Thursday, April 8, 2010

Saunders/Sanders Family of Orange & Caswell Co NC : How One Error in a Published Source Can Throw You Off Track For Years!

One of my ancestors who would get  the "most challenging to research" award if there was such a thing was THOMAS SAUNDERS/SANDERS b abt 1727-1728 who married MARY MITCHELL and died Nov 28, 1812 in Davidson Co TN as per his will.  THOMAS had three brothers:

--Capt WILLIAM SAUNDERS b 1735 who married 1st) HANNAH MITCHELL and 2nd) NANCY CUNNINGHAM  and died 1803 in Smith Co TN.
--Maj RICHARD SAUNDERS b abt 1730 who married unknown, died aft 1832 Sumner or Davidson Co TN.
--Col JAMES SAUNDERS b 1733 died 1825 Caswell Co NC, who never married, but who adopted his nephew ROMULUS MITCHELL SAUNDERS, son of Capt WILLIAM SAUNDERS & HANNAH MITCHELL.

All four of these brothers fought in the Revolutionary War in NC.  Two of them, THOMAS & Capt WILLIAM, are listed in the DAR Patriot Index.

For nearly a decade I labored under the assumption that these four brothers were the sons of WILLIAM SAUNDERS & AGNES ADAMS.  I obtained this information from a published source, "Early Settlers of Alabama, Vol II" by Col James Edmond Saunders published 1899.

The problem is, that couple doesn't seem to exist. There is no record of them in Orange/Caswell Co NC, where the four brothers lived just before the Revolutionary War.  No will, historical reference, nothing. Just the citation in the book listed above.

It took me years, and probably the most intensive genealogical sleuthing to date, but I was finally able to unravel the mystery of this family--at least a little bit!

The first piece of truly meaningful documentation that I obtained on this family was the 1825 Caswell Co NC will of Col JAMES SAUNDERS (Jr) who never married, and who adopted his nephew ROMULUS MITCHELL SAUNDERS (who later went on to become a judge, NC state senator, and foreign diplomat--US minister to Spain). I don't have a copy of the original but here is the transcription:

Nephew JAMES SANDERS, son of THOMAS SANDERS, decd (land on Dan River including Mansion house, 820 acres, at mouth of Little Creek). Nephew ROMULUS MITCHELL SANDERS (land on Dan River called lower tract of 875 acres). Faithful old slaves to live on the land. Nephew ALANSON TRIGG, son of WILLIAM TRIGG decd; niece MARTHA TRIGG, wife of ABSOLEM (should read ABRAHAM) TRIGG; BETSEY P. ATKINSON, wife of THOMAS ATKINSON and her children; brother RICHARD SANDERS and his daughter ANN P SAMUEL;  JAMES SANDERS, son of RICHARD SANDERS; HARRIOT SANDERS, daughter of JAMES SANDERS (son of THOMAS) and wife of DOCTOR NATHANIEL SANDERS; Children of LETITIA ALLEN mentioned. Nephew FRANCIS SANDERS, son of THOMAS. Niece SALLY MOSELEY and her son LUCIEN BROWN and her daughter by her former husband BEDFORD BROWN; LOCKETT SANDERS some negroes for her life; Niece ELIZABETH JONES and her son THOMAS JONES and daughter POLLY; Nephew WILLIAM TRIGG of Alabama; KEZZIAH JEFFREYS, wife of THOMAS JEFFREYS (land on Little Creek adj to ARCHIMEDES DONOHO, said land to go to her children, but if no children, land to MILLY WATLINGTON); Nephew JOSEPH SANDERS, son of RICHARD; Nephew JAMES SANDERS, son of THOMAS; Nephew SANDERS DONOHO. Wit: B Yancey (Bartlett Yancey, NC state senator who died 1828), William Harris, Da vid M Sanders. Romulus M Sanders qualified.

Although somewhat daunting, this will is a wonderful piece of documentation in that it connects all four brothers and also the family of  SARAH SAUNDERS who married Col WILLIAM TRIGG Jr. She was really key to finding the father of the four Rev War brothers.

The second piece of truly meaningful documentation that I obtained on this family was the 1776 will Orange Co NC (which later became Caswell Co) of JAMES SAUNDERS/SANDERS Sr who was likely married twice, the second time to CASSANDRA HAIDEN/HADEN. Once again I don't have an original copy; this is a transcription:

--WILL of JAMES SAUNDERS/SANDERS, Sr., Record No. A-197, Orange Co NC, dated 28 Feb 1776, proved May 1776. Wife mentioned, name not given. Sons: JAMES, RICHARD,WILLIAM. Daughters: SARAH, wife of WILLIAM TRIGG; CASSANDRA; SUSANNAH, wife of ROBERT TERRY; FANNY, wife of WILLIAM SANDERS the Elder. Grandson: JEREMIAH TERRY, son of daughter SUSANNAH. Granddaughter: CASSANDRA's oldest daughter. Executors: sons JAMES SANDERS, RICHARD SANDERS, Wm. TRIGG. Witnesses: Andrew Haddock, James Sanders, Robin Terry.

This 1776 will obviously is referring to the same family as the 1825 will of Col JAMES SAUNDERS Jr.  As I said, the key is SARAH SAUNDERS who married Col WILLIAM TRIGG Jr, who is listed in both wills, as are three of the four Rev War  brothers. She was their sister.

The big mystery is why THOMAS SAUNDERS/SANDERS is not included in the 1776 will. Clearly he was a son of JAMES SAUNDER/SANDERS Sr, as Col JAMES SAUNDERS Jr referenced THOMAS' children as nephews and nieces in his 1825 will. Also not included in JAMES SAUNDERS/SANDERS Sr's 1776 will  are KEZIAH SAUNDERS who married ARCHIMEDES DONOHO, and ELIZABETH P. "BETSEY" SAUNDERS who married THOMAS ATKINSON. But they and their children, listed as nephews & nieces, are in the 1825 will of Col JAMES SAUNDERS Jr.

Perhaps finding an original copy of the will would provide more clues.  Transcriptions & abstracts often leave out pertinent information that might help a researcher.

The last piece of truly meaningful documentation that I found on this family was from a biography of ROMULUS MITCHELL SAUNDERS in the book "Biographical History of NC from Colonial Times to the Present" edited by Ashe, Weeks & Van Noppen pub 1906, page 386 :

" ...his (Romulus Mitchell Saunder's) grandfather was JAMES SAUNDERS of Orange County,who had four sons, among them Col JAMES SAUNDERS , a patriot in Revolutionary times, who represented Orange County in the Provinical Congress of 1776.... and (Capt) WILLI AM SAUNDERS  (p386, parentheses are mine)" The bio goes on to say:

"WILLIAM SAUNDERS, a son of JAMES SAUNDERS....shortly after peace was won.... was married to HANNAH MITCHELL, by whom he had two sons, FRANKLIN and ROMULUS MITCHELL SAUNDERS, the subject of this sketch. Mrs Saunders dying, her husband and two sons moved to Sumner County TN, where he married Miss CUNNINGHAM, a sister of Major Cunningham, who was a member of General Washington's staff, and who moved from the Dan River to Sumner County, Tennessee. By this lady WILLIAM SAUNDERS had three sons and two daughters. One of these sons was Judge LAFAYETTE SAUNDERS of Baton Rouge, Louisiana....." ( p 386-387)

This whole process took me several years, and a lot of sleuthing, but I think this final bit plus the wills pretty much proves that the father of THOMAS SAUNDERS and his three brothers was JAMES SAUNDERS Sr who died 1776 Orange Co NC and an unknown first wife-- not WILLIAM SAUNDERS & AGNES ADAMS, as had been erroneously cited in the book "Early Settlers of Alabama Vol II" by Saunders.

For more information & documentation, here is a link to the family of JAMES SAUNDERS Sr of who died 1776 Orange Co NC on my Rootsweb tree
Moseley, Miller & Related Families of Colonial Virginia

As always, your comments appreciated.  Have a great day!



Anonymous said...

I am myself a descendant of Col. James Edmonds Saunders and in possession of the book 'Early Settlers of Alabama'. Thank you very much for your research, as a great deal of this history was unknown to me. I am very pleased to discover that at least four of my relatives fought and held rank in the Revolution.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Thank you so much for posting this important piece of research! I am just beginning to familiarize myself with the Sanders/Saunders family of Caswell Co as I finally had a breakthrough on my lines linking me to this group! For the longest time the family has been unable to figure out why some sons were named "Romulus". And when I finally pieced our Sanders to the Caswell Co. Sanders/Saunders I discovered Romulus Mitchell Sanders!

So you can see why your post is so incredibly significant to me.

By the way, I am currently trying to identify the parents of two brothers, Jesse Sanders (abt 1800-aft 1880) and Wiley Sanders (abt 1795-1850). They were both born in Caswell Co.

Jesse married Martha Hubbard (1791-1831) in Guilford Co. 19 Aug 1819.

Wiley married Elizabeth Allen (abt 1797-aft 1860 and daughter of Barney Allen) in Rockingham Co. 18 May 1813.

Both brothers were part of the Sanders/Saunders clan that migrated to Putnam County, Indiana before 1830. Jesse married his second wife Axa/Ana Allen 24 Oct 1831 shortly after arriving in Putnam Co. Indiana.

The two brothers have intermarrying descendants and there are at least two males with the name Romulus--Wiley's grandson Romulus Sanders (has a twin brother named William Wesley Sanders) and William Wesley's son Joseph Romulus Sanders.

So any information you may be able to offer on the potential parents of the brothers Jesse and Wiley Sanders would be greatly appreciated!

Gloria Tanner said...

I too just realized that info I've had on my Saunders tree may not be correct. My Saunders comes from North Carolina to South Carolina and then to Tumbling Creek - Humpreys County TN.
I have a Wiley Sanders, b. 1789 in North Carolina who is the son of William Sanders b. 1768 in Granville NC who is the son of Capt. Jesse Sanders. Most every one has Williams Sanders as married to Sarah Ragan, as did I, but I realized that the birth dates don't work for the birth of their children. Now I don't know if I even have the wrong Sanders line. I think I have the right one, and that William was married to a Sarah just not Sarah Ragan.
I have both Wiley's and Williams will and it ties in with my family which is why I believe I have the right Sanders line just the wrong wife for William.
I've done my DNA on 23andme and on FTDNA, so I'm hoping this will help me too.

Peyton Murphy said...

Thanks for posting this. I found it in a Google search and it really helped me get some of the Saunders/Sanders genealogy lined out in my family tree.

Bill said...

This has been very helpful to me. Thanks for sharing it! Do you have any evidence for the parents of James Sanders? thanks in advance.

Bill said...

The Austin/Twyman papers at the College of William and Mary (and available online on include a deed from Thomas and Mary Sanders of Davidson County Tennessee to Archibald Austin of Buckingham County Virginia, dated April 17,1809 . The property deeded was 400 acres on the North Branch of the Slate River (now called the North River) and described as "my old place, and being the same tract or parcel of land upon which I the said Thomas Sanders formerly lived."

From this we know that by April 1809 Thomas and Mary had already moved to Davidson County TN.

If this land was given to Thomas by his father, that would explain why Thomas was omitted from his will, i.e. because he had already provided for him.

The home on the land in Buckingham County, which Thomas and Mary built in the 1770s, is still standing and lived in today. The home was (and still is) called "Westfield."