William Roberts Family
By Donald G. Brown1259
William Roberts, the son of James Roberts of St. Peter's Parish in New Kent County, Virginia, east of Richmond, was possibly born about 1715-1720. In 1720 George I was King of England, and the American colonies, with the colonies having an estimated population of 474,000; and this certainly did not include the Indians. New Orleans, which would belong to France for another 83 years, had been founded two years earlier; and in 1719 Daniel De Foe had published ROBINSON CRUSOE. Roberts is a surname meaning son of Roberts, and it can be Welsh, Scottish or English in origin. If William Roberts was not born in New Kent County, he surely lived there. His birth was not registered in St. Peter's Parish, but Frances, daughter of James Roberts, born on October 5, 1723, was listed as well as the births of two negroes belonging to James Roberts: Nanny, born in 1725, and Betty, born in 1727 (THE PARISH REGISTER OF SAINT PETERIS, NEW KENT COUNTY, VA FROM 1680 to 1787 published by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia, 1904).
Perhaps the Roberts family moved to the parish after William was born, or perhaps his birth failed to be registered. On May 31, 1734, the year after Oglethorpe founded Georgia, James Roberts of St. Peter's Parish, New Kent County, purchased 400 acres of land on Deep Creek in Goochland County, Virginia, some miles west of Richmond (Will and Deed Book I, p. 500), but it appears that James continued living in New Kent County. However, his son, William, lived in Goochland County during the 1740's.
The first record found of William there was when he purchased 200 acres from Thomas Bassett on March 17, 1740, recorded on June 16, 1741 (W & DB III, p. 420). This land was south of the James River and bounded by Deep Creek and the land of George Stovall, who surely was then or surely would soon become William's father-in-law (or it could have been the brother-in-law, there being George Stovall, Sr., and George Stovall, Jr.). On November 18, 1740, William Roberts witnessed a land transaction south of Deep Creek between Luke Wiles and Joseph Sanders (W & DB III, p. 362). On August 22, 1741, William purchased more land in Goochland County, in St. James Parish: 200 acres south of the James River, on or near Deep Creek, from Alexander Kilpatrick (W & DB III, p. 456). Then on March 16, 1741, William Roberts witnessed a land transaction between John Stovall and Francis Steger, with the two other witnesses being George Stovall, Sr., and George Stovall, Jr. (W & DB III, p. 518).
On May 18, 1742, there was a very significant deed when George Stovall for love and good will gave William Roberts a slave named Bess (W & DB III, P. 547). The deed stated that George Stovall had previously purchased the slave from James Roberts, so apparently Bess was returning to the Roberts family, now given, not sold ... absolutely without any ... condition. It is felt that George Stovall was William's father-in-law, although the name of George's daughter and William's wife was not given. It is known that William's wife was named Sarah, and she surely was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Stovall of Goochland County, with William and Sarah probably being married about 1742 when George gave the slave, Bess, a slave name that was to appear 27 years later in a document of William Roberts in Halifax County, Virginia.
Sarah, possibly born about 1722, would have been the granddaughter of Bartholomew Stovall, who was born in Surrey, England, in 1665, the son of George and Joan (Tickner) Stovall, who were Quakers. Bartholomew came to Henrico County, Virginia, in 1683 by indenturing himself to John Bright, merchant of London, for four years after his arrival in Virginia. He was married to Ann Burton of Henrico County in 1693 and died there about 1721.
The land transactions continued in Goochland County. On September 19, 1742, James Roberts, still of New Kent County, for love and affection to my son William Roberts, gave a 400-acre plantation on the south side of the James Rivers on the branches of Deep Creek and joining a corner of the land of George Stovall (W & DB IV, p. 71). The next month, on October 18, 1742, William Roberts of Goochland County, sold to James Roberts of New Kent County 400 acres of land: the 200 acres he had purchased from Thomas Bassett and the 200 acres he had purchased from Alexander Kilpatrick (W & DB IV, p. 69). James paid 70 pounds current money of Virginia for the 400 acres, a puzzling transaction in view of the preceding one, with the October deed recorded before the September deed. These transactions were made about a year and one-half before Thomas Jefferson was born in April of 1743 in what in 1744 was to become Albemarle County, Virginia, created from Goochland and Louisa Counties.
A little over five years later, on January 10, 1748, James sold the 400 acres of land that had belonged to son William, the Bassett and the Kilpatrick land, to Frances Steger of Cumberland County, Virginia, with William Roberts one of the two witnesses (Cumberland County DB I, p. 25). This land was registered in Cumberland County as part of Goochland County had become Cumberland County in 1748. Much division of counties took place in Virginia in the 1700's. As an example, Goochland County, which was formed in 1727-1728 from Henrico County, became the parent or partial parent county of at least Cumberland, Albemarle, Bedford and Campbell Counties from 1748 to 1782. Today the Roberts land probably remains in Cumberland County or possibly in Powhatan County, which was created from Cumberland County in 1777.
Apparently by 1750, the year before James Madison was born in King George County, Virginia, William Roberts and family left Goochland County and went west, perhaps moving to Lunenburg County, Virginia. A William Roberts and a James Roberts were listed on the Lunenburg Tithe List for 1750, along with a John Stovall and a Bartholomew Stovall. It is the Stovall listings that seem to indicate that the William Roberts on the Lunenburg Tithe List was the William Roberts of Goochland County. But the question is, where in Lunenburg was he? For in 1750 Lunenburg County was much larger than it is today, comprising what today are the counties of Mecklenburg, Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Patrick, Charlotte and parts of Bedford and Campbell. There were Roberts names in records of what is now the extreme southwestern part of Halifax County and southeastern Pittsylvania County, including the ubiquitous names of William Roberts and James Roberts. In1734 a William Roberts entered land in Brunswick County, on Pidgeon Roost Creek (Patent Book 15, p. 347), apparently in the aforementioned area, for Lunenburg County had been created from Brunswick County in 1746. Butthat date is too early for the William Roberts of Goochland County unless he was older than thought and was very mobile.
Sometime between 1753 and 1755 in Halifax County, which was created in 1752 solely from Lunenburg County, there was a court case of Charles Cupples vs. William Roberts (Plea Book 1, 1752-1755, pp. 443-444). The nature of this suit is not known, but William Roberts did not appear and the plaintiff was granted judgment of two pounds, three pence and four shillings plus costs. The case was to be discharged by payment of one pound, one shilling, and eight pence with interest from November 21, 1753. At the same court session, or thereabouts, Charles Cupples was also the plaintiff in two other cases in which he was granted judgment by the failure of the defendants to appear. It seems that Charles Cupples might have lived in the extreme southwestern corner of the present Halifax County near the line of present Pittsylvania County. Was the William Roberts, once of Goochland County, also living in this part of Halifax County before moving slightly northeast in Halifax County?
The year that Halifax County was created, 1752, was the year when Benjamin Franklin, flying a kite in a storm in Pennsylvania, discovered electricity; and the first hospital in America opened in Philadelphia. This was also the year in which the Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar in Britain and the British colonies, most of Europe already using the more accurate Gregorian calendar. The transition decreed that the day following September 2, 1752, must be September 14, 1752. Many people were furious, feeling that they had been cheated out of 11 days. The Gregorian Calendar also changed the beginning of the new year from March 25 to January 1. All of the aforementioned dates prior to September 14, 1752, are the dates as found in the original records, Old Style, according to the Julian Calendar. Eleven days should be added to get the date according to the present Gregorian calendar. Wherever William Roberts of Goochland County was in the 1750's and the early 1760's, it was surely he who definitely appeared in the records of Halifax County, Virginia, in 1763, the year in which the nine-year French and Indian War, which involved Virginia, ended. In 1763 he purchased a total of 224 acres of land on three different deeds. He purchased 170 acres from Ann Walton Sherwood, or Ann and Walton Sherwood (DB 4, pp. 355-356; paid 10 pounds in Virginia currency to David Evans for 50 acres on the north side of the Dan River (DB 4, p. 355); and paid five pounds to William Byrd of Charles City County for four acres in the Dan River (DB 4, 374). There was also a deed for 170 acres north of the Dan River from Sherwood Walton of Lunenburg County on July 12, 1764 (DB 5, p. 140), but this appears to be a duplication of the 170 acres in 1763.
William's land was in the southwestern, but not the extreme southwestern, part of Halifax County, a Southside Virginia county in the Piedmont Plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, in the middle of the state, bordering North Carolina. His land was north of the Dan River near Toby’s Creek, where the land of his son-in-law, Haman Miller, was. Today it would seem that this land is in something of a triangle formed by secondary state Highways #691 and #659, possibly nine Halifax County, a Southside Virginia county in the Piedmont Plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, in the middle of the state, bordering North Carolina. His land was north of the Dan River near Toby’s Creek, where the land of his son-in-law, Haman Miller, was. Today it would seem that this land is in something of a triangle formed by secondary state Highways #691 and #659, possibly nine or so miles southwest of the county sea.
Although at present there is no direct identification of William Roberts of Goochland County, Virginia, with William Roberts, north of Dan River and near Toby’s Creek in Halifax County, Virginia, it seems rather sure that they were the same person. Further verification is desired for what seems a certainty. The Goochland County and Stovall connection was discovered through “THE FAMILY OF BARTHOLOMEW STOVALL,” Volume I, by Neil D. Thompson (published by the Stovall Family Associations, Inc., 1993, chapter 3, pp. 19-39). The information on the Roberts deeds in Goochland County was expanded from WILLS AND DEEDS GOOCHLAND VA 1728-1736, Volume 1; and 1736-1742, Volume 2, both by Benjamin B. Weisinger III, 1984). The names of 10 children of William and Sarah Roberts are definitely known: Samuel, George, Peter, James, William, Jr., Frances, Mary Ann (born in 1748), Sarah, Martha Stovall and Elizabeth. It is to be noted that Stovall was the middle name of Martha, and that George and Elizabeth Stovall had a daughter, Martha Stovall, who would be the sister of Mrs. Sarah Roberts. There apparently were two other children who died early, being murdered by a demented slave about 1755, according to a somewhat cryptic story, along with their maternal grandmother and another woman (Neil book, pp. 22-23).
In Halifax County on December 7, 1767, the year that John Quincy Adams was born in Massachusetts and Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina, William Roberts sold a small island of 230 acres on the north side of the Dan where Wm. Roberts lives, to John Baird & Co. (DB 7, p. 240). In 1771 a William Roberts sold 515 acres of land to John Lewis, Jr., land lying and being in Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties on Wood (or Wool?) Hill Creek (DB 8, p. 275). Apparently this was actually Wolf Hill Creek, which today is Wolf Creek, in the area previously mentioned for the 1750's. If this was the land of the William Roberts north of the Dan River, then he had held onto it for a while after his 1763 purchases east of it. In the Entry Record Book 1 there is mention of a Roberts Mill and of James Roberts' land on Wolf Hill Creek. The Roberts name is definitely associated with this area where Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties join at the south. There possibly were Roberts families in other parts of Halifax County either related or unrelated to William Roberts north of the Dan. Roberts was, and is, a comon name.
William Roberts operated a ferry on the Dan River. In 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence and the year that Washington crossed the Delaware, William Roberts entered 100 acres in the Dan River adjoining the land he lived on, beginning at his ferry landing and then down and including two small islands and taking the main river from bank to bank (ENTRY RECORD BOOK 1737-1770 LAND ENTRIES IN THE PRESENT VIRGINIA COUNTIES OF HALIFAX, PITTSYLVANIA, HENRY, FRANKLIN AND PATRICK, transcribed by Marian Dodson Chiarito, 1984, p. 371 of record book per p.299 of Chiarito book). Land entries were simply a statement of intention to settle and improve the given tract, not proof of ownership. There are a number of entries for individuals named William Roberts, and for other Robertses, in this book with exact county not stated. However, it seems certain that the preceding is for Halifax County. There is also a 1766 entry for a William Roberts entering an island in the Dan River just above the mouth of the Hyco River (same pages), but since this location is in the southeastern part of Halifax County, it was probably a different William Roberts.
In 1771 Roger Shackelford was licensed to keep ferry on Dan River (Plea Book 7, pp. 98 and 207, per HISTORY OF HALIFAX, vol. one, by Pocahontas Wright Edmunds, p. 98). It is understood that he was to keep ferry on the Dan River opposite to William Roberts' ferry on the Dan, this latter being also a part of the aforementioned record or from another source. Roger Shackelford was the father of Richard Shackelford, who was the son-in-law of William, either then or later. He and Mary Ann Roberts probably were married in the late 1760's.
There is mention of the Roberts ferry, in Halifax County plea books describing land. In 1761 there was mention of the Roberts Ferry to the courthouse (PB 3, p. 339); in 1770, Mirey Creek to Roberts' Ferry Road (PB 6, pp. 4 and 6); and also in 1770, the Roberts Ferry to Birch Creek (PB 6, p. 486). (These items appear in HISTORY OF HALIFAX, Vol. two, p. 86, by Edmunds.)
The preceding 1761 mention of the Roberts Ferry was two years before William purchased the land north of the Dan River. Various speculations could be made about this, and it should be pointed out that in 1763-1764 that William Roberts purchased land from Ann and Sherwood Walton. The Edmunds book (Vol. one, p. 98) also mentions a Sherwood Walton Ferry on the Dan River in 1755 (PB 2, p. 55) and in 1757 (PB 2, p. 197). When William purchased the Walton land, perhaps the ferry was included in the purchase, with him operating it beforehand, and living on the Walton land.
Mrs. Edmunds wrote that there were many ferries on the north side of the Dan River along the River Road (now Highway #659). Miller's Ferry was mentioned in various records for Halifax County, at least as early as 1770. There is also mention of a Miller's Ferry by a Caleb Dodson of Halifax County when he applied for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832. He stated that he served several days as a guard on the Dan River in 1781 at Miller's Ferry. It is not known what Miller operated this ferry, but it is felt that it was someone of the family of John Frederick Miller and his son, Haman.
William Roberts lived at a time and in a place that considered slavery acceptable, and he, like his wealthier fellow Virginians to the north, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, was a slave owner. He seems to have been pressed for money at times, and he mortgaged his slaves. On December 15, 1766, he mortgaged slaves and a horse for a loan of one hundred pounds, current money of Virginia, to John Winbish, with the horse delivered to Winbish as security (DB 6, p. 260). Nothing more is known of this mortgage. Considerable more is known about a mortgage of May 7, 1769, and recorded on August 17, 1769, when he mortgaged 10 slaves and other items to Haman Miller, his son-in-law, and Samuel Roberts, his son (DB 7, p. 436). This was security for several different sums of money. The slaves were named Cuffy, Peter, Bess (is this the slave given by George Stovall in 1742?), Jenny, Hanna Dick Frank, Phillip, Lucy and Nan This mortgage was to have long repercussions after William's death.
From 1770 to 1778 William deeded a female slave to each of four daughters and their husbands: Frank to Frances and Haman Miller in November of 1770 (DB 8, p. 116); Lucy to Mary Ann and Richard Shackelford in April of 1775 (DB 9, p. 408); Betty (Bess) to Sarah and John Stanfield on February 18, 1777 (DB 10, pp. 154-155); and Nancy to Martha Stovall and Jacob Miller on May 20, 17 78 (DB 11, p. 404). Included in the deeds, or at least some of them, was mention of household furniture, stock and cattle, and other things that he had given to them. William Roberts apparently was generous to his family.
In September of 1777 William Roberts also deeded as a gift two acres of land north of the Dan River to Haman Miller (DB 10, p. 361). This land joined the land of William Roberts and the land of Haman Miller on Switzer's Branch.
On May 20, 1778, William sold 228 acres of land north of the Dan River to Richard Edwards of Bedford County (DB 11, p. 403) prior to moving to Randolph County, North Carolina. But he apparently was still in Halifax County in November of 1778 when Sarah, wife of William Roberts Senr came into court and being first privately examined according to law did freely and voluntarily relinquish all right of dower in and to 228 acres of land conveyed by the said husband to Richard Edwards (Court Order Book 9 1774-1779, p. 370).
The Halifax Court Order Book for 1774-1779 reveals legal difficulty for William Roberts during his last years in Halifax County. For the January court of 1778 there is a cryptic item about the sheriff settling with William Roberts, Senr, for his share of a crop involving John McFarlin, a soldier in the Continental service (pp. 272-273). For the August court of 1778 there appeared the case of Nathaniel Manson against William Roberts and Richard Shackelford. The two defendants did not appear and were ordered to pay two pounds, 11 shillings and six pence, current money, plus costs. Apparently this debt went back to November 20, 1773, with legal interest from that date (p. 339).
Then there was the matter of the lawsuit of Luke Williams against William Roberts. In the July court of 1777 there had been an injunction granted to stay the effects taken by the sheriff in execution of a judgment obtained at common law by the said Luke Williams against William Roberts (p. 226). In the August court of 1777 William Roberts and Richard Shackelford posted bond for the injunction (p. 237). In the November court of 1778 the injunction of William Roberts against Luke Williams was dissolved (p. 370).
Then in the February court of 1779 Luke Williams was plaintiff with William Roberts defendant (p. 393). Three hogshead of tobacco was levied against William Roberts (one hogshead was a large cask or barrel which contained from 63 to 140 gallons, it also being a measurement for non-liquids). And does this indicate that William Roberts was a tobacco grower, especially since Halifax County was a tobacco producing area? A man named James Le Grand apparently was in court as proxy for William Roberts, stating that he had sufficient in his hands to satisfy the complaint and the costs.
Also, the court ruled that Luke Williams was to recover a former judgment against William Roberts for 24 pounds, 18 shillings, 11 pence and three farthings plus costs in the hands of James Le Grand. It would appear that in this February court of 1779 that there was a new lawsuit of Williams against Roberts and that the former judgment referred to the former injunction which had been dissolved in November of 1778. It would also appear that by the time of this February court of 1779 that William Roberts had moved to Randolph County, North Carolina, and that James Le Grand was representing him in court with assets which William had left to pay for the judgments; or perhaps Le Grand had agreed beforehand to pay any judgment and be reimbursed by William Roberts. Knowledge of these lawsuits is sketchy. It is interesting to note that a James Le Grand also operated a ferry on the Dan River, at least in 1762 (Edmunds book, Vol. one, p. 52). Then there was the case of William Roberts, Jr. In March of 1778 William Roberts, Sr., with William Roberts, Jr., Samuel Roberts and John Stanfield went to court and acknowledged themselves indebted to his Excellency Patrick Henry Esqr. Governor of the Common Wealth of Virginia (who just three years previously in St. John's Church in Richmond had proclaimed, (I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death) for the sum of 500 pounds. This amount was to be levied against their goods and chattels lands, et cetera, on the condition that William Roberts, Jr., appear before the General Court at the capitol in Williamsburg on trail for felony (Court Order Book, p. 291). This was the outcome of a complaint of James Mitchell against William Roberts, Jr., in the January court of 1777 for a break of the Peace (Court Order Book, p. 185).The sheriff at that time was to summon the wife of James Le Grand, and Ruth Wilson and James Roberts to give testimony. Nothing more was found on this matter until the aforesaid entry in the Court Order Book of March of 1778, and nothing else was found anywhere about the outcome.
William Roberts, Jr., was at least 21 years old in 1764 because in that year he was old enough to vote, being listed on the 1764 Poll list for Halifax County (HALIFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA COLONIAL POLL AND TITHABLES LISTS, abstracted by Mary Bondurant Warren, 1991). This means that he was born about 1743 or earlier. A Samuel Roberts, probably his brother, was on the 1765 poll list. Also on that list were two men named James Roberts, one of them probably another brother, William, Jr., was also on the 1768 and the 1769 lists. William, Sr., was was on the 1764, the 1768 and the1769 lists. The 1765 list merely named William Roberts with no Sr. or Jr. The 1769 list named Sr. and Jr. along with another William Roberts and a Will Roberts. It is interesting that Bartholomew Stovall and Thomas Stovall appeared on some or all of these lists, surely relatives of Mrs. Sarah Roberts; and this was possibly the same Bartholomew Stovall who was named on the 1750 Lunenburg tithe list. Only the 1764, the 1765, the 1768 and the 1769 poll lists of Halifax County for this general period have been found.
In September of 1778 a William Roberts sold land to Daniel Jackson (Court Order Book, 1774-1779, p. 350), with William's wife, Elizabeth, appearing in court voluntarily to relinquish her right of dower. Although there were other Robertses in Halifax County, either related or unrelated to William Roberts, Sr., it is felt that the foregoing transaction was surely by William Roberts, Jr., son of William and Sarah, selling his land prior to moving with his parents to Randolph County, North Carolina.
William and Sarah Roberts and their family moved to the newly created Randolph County in the Piedmont Plateau of North Carolina, still east of the Blue Ridge Mountains but in a low mountainous terrain. This was in the central part of the state, probably about 100 miles southwest from the Roberts land in Virginia. It would appear that the family left in the fall of 1778 or early 1779, during the middle of the Revolutionary War. Perhapsthe family left in November of 1778 after Sarah appeared in court to relinquish her dower in the land. Perhaps they traveled in a Conestoga wagon, for this covered wagon was in use by the middle 1750's.
It is wondered if the family traveled to North Carolina with Haman and Frances (Roberts) Miller, but Haman had sold his Halifax County land in February of 1778. It seems that John and Sarah (Roberts) Stanfield were in the party. William Roberts, Haman Miller and John Stanfield were in Randolph County in time for the 1779 tax list, the first for the county, which was created that year from Guilford County. The only other Robertses on this list were William's two sons: William Roberts, Jr., and James Roberts. Beginning in 1784 Samuel Roberts appeared in the Randolph County deed index; and in 1786 Richard Shackelford appeared. Jacob Miller, husband of Martha Stovall Roberts and younger brother of Haman, appeared on the 1785 tax list. All of the married daughters of William and Sarah with their husbands transplanted to Randolph County.
The Roberts family surely lived in the same part of the county as Haman Miller, who lived in the western part on Jackson Creek and Toms Creek near the Uwharrie River, perhaps nine miles southwest of the present county seat of Asheboro, which is in the center of the county. Randolph County was another tobacco growing region, with other crops surely grown, and today it is still agricultural along with small factories and potteries.
The first record found for William Roberts in Randolph County is one of September 8, 1783, when he deeded two female slaves, Chloe and Milly and furniture and livestock, to his daughter, Elizabeth, wife of Isham Fuller (WB 1, p. 15). Isham, the son of Jones Fuller of Granville and Franklin Counties, North Carolina, in 1793 renewed his bond as constable in Randolph County with Haman Miller (this could have been senior or junior) and Brittain Fuller, his father's first cousin, giving security (Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, March 1793). On January 17, 1785, a Wm Roberts, witnessed the will of a William Robertson (WB 1, p. 69) along with Haman Miller. There is no Senr. or Jr. after the name of either William or Haman. William, Sr., appeared on the 1785 tax list for Randolph County, that tax list crediting him with 300 acres of land, one white poll and three black polls (females and children, both white and black, were not listed as polls). The only other Robertses on this 1785 list were William, Jr., James, Samuel and Peter-all sons of William, Sr. On a bill dated July 11, 1785, and proven December of 1785, William, Jr., sold personal property to Brittain Fuller (WB 1, p. 22). Seventeen Eighty-Five was the year that Thomas Jefferson of Albemarle County, Virginia, appointed minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin; and the year before America's present coinage system, proposed by Jefferson, was adopted by Congress.
The records for William Roberts in Randolph County are few, for he lived for only about five more years. He probably died in April or May of 1788, for on May 5, 1788, administration of his estate was granted to James Roberts, his son, and Sarah Roberts, his widow, since William died without a will. Haman Miller and Zachariah Yarborough acted as security in the amount of one thousand pounds (Rowan County Minutes Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Book 5, p. 136, from ROWAN COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA TAX LISTS 1757-1800 by Jo White Linn, p. 298). It isn't known why this estate was settled outside of Randolph County, where all of the parties were living. In 1788 Rowan County joined Randolph County on Randolph County's western line near where the Roberts and Miller families were living, with that portion of Rowan County becoming David outside of Randolph County, where all of the parties were living. In 1788 Rowan County joined Randolph County on Randolph County's western line near where the Roberts and Miller families were living, with that portion of Rowan County becoming Davidson County in 1822. In 1788 the U.S. Constitution came into effect, shortly before Virginia ratified the Constitution and became a state on June.
Over a year later the Roberts estate still was not settled. On August 9, 1788, an inventory was presented in court. On November 4, 1788, it was recorded that the administrators of William Roberts were to sell Negroes belonging to the estate; and also on that date an amount of sales of the estate was recorded as 105 pounds, six shillings and eight pence. On May 5,1789, an account of sales of the estate was filed (amount not given). On May 6, 1789, Sarah, the widow, was paid 30 pounds from the estate.
And on August 8, 1789, James Roberts reported a balance of 205 pounds, 18 shillings and five pence, this being the last record found so far pertaining to the estate. Apparently the recently adopted U. S. coinage system was not yet in wide use. (Foregoing information from Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, Book 5, pp. 175, 179,182, 215, 220 and 252 per ABSTRACTS OF THE MINUTES OF THE COURT OF PLEAS AND QUARTER SESSIONS ROWAN COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA 1775-1789, Vol. III, by Jo White Linn, 1982, pp. 183, 184, 191, 192 and 197). It is not known where William was buried.
As the Roberts estate was settled, trouble began brewing that was to stretch over at least 41 years. By correlating unclear and sometimes scanty information as revealed in a variety of lawsuits a tangled story emerged. As previously mentioned, in 1769 in Halifax County, Virginia, William Roberts executed a deed a trust, a mortgage, with Haman Miller and Samuel Roberts for several different sums of money. One of the sums, apparently the main one, was for a loan, for which the two men took security, from William McDaniel to William Roberts. The two men at some point ended up paying the loan. The entire amount of the mortgage seems to have been up to 500 pounds plus costs. William mortgaged to them the ten slaves and their increase and a considerable stock of horses, cattle, hogs, household goods and other estate (DB 7, p. 436).
Then about 1772 Haman and Samuel executed a bond for what seems 300 pounds for William's benefit to Major William Cunningham and Company, merchants of Glasgow Scotland, apparently with the same collateral. In the Halifax County Order Book for July of 1774, p. 71, there is mention of a deed of trust between Samuel Roberts and Mssr. William Cunningham and Company, but it isn't known if this pertains to William Roberts, and Haman Miller doesn't seem to be mentioned in this transaction. Apparently the 1769 mortgage, or part of it, was still outstanding at this time. The Revolutionary War began in 1775, and when the American colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776, the three men thought that debts to Britain were declared null and void.
It isn't known what the merchandise from Cunningham was. Juanita Jackson Kesler, librarian in North Carolina, in 1996 wrote to Donald Brown that William and Nehemiah Cunningham, brothers, sailed back and forth from Scotland bringing goods to the American shore. They later operated a general store in Frederick County, Virginia, called New Market, which grew into a chain of stores called the Cunningham Stores. Mrs. Kesler's ancestor, Nathaniel Cunningham, of the Revolutionary War era, was connected to this enterprise, at some point operating N. Cunningham and Company in Halifax, Virginia, moving to Randolph County, North Carolina about 1798.
While William's estate was being settled, Haman Miller sued for money that had been owed to him by his father-in-law. On October 27, 1788, back in Halifax County, Virginia, where the original transactions took place, Haman received a judgment as plaintiff against James Roberts, administrator, and Sarah Roberts, administratrix, of the William Roberts estate, although all of the parties were now living in Randolph County, North Carolina. The defendants had received legal notice and did not appear in court. The plaintiff s demand for the sum of 70 pounds, 12 shillings, eight pence and half a penny was considered just, and the plaintiff was to recover this amount from the defendants, together with costs, from the estate of William Roberts. If this amount was not in the estate, then the costs were to be levied against the property of the defendants. Haman paid costs of 82 pounds of tobacco and 21 farthings as security for the said William Roberts decd. (This document does not have a book and page identification. It apparently is in the Virginia State Library and Archives, Richmond, with the notation This document was found in a file, Archives call No. 081.508.119.)
James and Sarah, living in Randolph County, North Carolina, apparently ignored the judgment of the Virginia court. Haman then took action in North Carolina, possibly needing the Virginia court judgment in order to file in North Carolina. On December 15, 1789, Haman won a higher judgment from the Randolph County Court (WB 11, p. 75), a judgment of 95 pounds, 15 shillings and five pence. A slave girl named Jude from the Roberts estate was ordered sold, and Haman himself was the highest bidder at 91 pounds. Perhaps all concerned now thought that the McDaniel mortgage, and the entire mortgage situation was settled. Although the two preceding lawsuits did not mention the McDaniel mortgage, they certainly pertained to it; and Haman at this time thought that the Cunningham debt was obliterated. Mrs. Sarah Roberts was enumerated as head of a household in the 1790 census for Randolph County in a household of two females and no slaves. James Roberts was enumerated in this first census with a household of eight people and eight slaves. Sometime during the 1790's both Sarah and James moved to Laurens County, South Carolina, where other Roberts children had moved. James died there in 1801 and Sarah allegedly in 1809. It isn't known where they were buried. By the time of the 1799 tax list for Randolph County, North Carolina, there seemed to be only one Roberts listed: Riland, whose exact identity is unknown, but he seems to have been a grandson of William and Sarah, or perhaps his wife was. It is known that Haman Miller with no Senr. or Jr. after his name was bondsman on January 8, 1789, for the marriage bond of Ryland Roberts to Susannah Roberts (Typed Marriage Bonds, NC Archives, Raleigh, p. 232).
In 1796, the year in which President George Washington proclaimed the John Jay Treaty, which settled some outstanding differences with Great Britain to be in effect, an American court declared British debts payable. But the Scottish debt lay dormant until about 1801, and then in 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase, Haman through court action was obliged to pay William Roberts' entire debt of one thousand pounds plus costs of $39.94, with Samuel Roberts paying nothing, according later to Haman, Jr., and James, executors of Haman's estate. Haman, Sr., and Samuel Roberts filed lawsuits in 1804 in North Carolina for partial recovery from the Roberts heirs for this Scottish debt, but nothing came of them.
No documents have surfaced for 1804, but there is one for 1808. In that year Haman Miller and Samuel Roberts were plaintiffs in a lawsuit with defendant James Damie (Daniel?); and it is not known exactly how this man fits into the picture unless he was the present owner of a former Roberts slave or the increase. In the Asheboro Public Library there is a copy of a legal proceeding of November 4, 1808, the year before Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe were born, at the house of Josiah Lyndon in Randolph County, apparently a circuit court proceeding. William Stanfield, grandson of William and Sarah Roberts, and the son of John and Sarah (Roberts) Stanfield, gave sworn testimony by answering questions from the plaintiffs and the defendant. William, who according to the document, was born on February 2, 1788, said that in the summer of 1807 he had lived in the home of Jacob Miller in Laurens County, South Carolina, and had been in contact with his grandmother, Sarah. Sarah possibly was living in the Miller home with her son-in-law and daughter, Jacob and Martha Stovall (Roberts) Miller. It is not known what Sarah's view of the mortgage was, but the plaintiffs, who were her son and her son-in-law, were trying to establish that she was so elderly that she was incapable of managing her business. William, in reply to these questions, said, I suppose she is.
The Stanfields owned, or had owned, some of the slaves in question, Bet and Rachel who were the increase of Jenny, one of the mortgaged slaves. It would appear that Mrs. Sarah Roberts had protested the claim of Haman and Samuel and that they were trying to discredit her on the basis of senility. It is not difficult to imagine what division and heartbreak the old mortgages and the subsequent lawsuits caused in the Roberts and Miller families for at least a whole generation. And these were two families that had seemed to be close, from Virginia to North Carolina. The indication was that Sarah was still living at the time of William's testimony. The typed document does not mention any record book. William Stanfield signed his statement with C. Arnold and J. Lyndon as witnesses. This document is probably only one of a larger group.
It isn't known at what point Haman dropped the matter, or if he dropped it at all. But after his death his two executor sons, Haman, Jr., and James, at some point began filing other lawsuits. On September 4, 1825, in Randolph County there was the case of Haman Miller's Executors vs. Ryland Roberts and Others. The others were Jacob Miller, husband of Martha Stovall (Roberts) Miller; Richard Shackelford, husband of Mary Ann (Roberts) Shackelford; George Roberts, William and Sarah's son; the executors of James Roberts, now deceased; and Henry and Sarah Fuller, administrators of the estate of Isham Fuller, who died in 1805 in Laurens County, South Carolina, husband of Elizabeth (Roberts) Fuller, who was also now deceased. Apparently Haman, Jr., and James won judgment, but it is known that most, or all, of these individuals were living in Laurens County, South Carolina, or elsewhere, not in Randolph County, so collecting would have been a problem. On March 4, 1827, in Randolph County, the Miller executors brought a suit against the executors of Richard Shackelford, now deceased (he died in 1824 in Madison County, Alabama). The court in a later review of this case, mentioned that the defendants were living in Alabama, indicating, or stating, a problem. (The 1825-1827 information from Equity Minute Dockets, 1825-1845, pp. 1, 7 and 11).
In 1829, 15 years after Haman's death and the year that Andrew Jackson became President with a raucous inaugural celebration in the White House, there was in the Superior Court of Randolph County, North Carolina, and the Equity Court of Laurens County, South Carolina, a lawsuit of Haman Miller and James Miller, Exrs. of Haman Miller Deceased vs. Sarah Fuller, John Milam and wife Sarah, William Fuller, Jones Fuller, Patsy Miller, Peter Fuller, Jones Fuller and his wife Mary Ann, Archibald Fuller and Israel Fuller (Laurens County Equity Court, Box 14, package 14). It is from this long and labored document that the structure of the entire situation is revealed. The document was addressed To the Judge in Equity for the Supreme Court of Law for the County of Randolph, with Haman, Jr., and James claiming that the heirs of William Roberts were in possession of slaves which were collateral for the old deed of trust-the mortgage-the bond for William Cunningham and Company. The mortgaged slaves and some of their increase were named, some of which had been sold to individuals outside of the family. Haman Miller, Jr., and James Miller were asking the present owners to reimburse your orator what he has paid out.
No extended research has been done on these troubled lawsuits, and the only documents found are those which were uncovered in general Roberts and Miller research; and most of these are briefly stated. There probably are documents in other locales where Roberts heirs were living. It is understood that the judges threw the 1829 case out of court since all of this happened decades earlier and few, if any, witnesses were still living. What these lawsuits show, especially the 1829 lawsuit which outlines the situation the most fully, is the evil of slavery which existed in at least half of the United States of that time as an acceptable way of life to many people. In 1829 the Emancipation Proclamation was 34 years away. There is genealogical value in these documents because they contain the names of William and Sarah's children and reveal a bit about William: That the said William was in his life an American citizen resident in Va. a long time but removed into North Carolina in the time of war and sometime after the end thereof died intestate and letters of administration of his estate was duly granted to his widow Sarah Roberts and his son, James Roberts.... A typed copy of the 1829 document gave William's middle initial as R., but it is wondered if this is correct as the initial does not appear in the body of the document. There is a drawback to detailing what is known of these lawsuits because they, in the absence of other knowledge of the life of William Roberts, can present a wrong impression of him. The responsibility of the genealogical researcher is to present all facts found of a life, but he is well aware that many important ones are not found. What usually emerges from genealogical research, at best, is a skeletal outline of a life, although an outline that the researcher is glad to find. From the 1829 document came the names of the following 10 children of William and Sarah Roberts: Samuel, who moved to Stokes County, North Carolina; George, who moved to Rockingham County, North Carolina; Peter, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina; James, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina; William Jr., who apparently moved from Randolph County, North Carolina or died early, or both; Frances, wife of Haman Miller of Randolph County, North Carolina; Mary Ann, wife of Richard Shackelford, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina, and then to Madison County, Alabama; Sarah, wife of John Stanfield, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina; Martha Stovall, wife of Jacob Miller, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina; and Elizabeth, wife of Isham Fuller, who moved to Laurens County, South Carolina.
According to the two nephews in their lawsuit of 1829. Samuel, George, Peter, Sarah, Martha and Mary Ann apparently were still living. Elizabeth, apparently the youngest daughter, had died on December 24, 1797 in Laurens County (per Louise Pyles Castens, of Mississippi). James died in Laurens County in January of 1801 (WB A, p. 272). Frances died in Randolph County on April 25, 1815 (RALEIGH REGISTER, May 12, 1815). Mary Ann, who was born on February 12, 1748, died on May 13, 1832 in Madison County (per Mrs. Castens). It is known that Martha Stovall was living as late as about 1828, about the time when husband, Jacob, died in Laurens County (Probate Office, Box 52, package 11). There is no later knowledge of William, Jr. The following names were mentioned in the 1829 document as also being present or past owners of the slaves or their increase: George Lucas, John Latham, Whitlock Arnold, George McCulloh, James Daniel, Henry Fuller, Zebulon Mathas, Spruce Macay and Joseph Chambers, Frances Arnold, an elderly woman, was named as one of the witnesses for the executors whose testimony should be heard. Some of these individuals were possibly members of the Roberts line.
William Roberts seems to have been a prosperous and enterprising man who got into debt. Full information on the lawsuits in Halifax County, Virginia, is lacking; and their real nature is not really known. Sometimes presenting bare and incomplete facts, such as those of the lawsuits, as previously pointed out, covers or distorts actual truth; and it seems that litigation such as that in the Halifax County courts was common in colonial and early America. William Roberts seems to have been a generous man, deeding gifts of land and personal property, other than the slaves, to his children and to his son-in-law, Haman Miller. Perhaps he moved to North Carolina, when no longer young, seeking a new start, a new prosperity, and perhaps he found a measure of it in his short years there. Further various records would certainly reveal a more complete picture of his life. Whatever he was or was not, he like his son-in-law, Haman Miller, must be evaluated by his time and place.
Most of the foregoing research was done by the writer of this article from the 1960's to the present. Recent valuable help has been given by Dudley J. Ledwell, of Virginia, a Roberts descendant. The late Laura Madden Pulley, of South Carolina, another Roberts descendant, gave important help in the 1960's. Donald E. Bishop, of Mississippi, gave recent welcome assistance on the Stovall line. Clovis E. Miller, of Arkansas, was a recent helpful contributor.
Donald George Brown - Grandson seven generations from William Roberts