Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Priscilla Dowell's Family--Part 1

Priscilla Dowell was part of the Maryland Dowell family who migrated to North Carolina right after the Revolutionary War. Priscilla’s grandfather, Peter Dowell, Sr., and five sons settled in what was then Rowan County in the 1780s. Prior to 1770 Rowan County included what today are 20 counties in the northwest part of North Carolina as well as a big part of present day Tennessee. Wilkes County was formed in 1777.

Priscilla’s great-grandfather, Philip Dowell, “appeared” in Southern Maryland in the 1690s as a fully functioning tobacco planter. Although several researchers who have published pedigree charts of the Internet claim to know who Philip’s father is, they don’t agree and I have yet to see proof that support any of their claims. In 1702 Philip married Mary Tydings, the daughter of Richard Tydings—a former indentured servant who had come to Maryland from England in the middle of the 17th century and subsequently had acquired substantial land holdings. Although Philip, or his father, is assumed to have come from the British Isles, the exact origin of the Maryland Dowells is unknown.

Through analysis of the Y-chromosomes of living descendants of three of Philip’s sons, we have established exactly what the results of a 111 marker DNA test would be if Philip himself could be tested. These results have established that the Dowells who appeared in Virginia in the first half of the 18th century have not shared a common paternal ancestor with the Maryland Dowells for at least 3,000 years—long before surnames were introduced in Europe. Neither of these groups have DNA results that come close to matching the handful of Dowells currently living on the other side of the Atlantic who have been tested to date.

Priscilla’s grandparents, Peter, Sr., and Elizabeth (Owens) Dowell moved from Southern Maryland to Frederick County Maryland about a decade before the Revolutionary War. That area is now part of present day Montgomery County in the western suburbs of the District of Columbia. Her father, Philip, Sr., and four of his brothers played various roles in the Revolution. Whether it was because of war related travel to Carolina or the land bounties offered to veterans after the war, Peter, Sr., and five of his sons moved to Rowan County in the 1780s. My 4th great-grandfather Richard Dowell was one of these sons and Priscilla’s father Philip was another.

What little we know about Priscilla’s early life suggests she was probably the youngest of nine or ten children of Philip, Sr., and Priscilla “Nacky” (Owen) Dowell. Her age in 1860 according to the census was 70 and her birthplace was Maryland. One of these is probably incorrect. Priscilla’s family was probably getting established in North Carolina by 1790. Clearly many of her older siblings were born in Maryland but it is unlikely that Priscilla was born there. As I reported in an earlier post, Priscilla could not sign her own name to her 1859 will. Was this because she was illiterate? Were the Philip Dowell’s daughters not given even the most basic education although they came from a family of property? One cousin of mine has speculated about whether Priscilla could have suffered a stroke or other infirmity that prevented her from signing her name more elaborately that simply making “her mark”.

I have yet to discover additional circumstances of Priscilla’s life prior to 1859 with the exception of a bequest made to her by her father in his 1823 will. In that document Philip gave her “a Negro Girl by the name of Juda, and the Heirs of her Body.” Other enslaved persons transferred by this will to various of Priscilla’s immediate family carried the names that appear to be Siney, Lydia, Ginny, Catey, Timssey, Jacob, Joe, David, Richman, and Henderson. Is it mere coincidence that some of these names reappear a generation later?

To be continued.

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