The Tracy Family History
McDowell Burying Ground
The McDowell cemetery has long been abandoned. A local realtor, Gene Tillis, has been most helpful, sending me historical information, giving directions and even going to the graveyard and taking these photos.
The cemetery is relatively easy to locate. Go to the village of Fairfield, 10 miles north of Lexington, VA. Take Route 11 one mile south and the cemetery is in a pasture to the west. Apparently, it stands out and is quite picturesque. Included is a photo of the roadside marker, which identifies the graveyard. However, the photo of the cemetery blends in with the farm land and will not reproduce well. So I have not included it.
This is a working farm. The present owners, Jerry and Houston Close will allow you to park on Route 11 and walk across the pasture to the cemetery (1/4 mile from the highway) Mrs. Close Houston inherited the property from her family. (Houston, as in Sam Houston. We are intermarried with the Houston's. That story comes later.)
A word of caution: Again, this is a working farm and the seasons may not allow passage at certain times. Gene Tillis had to delay his trip to take these photos because of wet weather, which caused the ground to be muddy and the tall hay would not allow passage. So one must wait until the ground is dry and the hay is mowed.
Neander Woods, 1905--
“The burial place...can be seen today near the Red House, or Maryland Tavern...As one enters the iron gate and turns a little to the left he will observe a low, unhewn limestone slab about two feet high, on which is a rude inscription reading thus:
THE BODY OF
“John McDowell’s grave may still be found in the family burying ground near Timber Ridge church, marked by a rough stone.” – Waddell, 1888.
The burial was a year earlier, but the stone
was not placed until 1743, thus the confusion as to the wrong date. “...he and
his six companions...were brought to ‘Red House’...but no stones mark their
graves.” – until a year later.
Again, the graveyard was abandoned a long time ago. However, last year the Fairfield Ruritan Club made a project of cleaning up the cemetery and apparently did a good job.
It is a small cemetery, 188 feet by 76 feet, now enclosed by “...a handsome brick fence...” built in 1928. At the time there remained just a portion of the older brick fence. Being resourceful, the locals sold the old fence bricks for $1 each, as antiques-heirlooms, to finance the new brick fence.
This beautiful monument was placed at the grave in 1855 by the grandchildren. The new monument along with the rough stone marked the grave for many years. Alas, no one realizing the historical significance of the old rough stone marker, let it pass from history and from the graveyard. It no longer exist and no one knows what happened to it.
In the cemetery are the graves of the McClung’s, McCormick’s, Wallace’s, and, of course, more McDowells, some carrying the McDowell name and others their married names.
Mountain Plains Church --
“Colonel Woods, though now nearly eighty years old, with slight eccentricities, was slightly deaf, was tall and slender and straight, as the Indians he had so long fought; with a profusion of fine grey hair, worn and combed back from as fine a forehead as ever I saw...he possessed a wonderfully fine mind, great firmness of character and was, in the fullest sense of the term, ‘a perfect Virginia gentleman.”
“...Colonel Woods had married a sister of William Wallace (whose mother was a Woods)...Colonel Woods, or Father Woods as most people called him, was a rigid a blue-stocking (Baptist)...
“...Colonel Woods was born on Christmas Eve night, 1744, (old style [calender]), which was the same night that his Uncle, John Mcdowell, was surprised by the Indians near Balcony falls and he and some nine of his men were killed.”
– Early History of Two Albemarle Churches, by the Rev. Samuel Black, (1870?)
Our peoples lives were inextricably intermixed.
Magdelene sells herself into servitude. She signs a contract as an indentured servant. Historians speculate that this is a mere technicality as her husband died without a will and time was needed to settle the estate. I do not know the details as I am not an expert on Colonial Virginia law of 1743. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that Magdelene was destitute, which was the usual reason for a person becoming an indentured servant.
Let us leave Magdelene with all of her troubles and return to Benjamin Borden and see how he is doing with his troubles. He gets his famous land grant in 1737, stays on the land for two years, “or more,” and got his “requisite” 100 settlers. (or families? Apparently, this time on the land and number of settlers was a legal requirement to secure his grant.) I am not good at math, but I can count to 100. If 34 riflemen fought at Balcony Falls, and they composed the entire settlement of the grant, Rockbridge County, and if you deduct the very old, and the very young, and unmarried, that leaves just enough men to have families to make up the 100 required settlers, just barely.
This information is an accurate appraisal of the Borden Grant at the time as the story come from Captain McDowell’s own son, told more than 50 years after the battle.
Borden then leaves the land around 1734, and gives the job of running the place to Captain John McDowell. He sends his son, Benjamin Borden Jr., to help administer in his stead. The son lives with John and Magdelene. He then returns to New Jersey where the Borden family lives.
Captain John McDowell is then slain by the Indians in 1742, leaving the tract without an able administrator. A year later, Benjamin Borden himself dies. Benjamin Borden Jr. returns to take over the grant. The McDowell’s knew Benjamin Borden Jr. quite well and are singularly, and collectively, unimpressed.
Magdelene considers him “quite illiterate.” Then she marries him.
Perhaps Benjamin Borden Jr. could not converse easily on the classics like Amos “Bud” Hanks, but he was no fool. He would build the Grant into a mighty empire, which would make Magdelene extremely wealthy. The day would come when Magdelene would be the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The son realizes that he has cornered the market. The Grant lies on the extreme frontier of a little bit of civilization. Either you buy your land from Borden or you go on to the “unknown wilderness” with all of its potential troubles.
The wealth generated by this land would make the McDowells a rich, powerful and influential family in American history for generations to come. Strangely, more is known about their descendants then those who started it all. We know that Captain John McDowell died at a young age. Yet, of Magdelene, her second husband, and third soon to come, little is known about their empire and even less about their personal lives.
Even the phonetic way of spelling in those days adds confusion as to the exact spelling of her name. Throughout history it is found to be Magdalena, Magdaline, and Magdalene. She signs her name at Timber Ridge Church as Magdalen with the “e” left off at the end. I see it commonly “Magdelene” and that is what I use. Take your pick.
Neander Woods' book is a masterpiece of research. Yet, at times his logic requires a second look. He has Magdelene born in 1706, with a question mark. Then he has her dying in 1810 at the age of 104. He estimates her first marriage to be at the age of 28, and second marriage at age of 42, after six or seven years as a widow. Ruth Petracek does her own calculations and has her marrying at a younger age and living a normal life span. I agree with Ruth. However, I come to my conclusions by a different route. I use simple logic. Being a great beauty, she could have any man she wanted. She would not have waited to the age of 28 to marry. More realistically she would have been 20-24. Split the difference at 22. (I really think 18 to be close to the mark.) When I graduated from high school in 1958, if a girl did not get married after graduation then there was something wrong with her. We are talking of a woman in the early 1700s. A widow on the frontier would not wait 6-7 years to remarry. Her survival and that of her children depended upon getting another husband, and fast. That was the way of the frontier.
For researchers trying to understand this family, it is like Winston Churchill’s explanation of trying to understand Russian. “...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a enigma.”
Fortunately, there are some things known about this enigmatic family. Unfortunately, since publication in 1905, almost all have accepted Neander Woods' facts as facts, and theories as facts.
Neander Woods, along with other historians, has Magdelene immigrating to the colonies some 13 years later, in 1737. There is good reason for this date. To get his free land, John McDowell must give an oath providing evidence as to his qualifying under the law.
“On the 28th of Feb. 1739...that he imported himself, Magdaline, his wife, and Samuel McDowell, his son, and John Rutter, his servant, at his own charge from Great Britain in the year 1737, to dwell in this colony, and that this is the first time of proving their right in order to obtain land pursuant to the royal instructions.”
In John McDowell’s own words, their year of immigration is 1737. Yet, I think that Magdelene was on the ship of 1724, because Ruth Petracek believes she has uncovered their marriage records in Pennsylvania for the year 1734.
What does one make of this contradicting evidence? If we could transport ourselves back in time some 250 years the answers might be easier to obtain. My theory: The bottom line was free land. For some technical reason we do not know of today, is it possible that John McDowell simply lied on his affidavit to establish his claim to free land? Lying was a mere technicality when it came to dealing with the British anyway as shown by our people lying to take the oath to the Church of England, and etc...
Who comes to the Borden Grant to settle and make Magdelene so wealthy? You remember the ladder of immigrants from the slaves at the bottom to the disinherited aristocrats at the top? Forget that pecking order. This was true for immigrants for the rest of Virginia but not our Grant.
The son brings in the Irish. (According to the terminology of the times, Irish meant the Scotch-Irish. I will refresh your memory on this important distinction from time to time.) The land was originally known as the Borden Grant, or the Borden tract. Now it is simply called the Irish tract. The Irish come from Pennsylvania, elsewhere, and the sea. It is the clan system all over again.
We know that the people who settled the Borden Grant were Irish. We know they were Presbyterians. There was something else. There were only a few churches in America at that time. However...it was the nature of the Christian churches in America to divide. By divide, I do not mean that they grew and prospered to such an extent that they needed to expand. They divided, split apart, over interpretation of Scripture. They would divide into two separate churches, which would divide into more separate churches. The divisions could be bitter as we are talking of the difference between going to heaven or to hell. Among the Presbyterians, the habit of dividing was even more acute.
I have a personal experience: Some 30 years ago I had a friend who was born to Presbyterian missionary parents in Korea. He took me to his church on the East Coast of the US. I was surprised to see the church was so small, both the building, and the size of the congregation. My friend told me that they were trying to be reunited with another church that had split off some 100 years before "...over something that was silly." Looking back 100 years, most causes of these divisions are usually over something that was "silly." At the time it was deadly serious business. From the beginning of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, the divisions in the old country were even worse. “...they fight one another.”
Thus were formed unique community denominations, or sects. These sects would immigrate into the Borden grant as whole communities and reestablish themselves as whole communities. Thus, many times, you could tell a region of the grant by the sect.
The Catholics did not divide. The Catholics were not in America.
Benjamin Borden Jr. sells the land for three pence (three cents) an acre. Three pence an acre makes a lot of people wealthy: Magdelene; her husbands; their children and children’s children, and side relatives, down through the generations; and the lawyers.
When Benjamin Borden, the father, dies, he leaves a will, but does not leave everything to Junior. There are other children. There are problems in the family as the wealth starts to come in. The lawyers find loopholes. The lawyers always find loopholes. It is their job. There are problems with Magdelene’s different marriages and other relatives by these marriages. I do not know the details, who sued whom, or why, but the lawsuits would stay in court for one hundred years.
Magdalene’s grandson, James McDowell, was highly educated at Washington College, Yale, and Princeton. All expected from him an illustrious career as a lawyer. Perhaps this experience just stated caused him to say, “Other men may be but I do not know how I can be an honest man, and a lawyer.” He gives up his pursuit of law...and becomes governor of Virginia.
Tradition vs. Proven
In 1738, Peter Wallace, Jr., is married in Cecil County, Pennsylvania to Martha Woods. (Again, she is Magdelene’s sister.) They are first cousins. Peter was my 6th great grandfather. He was born in 1716 to Peter Wallace, Sr., who died in Ulster shortly before the migration of 1724.
Peter's wife, Martha, was the daughter of Michael Woods, of Blair Park, and his wife Lady Mary Campbell.
Peter Wallace, Jr., is my proven ancestor. True genealogists only accept family trees where there is a written record; land transactions, marriage records, bible records, newspaper, or periodical reports, official records, etc. If not written (documented) somewhere, then it is not a proven pedigree.
The stories I have told of our Woods and Wallace ancestors have been handed down through the generations, and are tradition. These stories, traditions, have been carefully recorded, sometimes in great detail, by eminent historians and genealogists from a long time ago.
Some of the details may have been wrong, but it is clear from what records exist, and family tradition, that our people were strongly intermarried.
There is some tradition mixed with speculation. At the commencement of the Revolutionary War in 1775 it became unpatriotic to trace, or keep records of your ancestry, which meant in effect, crossing the sea back to the native countries you were now fighting. You can see the problems for historians and genealogists today.
"Hence it is that…only two families (of Virginia) that show proof of direct an ancient lines of descent, i. e .Peyton and Wallace."
To me, family tradition is a valuable source for my stories. There is always a good reason for these traditions. Let us take for example the Reverend Neander Woods, who was born into our family in 1844. As a young man he heard stories from relatives as old as 90 years of age. They would tell their experiences and relate stories and experiences of relatives they knew who were 90 years old. It is not only Neander Woods who gathered these stories but also other historians who lived, researched and who were published long ago.
Some genealogists, the traditional genealogists, can get very upset if others, like me, use the terms “approximately” or “about” (ca), when referring to dates. They want to dot every “i’ and cross every “t.” They want proof, proof, and more proof. Most are not interested in the story, but who begot whom and when. They provide an invaluable service. I use their hard work to find my story.
Magdelene has at least two more children by her marriage to Borden. Her first husband did not live long. Her second husband did not live long. Tragically, in 1754, both her husband and one of their daughters would die of smallpox. The death of her daughter would leave her heartbroken. The death of her second husband would leave her "non-destitute" ...in the extreme.
Now back to Magdelene’s sister and her husband, Peter Wallace, Jr. My 6th great grandfather…"Peter, like most men of that time, occupied himself with buying and selling property; farming and raising a family of nine children." He had land deals in Augusta, Albemarle, and surrounding counties. His earliest Virginia land records start in the year 1738, the same year of his marriage.
Our people are now in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and in Albemarle and Rockbridge Counties, in Virginia. They flowed over into surrounding counties. We are undoubtedly in Ulster, and, we know, still in Scotland. There is travel back and forth in the colonies and most assuredly between American, Ireland and Scotland.
Next comes riding into this vast land grant a young man who is at least 20 years younger than Madelene, John Bowyer. He brings with him his life’s sole possessions: the horse beneath and the clothes above. He does have one advantage, the talent of being educated and a school teacher.
John Bowyer becomes Magdelene’s third husband. It was not a good match. Historians say, “It was not a happy marriage.” There was friction from the beginning. Many on our side said that he was a pretender to the throne, that he married Magdelene for her money. Their side said that he saved the business by bringing coherence and stability to a land business that was in a mess. He was charged with being extravagant and irresponsible in running the tract, and by manipulation gaining control of Magdelene’s property. Our side tries to regain the property, and fails. There is a vague family story that Magdelene had a prenuptial agreement with John Bowyer, but he destroyed it.
According to the custom of the time, his elevated social status would one day bring him the military rank of Captain, then Colonel.
He would outlive Magdelene, marry again, and leave a fortune to his nieces and nephews when he died. Magdelene's descendants would also receive vast fortunes.
Formula for being a successful land speculator in Colonial Virginia:
3 cents an acre x 600,000 widget acres = a lot of money!
The different ways of spelling Magdelene’s name was not unusual for the times.
“As to the proper names, it is well to remember that there is no arbitrary rule for their spelling. Originally proper names were written as they sounded, and the spelling has changed with the change of sound.” – Horace Haden, Virginia Genealogies, 1890
In 1799, John McDowell (another generation) started a nail manufacturing company, mainly because Mr. Jefferson needed nails for building Monticello.”
Footnote: The historians of today believe Magdelene was indeed very wealthy, but not the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains as stated by the historian of old, Neander Woods. However, Neander Woods was born in 1844, and lived in our lands. He was one of our people and I believe he was just stating what the family believed to have been true.
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