Almost Found: There was a King Hancock’s Town in North Carolina during the Tuscarora War. But still not convinced this isn’t Hanover Town.
- Sugar Botton, Bolentos County
- Listed as the home of John Hiel in the loyalist claims
- There is no such thing as a Bolentos County, nor is there a Sugar Botton. Richmond has a “Sugar Bottom” area but doesn’t date back far enough to the Revolution.
- Almost Found: Multiple areas in the original parts of Botetourt County with “sugar” in the name.