Saturday, August 28, 2010

I have George Washington’s Autograph

I finally received the book written by my 7g-grandfather today from Amazon and the cover page was signed by George Washington.

The daughter of Penelope Golland Maule Lovick Phenney Johnston, also named Penelope, married Colonel John Dawson who was the son of Reverend William Dawson, making the Reverend my 7g-grandfather, if I counted right.

His book, “Poems on Several Occasions by a Gentleman of Virginia” was written while he was a student at Queens College in Oxford around 1720. According to the book, “Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary” by Joseph M. Flora and Amber Vogel (2006), while the book was reprinted in 1930, there is only one original copy left and it was once the personal property of George Washington and is now kept in the Boston Athenaeum Library.

As you can see, when the book was reprinted in 1930, they copied the pages exactly, even including George Washington’s signature on the title page.

I am not a poet and I know it but the book is hard to read because, for some reason, most of the letter s’s are replaced by a letter f. So it reads like this:

“The following Pieces are the cafual Productions of Youth. Having communicated them to fome of my Friends, whofe Judgement in thefe Matters I thought leaft liable to err…”

You get the idea.

When it was reprinted in 1930, they were not aware of the author and a note at the front of the book states, “the interest which attaches to this volume, partly because of its rarity, is enhanced by the few facts available regarding its history.”

It is known it was published around October 1736, several years after Dawson had come to America and become the Professor of Moral Philosophy at William and Mary College. In 1743, he was made president of the college, a position he held until 1752.

Because of the style of Washington’s signature, it’s thought that the book was not given to him until 40 or 50 years after it was originally published. After his death, it was probably given, along with the rest of his library, to Bushrod Washington, his nephew. The single original copy remained at Mount Vernon until 1848.

Reverend William Dawson died and was buried in Williamsburg on July 24, 1752. Many of the things he wrote while at the college are in the Library of Congress.

If you are looking for something fun to do next Christmas, you can gather the family around the tree and read a Christmas sermon given by Dawson in 1732.

If you happen to visit William & Mary today, you can check out Dawson Hall in the Bryan Complex.

A complete biography of William Dawson can be found in The National cyclopaedia of American biography, Volume 3.

Monday, August 2, 2010

John Castallaw and Martha Butler

When digging through the Castellaw side of my family, one story that begs to be explored further is that of my great-great-great-great-great grandparents, John and Margaret Dawson Castellaw.

Both John and Margaret were from wealthy, influential Colonial families and were married sometime around 1775. At the time, John was 49. Marrying the daughter of a prominent Bertie Co., NC socialite whose grandfather and uncle had both been presidents of William and Mary College was what one could expect from John who was a member of "the assembly" in Bertie and himself a wealthy landowner. The surprise comes when you back up a few years.

In 1755, when he was 29, John Castellaw had a son named William with Martha Butler who was 21. Although they could not marry because she was a “mulatto,” records indicate she was his common law wife. It is unknown for certain whether Martha was part Indian or black because the term “mulatto” referred to anyone with a mix of any race other than white. In the early years of America, there were white people who were servants and black people who were free so the lines between the races were not yet firmly established. “Poor and often unfree peoples--mostly slaves and servants of various derivations -lived and worked under common conditions.” Source

As white, female servants and male slaves of other races began families, many free mulatto children were born. In the book, “Freedom in the Archives” by Paul Heinegg and Henry B. Hoff,
you read, “most free African American families that originated in colonial Virginia and Maryland descended from white servant women who had children by slaves or free African Americans, and many descended from slaves who were freed before the 1723 Virginia law requiring legislative approval for manumissions.” Source

It is not certain, but possible that Martha was the grandaughter or ancestor of Ann Butler who was a white servant of Samuel Hershey. According the Bertie Co., NC records, on January 15, 1690, she admitted having a “Molatta” child with a black slave named Emanuel who was owned by William Coulborne. It is possible that Martha’s mother was Margaret Butler because John Castellaw appeared on her behalf in court September 1768 and is referred to as her son-in-law. Margaret was head of household of herself and Isaac who was listed as a “free mulatto.”

Eventually, in addition to William, it is thought John and Martha had at least four other children.

Although it's impossible to know, one could assume John would have married Martha if he could have. At the time, interracial marriages were forbidden by law, and any minister or Justice performing one lost his license.

All the children of John and Martha stayed in Bertie Co., NC while all but one of the children of John and his second wife, Margaret moved to Haywood Co., TN.

You can read more about John and Martha on