Saturday, May 15, 2010

Surname Saturday: WHITECOTTON Origins, Part One

Of all the surnames that I have ever researched in my family tree, WHITECOTTON has been the most problematic.  It is the most prone to misinformation, misspelling, and errors in transcription in records.   And, for such an unusual surname and such a relatively small US family,  it has the most murky origins.

The WHITECOTTON surname has a kind of "creation myth", a family legend  that is so constantly referred to that it has taken on a life of its own. Some descendants feel extremely passionate about its veracity.

The story is that a young female indentured servant from England, ANNE WHITE,  married a man named JOHN COTTON in the 1600s  in the Virginia Colony (supposedly at Jamestown). They had one son (and apparently only one) named WILLIAM WHITE-COTTON, who used a hyphenated surname.

WILLIAM in turn supposedly had one son (and apparently only one) named ISHAM or ISOM WHITECOTTON who married the widow ANNE (AXTON) SMITH, the daughter of JOHN AXTON, an indentured servant from England who eventually became a landowner in Stafford Co VA

ANNE AXTON and her second husband ISHAM WHITECOTTON  supposedly had only one son, MEALY or MEALEY WHITECOTTON born about 1688 Overwharton Parish, Stafford Co VA, died abt 1733 same place.  MEALEY can be found in  parish, court &  tax records in Stafford Co VA, so it is certain that he did exist.

Now let me back up here and talk a bit about this persistent "creation myth" concerning ANNE WHITE & JOHN COTTON. I have a big, big problem with this legend.  After ten years of researching hundreds of families in colonial Virginia,  I have never been able to find any record of this couple's existence.  This couple was NOT at Jamestown. And likewise, I have not been able to find records in Virginia for WILLIAM WHITE-COTTON, with a hyphenated surname, or without.    If anyone has solid documentation, I have yet to see it.

The first mention of the WHITECOTTON surname in Virginia records, as far as I have been able to find (i.e. real documentation),  are the court records concerning a dispute over  Stafford Co VA land owned by JOHN AXTON,  which he bequeathed to his daughter ANNE AXTON & her then husband JOHN SMITH. After SMITH's death in about 1688, ANNE apparently married ISHAM WHITECOTTON.

(One aside here:  many Whitecotton researchers have claimed that ANNE's father JOHN AXTON married MARY MANSELL BLAGRAVE, original owner of the Stafford Co VA land in dispute,  and widow of HENRY BLAGRAVE I.  That is utterly and completely false. In the actual court records MARY is referred to as the current wife of a Mr HEARD. She was never, ever referred to as JOHN AXTON's wife in the actual court records!  In 1686 MARY MANSELL BLAGRAVE with her "sonne-in-law" conspired to sell the land that JOHN AXTON and partner EDWARD CARY (deceased by 1686) had legally purchased from HENRY BLAGRAVE I in 1660. Apparently the land in question had been originally bequeathed to MARY from her father, CAPT DAVID MANSELL.   But MARY and her "sonne-in-law" were well aware that AXTON & CARY were now the legal owners, according to the depositions of other citizens living in the area at the time. The  lawsuit by JOHN AXTON against MARY MANSELL BLAGRAVE and her "sonne-in-law" went on for several years from 1686 until at least 1688, possibly longer.  Eventually,  the court ruled in favor of JOHN AXTON and his heirs. The court case, which is transcribed on my website, is quite interesting to read!).

But back to ANNE (AXTON) (SMITH) WHITECOTTON. She bequeathed the land won in the AXTON/BLAGRAVE lawsuit to her son, MEALEY WHITECOTTON.  This is noted in the Stafford Co VA court records; in 1707 MEALEY WHITECOTTON, heir & son of ANNE AXTON (SMITH) WHITECOTTON,  sold some of the land that had been in dispute. The court records do not mention the name of ANNE's unknown WHITECOTTON husband. Once again, the name ISHAM WHITECOTTON has been passed down, with no reference of any kind to records.  If anyone has solid documentation, I have yet to see it.

MEALEY WHITECOTTON married SARAH FOOTE (although I have never been able to find a marriage record for this couple....), and had three children.  It was likely SARAH's second marriage. The children were:

1) GEORGE I WHITECOTTON b abt 1707-1710 died March 23, 1744 Overwharton Parish, Stafford Co VA; married BRIDGET unknown; she married 2nd) WILLIAM McCONCHIE and 3rd) STEPHEN PILCHER III. All of these individuals can be traced in Stafford Co VA records. My line is through his son (by BRIDGET),  GEORGE II WHITECOTTON.

2) HUSBAND FOOTE WHITECOTTON b abt 1710 died abt 1769 Stafford Co VA;  married MARY unknown; one son, AXTON WHITECOTTON, as per Stafford Co VA records.

3) MEALEY WHITECOTTON II b abt  1710-1715 died abt 1762 Stafford Co VA; married SARAH unknown; several children born in the 1740s as per Stafford Co VA records

It should be noted here that ISHAM, HUSBAND, FOOTE & MEALEY are all surnames, and may provide clues for further research.  MEALEY is a variation of MALLEY, MALEY or O'MALLEY, suggesting a possible Irish connection in this family.

I owe a great deal to the fine research of Rosalie Nadler, Gary & Mary Moyers, and Greg Branum on these early Whitecottons.  But I believe there is much more still to be discovered. I would love to trace the WHITECOTTON family's beginnings in this country, and beyond.

For more information on my WHITECOTTON family please see my Rootsweb database, "Southern Ancestors of Minttie Mae Bruton".

Have a great day!


© Betty Tartas  2010


Steven C Perkins said...


A Whitecotton DNA study has been established at WorldFamilies,
So far no one has come forward to test.

My alleged Whitecotton link is through Nancy Whitecotton supposed wife of William Manning of Whitley Co., KY. I have been unable to document the marriage or her surname. Some researchers think she is a Morgan.

The wife of [a] William Manning, as of August 1833, was named Nancy. Deed book 1 page 448 Whitley Co. KY.

Gloria Manning Perkins has found a marriage license for a William Manning and a Nancy Martin in 1838, Whitely County Marriages - 4-23-1838.

I don't know if Martin is a maiden or married name for this Nancy.

There are certainly a lot of questions for the Whitecotton researchers to answer.

Julie said...

Betty - Your information has been most useful in my son's school project. My grandmother's maiden name is Whitecotton (her father was Peter Earl and grandfather was James William). I'll pass along the information about the DNA study.

Anonymous said...

I am connected through the Sisk Family Mealy Whitecotton & Sarah (Foote) Whitecotton had a daughter Mary that Married John Sisk and the Sisk is My Grandmothers Family line. I havent been able to find any proof to several odd names. Thankyou for the info tho

Betty said...

@ Anonymous: So far no proof that MARY WHITECOTTON who married JOHN SISK was daughter of MEALY WHITECOTTON & SARAH FOOTE of Stafford Co VA. Some researchers have MARY born 1705 Ireland; others have her born 1711 in Culpepper Co VA--which wouldn't make sense, since Culpepper Co was not formed until 1749, and her parents only lived in Stafford Co VA.

Debbie Schilder said...

In the family history information I have (my sister Tammy has done all the research) our 11th great-grandfather was a Cotton, first name unknown, our 10th great-grandfather is Isham White Cotton, 9th great-grandfather is Mealy Whitecotton, 8th great-grandfather is George Whitecotton, 7th great-grandfather is George Whitecotton Jr, 6th great-grandfather is James Whitecotton, 5th great-grandmother is Sarah Elizabeth Whitecotton.
Debbie Schilder

Miriam said...

My line goes through John Sisk also. I am so new to this, I have no contrabution to make. Thank you for you hard work.

GReyes said...

Hello. My grandfather was William L Whitecotton from Shreveport Louisiana. Also lived in Winnfield Louisiana. Been trying for years to find our family tree. Lost touch with that side of family as a child. I know we had many cousins and aunts and uncles. Not sure if any relation to this Whitecotton family.