Saturday, July 7, 2012
My South Carolina Search for John West
No rhyme or reason found in the collected data!
I spent four days, June 27-30, in South Carolina hoping to find a clue that would lead me to John West and his father, Alexander West. The first two days were devoted to research in Greenville, the county seat of Greenville County. The second two days were spent researching in the state capitol, Columbia, South Carolina. I came away with nothing about my 4th great grandfather, John West (about 1760 to before 1810) and nothing about my 5th great grandfather, Alexander West (between 1720-1730 to after 1790). I planned this research trip to South Carolina for over a year with the hope that I would find answers to my questions. Needless to say, my feelings are those of disappointment and despair.
My husband, Doug, a patient man, and I spent the first morning in the Greenville County court house where I looked for deeds. Several deeds with a John West listed as grantor or grantee were noted, but the “dates” and other information did not correlate with my John West. We spent the afternoon and the following day in the Carolina Room, the genealogy section of the Hughes Library, the Greenville County Library. I searched land and probate indices and court records, cemetery surveys, published family histories, family records, and Revolutionary War indices. Additionally, I studied materials devoted to the state of South Carolina as a whole. Nothing of significance was found regarding John West and his father, Alexander.
The following two days I studied records at the South Carolina State Archives and History at the state capital, Columbia, South Carolina, pouring over state deed and census records and compilations of ancestral and genealogical research data.
Since some on-line genealogists believe that John West died in Spartanburg County, I looked not only at Greenville records but also studied Spartanburg records and those of South Carolina as a whole. Fewer males with the surname West were noted in the Spartanburg area during the late 1700s and early 1800s than in the Greenville area. In fact, I found 41 records that contained a West (Alexander, Alexander, Jr., Isaac, James, John, Solomon, Thomas, and William) in Greenville County and 26 records that contained a West (Alexander, Isaac, James, John, and Solomon) in Spartanburg County. Of the John Wests, I found 7 listings of a John West in Greenville and 8 in Spartanburg. Of the Alexander Wests, 5 records with an Alexander West were noted in Greenville and 1 in Spartanburg. Only one listing for an Alexander West, Jr. was noted in any of the records studied and that one was in Greenville. My concentrated research spanned the years of 1777 to 1812. However, I did collect some information dated as late as 1839. Since my John West’s one son and two daughters (per the 1810 Wilkes County census) were born in South Carolina after 1797 but before 1810, I based my research on the assumption that John West died in South Carolina probably between 1800 and 1810.
I came away with an interesting observation made by one of the librarians in the Carolina Room of the Hughes Library in Greenville. Because of her experience in uncovering similar information, the librarian wondered if the marriage between John and Peggy had dissolved in a separation with Peggy’s returning to Wilkes saying that John had died! Her observation does not represent my beliefs nor does it reflect the results of my research. However, I think her comment should be taken into consideration as “food for thought.”
With intense research, I collected a plethora of information about Wests whose surnames were John, Isaac, William, Solomon, and James and a few whose given names were Alexander and Thomas. These men were spread among Greenville and Spartanburg. But, alas, I found no clues to help me determine if any of these gentlemen were my ancestors! From various clues that I have gathered over the years, my Alexander West may have had brothers or sons with the given names of Isaac, Solomon, and William. My Alexander West most certainly had a son named Alexander (whom I have labeled Alexander West II) and one named John who was my 4th great grandfather.
No evidence, however, exists that my Alexander’s son, Alexander West II, who married Hannah Langley, ever lived in South Carolina. In fact the Revolutionary Pension records of Alexander West II indicate that he had resided in Orange, Wilkes, and Burke counties of North Carolina. The Alexander West and Alexander West, Jr. found in South Carolina deeds and census records may not be my Alexander West I and his son, Alexander West II.
Perhaps, the greatest hindrance in finding my John West is that so many men named John West lived during those early years. With no middle name and with no definite birth or death dates, determining which John West may be my John West seems virtually impossible. Another limitation in identifying him is that in those days wives were rarely mentioned in public documents. Occasionally, a female is listed as an executrix or a benefactor in a will or as one who has “renounced” her dower rights in a deed transaction.
Why did I go to South Carolina to search for John? I did so because, according to family lore, John West and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon, moved to South Carolina sometime after they were married in Wilkes in 1796. According to census data, their three children, John Balus, Melinda, and another daughter, were born in South Carolina. Family lore also relates that Peggy returned to Wilkes with her three children after John died. Along with her three children she is found in the 1810 U.S. Census for Wilkes County, North Carolina.
Secondly, reflecting a local trend, John Balus West may have been named for a prominent local man, John Baylis Earle, who lived in the Greenville, South Carolina, area. Variations in the spelling of “Baylis” abound in legal documents. My Greenville research did reveal a prominent Greenville individual named Balyes Earle who had a son named John Balyes Earle. Bayles Earle’s name was found in records of court cases and land conveyances along with the names of a John West, Isaac West, and Solomon West. I, also, found a slave named John Balyes Earle! Not only, were Bayles Earle and possibly his son, John Balyes Earle, prominent men in Greenville, but also one or both of them may have been a friend(s) of the Wests—John, Isaac, and Solomon. For more information regarding the possibility of John Balus West’s being named after this prominent man in South Carolina, please see my blog post, “The West Patriarchs: 3nd in a Series, John Balus West,” published September 1, 2011.
A third reason for researching in South Carolina is that I am following the trail of others associated with the Wests of Wilkes County. In land surveys in Wilkes County, Bray Crisp’s name is found along with those of Alexander and Isaac West. Bray Crisp, a friend of the Alexander Wests of Wilkes North Carolina and possibly a son-in-law of Alexander West I, lived in South Carolina from approximately 1790 to approximately 1800. Bray’s father, Mancil Crisp, who is found living in the Surry-Wilkes area of North Carolina in 1777, apparently moved to the Laurens area of South Carolina by 1788 and is found in court records up to 1800. Two of Bray Crisp’s sons, William Bray Crisp (1790 Laurens, SC) and Alexander Crisp (1797 Greenville, SC), were born in South Carolina. I find it quite interesting that his sons, particularly Alexander, were given names that were common in the West family. The name “William” would have been the name of the child’s paternal grandfather, William Mancil Crisp, and may well have been the name of one of his West uncles. Do these names reflect common naming patterns of the day, that of naming children after the paternal and maternal grandparents, uncles, and aunts? Yes, they do! Did Bray Crisp marry one of Alexander West’s daughters (as some researchers speculate) and influence some of the Wests, including my John who would have been Bray’s brother-in-law, to move to South Carolina along with his wife and him? Yes, this is a plausible scenario. So much is left to speculation!
A document, “Isaac West’s Family of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Dickson County, Tennessee, 1745-1814,” prepared in 1974 by Blodwen West Boyle (deceased 1996), remains a haunting entity in my mind. I discovered the document in the State Library of North Carolina in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2010. I also found a copy of her document in the Greenville, South Carolina, Hughes Library. Mrs. Boyle developed a thought-provoking history of her family which is well documented and appears to be based on years of research.
When I discovered Boyle’s narrative in 2010, I thought that it provided the answers to my questions. So much of her genealogy appears to mesh with my West family with the possibility of her Isaac West (1745-1814), presumed to be the father of her Abner West, being a brother of my John West. The Isaac West in her study and his wife, Susannah Anderson, were married in Orange County, North Carolina, in 1769. By 1788 they were living in the Greenville District of South Carolina. Mrs. Boyle strongly felt that the Solomon West, found in so many of the South Carolina documents, was Isaac’s brother.
In order to maintain my objectivity and focus on my John West (abt 1760-bef 1810) as I conducted my research in South Carolina, I had to keep in mind the names and birth/death dates of the sons of the presumed 3rd great grandfather of Blodwen West Boyle. Isaac West and Susanna Anderson had the following sons who were present in the Greenville and Spartanburg areas of South Carolina at the same time that my West ancestors may have been there: Solomon West (born between 1773-1776), Isaac West (b 1776-d 1864), John West (b 28 Oct 1776 – d Jan 1827), Abner West (born between 1780-84, died after 1833), and Anderson West (b 5 Dec 1790 – d 11 May 1856). Even with this information in mind, I found it impossible to sort through the various John and Isaac Wests. I must keep in mind, also, that as Mrs. Boyle was conducting her research, she may not have been aware of the other John Wests who likely lived in the same general areas.
As I reflect on my previous research and on my current research in South Carolina, a couple of other questions come to mind. Why did John and Peggy wait so long to marry? According to estimated birth years, both were born about 1760 and would have been about 36 years old by the time they married in c1794. Did John go to South Carolina before he married and return to Wilkes to marry Peggy taking her back to South Carolina with him? Deed records were found of a John West purchasing 100 acres in Greenville County, South Carolina, as early as 1789 when my John would have been about 29 years old. Indeed, this information indicates that the son, John, of Isaac and Susanna Anderson West, at age 13 would have been too young to have purchased land. Again, I wonder whether this John who purchased land in Greenville in 1789 was my 4th great grandfather John West.
So many questions! And, no proof! Only speculation! Perhaps, some informed conclusions!
As I reflect on my research trip to South Carolina, I sometimes think what a waste of time and money! Then, I reconcile these feelings by thinking the trip was worth the time and expense in that it revealed that no sound evidence of my John West exists in that state. Even though “we know” that he and his family lived in South Carolina in those latter years of the 1700s, at this time their existence there cannot be proved.
P.S. For those of you who worry about my husband, Doug, while we are on these research trips, he filled his time in South Carolina reading John Grisham’s latest book, Calico Joe, and starting Robert Morgan’s Boone, a biography about Daniel Boone. Doug’s 5th great grandmother was Daniel’s sister, Sarah Boone. Sarah’s daughter, Elizabeth Wilcoxson, and Elizabeth’s husband Benjamin Cutbirth, Sr. were Doug’s 3rd great grandparents. Benjamin Cutbirth, a long hunter who hunted with Daniel Boone, was one of Daniel’s axmen as Daniel blazed the Wilderness Trail through Cumberland Gap. Benjamin and Elizabeth named one of their sons Daniel Boone Cutbirth. And, guess what, Daniel Boone and Benjamin Cutbirth became friends while they were neighbors in WILKES COUNTY!