Search This Blog

Monday, July 10, 2017

William Bonnell of New Jersey, Virginia, and Kentucky

Here's the latest from John Bunnell: 
Happy Independence Day!  It is probably appropriate on this 4th of July to update everyone on research regarding our Revolutionary War-era ancestor, William Bonnell of New Jersey, Virginia, and Kentucky.  

My daughter was recently in Roanoake, Virginia, where she was able to obtain a copy of a document of which I was unaware when I searched the court documents in Botetourt County.  David Noble, who is descended from the parties here, alerted us to the existence of the marriage documents for Peter Rossell to Sarah Wright.  This Peter Rossell was the grandson of the Peter Rossell from New Jersey and Sarah Wright was the daughter of Jacob Wright from New Jersey. Ann Arnal was the remarried widow of Jacob Wright. 
In some ways, this document is the "Rosetta Stone" of the relationships between the New Jersey families, as the Rossell, Wright, and Bonnell families are all on the same document.  Additionally, the fact that Ann continued to move with the Bonnells and Rossells after the death of her first husband and remarriage has led many to surmise that she was originally a Bonnell.  
Perhaps the most important feature of this document is that it appears William Bonnell wrote the permission in his own hand.  If so, this is the most extensive handwriting sample we have from this ancestor.  The wording and grammatical errors provide insight into his level of literacy. Of course, any level of literacy during this time was something of which to be proud.

In other news, a new addition to our group made a find which may give us a lead on the identity of William Bonnell's wife.  She found a researcher on Ancestry that contends that William's wife was Elizabeth Green, the daughter of William Green and Dinah Butt of Shepherdstown, West Virginia (then in Frederick County, Virginia through 1772 and Berkeley County, Virginia afterwards).   
Our group has been aggressively researching this theory for the last several months. We've not yet been able to prove it to our satisfaction, but enough evidence remains to justify continued work.
The difficulty is that the evidence that the Ancestry researcher has been able to provide to date is not sufficient to draw the familial connections she describes.  A review of her tree shows that she is a skilled and meticulous genealogical researcher.  She has entered a variety of citations for the Deans, Greens, and Bonnells, but many details about these families in her tree are not available in these sources.  As such, it seems that she had access to additional resources that she has not cited. I've been communicating with this woman, who has been as helpful as she can. Unfortunately, she conducted this research long ago and simply cannot recall the details.  She has reviewed her records and cannot find any sources beyond those currently listed in her sources.  She has offered to send anything else she finds, but I think we will have to work with what we have for the short term.

Her assertion is that Elizabeth Green was the sister of Diana (Green) Dean, who was the second wife of Thomas Dean of Hampshire County Virginia from 1772 through 1790 then of Mercer County, Kentucky, through both of their deaths.  It is beyond dispute that the Bonnell and Dean families were closely connected in Mercer County.  The first mention we have of William Bonnell in Mercer County is the 1799 court order placing him in charge of maintaining a road.  In this first record, Thomas Dean and one of his sons were named as a part of the maintenance crew.  Later, two of William Bonnell's children (Jonathan and Keziah) married Dean children.  Eventually, Jonathan became the guardian of one of the young Dean children upon the death of his parents.  Even the non-married Bonnells were involved, as Samuel was the surety for the marriage of one of the Dean children following the death of Thomas.  

That Diana had a sister named Elizabeth is also beyond doubt.  All the Dean children are listed in William Green's will from 1793.  Interestingly, Diana but not Elizabeth is listed in Dinah (Butt) Green's will seven years later, suggesting that Elizabeth may have died during this interlude.  

Diana's connection with the Dean family is complicated, but seems understood.  The Ancestry researcher claims that Diana originally married a William JOSEPH Dean in about 1764 in Frederick County Virginia and had one son.  Joseph Dean then died in about 1775 (we believe this must have been around 1773 instead).  
She further claims the widowed Diana then moved in with Joseph's uncle, Thomas Dean, in adjoining Hampshire County, to become his nanny and housekeeper.  Eventually, she became his common-law wife and the mother of his second batch of children.  
We've not been able to reconstruct this detailed story from the information we've found, but we've also not found any documentation that is inconsistent with it

What is problematic about this case is showing any direct documentary connection or inferred geographic connection between the Bonnell family and any of the other players in this drama during the time period when it appears William was married (1767-1772).  This is the period when the Bonnells were living in Loudoun County, Virginia after the departure from New Jersey.  This is also the time period when William Bonnell's first children were born (as early as 1770, by some accounts).  
From a documentation perspective, none of the counties (Loudoun, Frederick, Berkeley, and Hampshire, as well as Fairfax and Prince William) carry marriage records for this early period.  A thorough review of the land and court documents suggest that the three families were geographically stable during this time period and well separated from each other.  For the Bonnells, all indications are that they were living on Peter Rossell's land, which was at the extreme southeastern part of Loudoun County, near present-day Conklin, Virginia.  The Greens, on the other hand, owned a large tobacco plantation near Shepherdstown.  This land was initially granted in 1751, and William Green and Dinah Butt appear to still have been living there at their deaths, even though the county boundaries had changed around them.  Thomas Dean, presumably the uncle-in-law and then second husband of Diana Green, seemed stable in Hampshire County from his arrival in 1772 until his departure for Kentucky in 1790.

The only clue to another location is an August 1772 entry in the Frederick County Court Order Books that states that Joseph Dean (presumably Diana Green's first husband at the time) was residing out of the Colony.  If he is out of Virginia, where did he and Diana go?  Across the Potomac to Maryland is the most logical choice.  This still doesn't seem to help, as Peter Rossell purchased his land in Loudoun County in 1763 and we only lose track of the Bonnells briefly between their departure from New Jersey in about 1767 and their connection with the Rossells in Loudoun County in 1768.    

Although the distances between these locations may look small on a map, I've spent a considerable amount of time driving them, and they are not trivial. These distances are far too great to suggest any sort of casual connection. George and I have discussed the possibility that William Bonnell was an itinerant worker during this period and eventually ended up working on the Green plantation.  While this theory is not out of the question, it is a little bit of a stretch to think he would have to travel this far for work. Additionally, I think there is little chance that the surviving documentation will ever be able to prove this theory.  

The one thing that supports the larger assertion regarding a marriage between William Bonnell and Elizabeth Green, however, is DNA evidence.  Some type of DNA connection between the William Bonnell descendants and Butt family descendants seemed evident from the Ancestry products.  However, we needed more detailed analysis.  So, we convinced a descendant of Dinah Butt's father (Richard Butt) to enter her Ancestry results into the GEDMATCH database that George has been using.  There were matches between her and several William Bonnell descendants.  As is always the case with DNA, however, the case is not clear cut.  First, why am I showing a connection only 3-4 generations back when the connection should be 8 generations back? 
I've carefully analyzed her tree and can't find any answer other than that the DNA beat the statistical odds and stayed unusually intact for both of us.  The other connections look about right (7-8 generations), but why aren't there more? 

Overall, then, the research seems too preliminary to draw a conclusion about the connection to Elizabeth Green.  As such, I would caution everyone against entering the information onto Ancestry or on other products until we know more.  We all wasted a lot of time on the wild goose chase regarding Elizabeth Gano as William Bonnell's potential wife.  In the end, we could find no evidence supporting this theory or even figure out where the original Ancestry entry ever came from.

So, where do we go from here?  I have a research stop planned for back in Mercer County, Kentucky this month.  It appears there was a court case disputing the wills of Thomas and Diana (Green) Dean upon their deaths. I'll see if this provides the detail to substantiate the Dean family story. If we are wildly lucky, perhaps we'll find some mention of the connection between the Bonnell and Dean families.  
I also have a call out to the Donegal Presbetery of Pennsylvania in a search for any marriage records they may have as the presiding organization for the church the Green and Butt families attended at the time (the Tuscarora Presbyterian Church of Martinsville).  
After this, we're out of ideas on where to look for any other relevant documents.  Please let us know if anyone has any other ideas.

Beyond this, we could profit from additional DNA participants.  If you are a descendant of William Bonnell who has completed a DNA test (Ancestry, Family Tree, etc.), please ensure your results are entered into GEDMATCH.  There are instructions on the GEDMATCH page on how to import your results from another vendor's test.  Once accomplished, please ensure George knows your "A" number so that he can analyze your results.  We could also benefit from additional Butt/Green descendants.  
If your Ancestry DNA test calls out any other non-Bonnell descendants from this particular Green/Butt family, please let us know so that we can invite them into the GEDCOM study. 
George Farris adds: 
I found additional descendants of William Green and Dinah Butt, plus a descendant of Keziah Bunnell Dean, that I've added their DNA results to the matrix.  To keep it under 20 individuals as required by the gedmatch software I've also removed a couple of people.   
This revised version includes seven Butt/Green descendants and twelve William Bunnell descendants.   
While this data doesn't prove anything definitively, it does indicate that there is a high probability that the wife of William Bunnell may have been a daughter of William Green and Dinah Butt.  As such, it provides an incentive to continue the search - which John Bunnell is actively doing.