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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sally BOVELL not Sally Banelle, married Edward Shelliday in Mercer County, Kentucky on 18 March 1795.

John Bunnell recently recovered from an error regarding the William Bonnell family in Kentucky that is prevalent on

This is the contention that the lady listed in the databases as "Sally Banelle" in Mercer County was a daughter of William Bonnell.  This Sally was married to Edward Shelliday in Mercer County on 18 March 1795.

This has never quite fit our timeline, as we know the Bonnell family was in Botetourt County at this time.  If a daughter of William's had been in Mercer County in 1795, however, this might have added weight to the connection between the Bonnell and Dean families.

Now that I finally have a copy of the marriage bond, it is clear that the bride's name is actually Sally Bovell.  The signatory to the bond, her father John Bovell, is an established part of the historical record in Mercer County and unrelated to our quest.

William Bonnell in the Virginia Militia

John Bunnell reports on his efforts to trace William Bonnell in Virginia Militia records.

Overall, the documentation on the Virginia militia is extremely sparse and fragmented. There will probably be tens of thousands of patriots who will never receive acknowledgement of their militia service due to the paucity of these records.  

In one of the few lucky breaks we've had in this search, however, there are some unique documents that give us insight into the militia companies in the south half of Spotsylvania County.  This is a group of petitions from 14 November 1776 by the seven militia companies from the southern half of the county complaining of having to march to Fredericksburg, at the northern edge of the county, to respond to their muster.  

William Bonnell is not on any of these, but some of his contemporaries are.  Peter Rossell signed on the petition as a member of Captain John Craig's company.  Although the document is damaged, Henry Coleman appears to have signed on the petition for Captain Alexander Parker's company.  It is impossible to tell for sure, but the number of signatures on each of these documents seem too small to constitute a company, so I'm not convinced they represent the full complement of these militia units.

A historical study by McAllister provides some additional context.  See:
Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War by J. T. McAllister page 235.

This volume uses the pension statements for those few militia members who lived until the 1835 pension law (the only pension the militiamen were eligible for) to gather additional details about the militia companies. McAllister's analysis shows that all seven of the southern Spotsylvania militia units (John Craig's, George Stubblefield's, Thomas Minor's, Alexander Parker's, John Chew's, Thomas Bartlett's, Herndon's) saw active service in the Revolution.  The actions of some of these companies ares pecifically known.  For others, they were probably a part of the general mobilization of nearly all Virginia militia units that occurred for the battles between Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.

The next step for us to now take, therefore, is to do a deep dive into all seven of the southern Spotsylvania militia companies, focusing first on Craig's and Parker's.  It could be that we will never find out more than I have included here.  However, I think there is the chance that we could figure something out by analyzing the petition lists against the militia pay records.  There are tens of thousands of pay entries to militia soldiers in the Virginia Auditors Account books, and I hope these are catalogued in the two Ekenrode volumes (we'll need to verify this, I don't know how we would find anything if Ekenrode only catalogued the line units).  If a group of these individuals show up together on the same pages of the Auditor's Accounts, for example, we may have a lead on the pay record for the entire company.  

Also, I imagine there will be additional information in Spotsylvania County.  The order books, for example, list the appointment of militia officers.  Now that we know exactly what companies we are looking for, there may be information here that did not catch my attention when I reviewed these books a couple of years ago.  I'm certain William Bonnell is not mentioned (I would have caught that), but we may be able to get an idea of how comprehensive the petition lists were.

George Faris adds: "Since all able bodied men were required to serve in the local militias it seems probable that he was in one of the militia units in Spotsylvania.  However, since they appear to have lived very near the county line, it's also possible that he was in an Orange County militia unit. Most of the militias were primarily concerned with protection of their own local areas although some were pressed into service with the regular army units when necessary.  Some of these units, as well as some of the Virginia and Continental Line units don't seem to be documented very well.  I've been frustrated in searching for any records of the service of William's future son-in-law John Farris who did apparently serve in a unit of the Virginia Line with action at the battles of Guilford Courthouse and at Yorktown.  In the latter action he was under the command of Col. Charles Dabney whose estate "Aldingham" was just across the South Anna River from where the Farrises lived in Hanover County, VA.  These and other details are in his 1834 pension application (R3455) which was rejected because records of his service couldn't be found at that time.  I mention this to point out that a lack of service records for William Bonnell in one of the regular army units doesn't necessarily mean that he didn't serve."

Charlie Bonnell reported: "I checked my copy of an index of the Militia in Washington County, VA Officers: 1777-1835, Militia Men 1798-1835. Washington Co. is a long ways from Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, but I figured I’d check the names. If nothing else, you can file this away for future research when y’all have finished this project.

There were two Faires’ serving as officers between1782 and 1806. No Bo/Bunnells

There were 10 Farris Militia Men serving between 1798 and 1825. There was one Bonnell (Douglass) serving in 1834. Claude’s database has no info on any Bonnell/Bunnell in that county during that time period.

George Faris replied: I think the William Bunnell and John Farris families may have passed through Washington County without stopping during the summer of 1798 on their way to Mercer County from Botetourt.   There were Farrises in Washington and Russell Counties for many years before and after that time - but they were not related to the John and William Farris associated with the William Bunnell family.  In researching William and John Farris it was necessary to sort through thousands of Farris records in KY and try to sort out the very few that involved that particular William and John.   There were numerous Farris families throughout KY and back into VA - but I never found any that appeared to be related to them.  Later, when numerous Farrises did Y-DNA tests we found that our Farris line was not at all related to the others. The majority of the VA/KY Farrises were related to each other and appear to mostly be descendants of an Ian Esom Farris - except for this particular John and William.  I've never found any other close relatives to them except for a possible sister, Sally Farris, who married a John Howe in Franklin Co. KY in 1795 with William Farris as the bondsman.  William had migrated to KY many years prior to the William Bunnell and John Farris families - but rejoined them in Mercer County after their arrival in KY.  

William Bonnell Wasn't in the Virginia Navy (or, Why Original Sources Matter)

John Bunnell provided an update on his research into the Revolutionary War service of William Bonnell of Virginia. His findings demonstrate the critical importance of tracking information back to its original source. 

The line of inquiry I initiated about William Bonnell being in the Virginia Navy during the Revolutionary War turned out to be a very seductive but ultimately false lead.  

If you remember, this started because the authoritative Revolutionary War historian, Hamilton J. Eckenrode, listed a "William Bonnell" in the service of the state of Virginia in Vol. 2 of Virginia Soldiers of the American Revolution. On page 37: "Bonnell, Willia, Aud. Acct. XXXI, 31." On page 9 Mr. Eckenrode explains the reference: "Aud. Acct. XXXI, Auditor's Accounts, vol. 31. One of a series of manuscript volumes indexed in the first report and containing duplicate lists with some new names." Below are copies of the cited pages. 


This took us to his source document, which was a 1786 pay adjustment for Revolutionary War service with the Virginia Navy.  To all appearances, this record reads "Wm Bonnell" and lists him as a ship's master.   

This theory was buttressed by the documented contact between our William Bonnell of Spotsylvania County and Colonel Fielding Lewis, George Washington's brother-in-law, who had significant responsibility in recruiting and fitting the Virginia Navy. Fielding Lewis was the presiding "gentleman of the court" while William Bonnell was administrating the estate of Jacob Wright (see following document).

This period (1777-1778) was simultaneous with the timeframe when the Virginia Navy Board directed Fielding Lewis to recruit a crew and the warrant officers for the galley Dragon then being built under Lewis' supervision at Fredericksburg (see below).  

As a matter of fact, The Virginia Navy Board made it clear to Captain Eliazer Callendar, then waiting to take command of the Dragon, that Lewis was unable to find a recruit a qualified ship's master.  

Up until last week, all of these facts seemed to be making a very compelling case.

Alas, however, it was not to be.  

After a great deal of on-site research in Virginia, cross referencing, and just a lot of effort, I've finally tracked this pay adjustment back to the original pay record at the time the sailor's discharge from the Virginia Navy on 28 April 1785.  

From this original document, it is clear that the individual in question is actually William Bennett, a sailor whose service as a ship's master in the Virginia Navy is already well established.  It is unclear how much we are misinterpreting the second scribe or how much the second scribe was misinterpreting the first in mistakenly interpreting the name as "Bonnell."

If the latter, I wonder if poor old William Bennett ever received the back pay that was due to him.  

Of note, we are not the first researchers to grapple with this problem, although I believe we are the first to solve it. Robert Armistead Stewart, who wrote the definitive history of the Virginia Navy in 1936, also tried to resolve the mystery of "William Bonnell, ship's master."  Ultimately, he decided, erroneously, as it turned out, that "Bonnell" must have been a misspelling of a member of the seafaring Bonnewell family.

Now that we know that William was not in the Virginia Navy, could he possibly have been in the Army?  I think it is unlikely that he was in regular service with either the Continental or Virginia line Regiments.  If that were the case, I think we would have run into some record of it by now.

John's efforts to track William Bonnell in the Virginia militia is the subject of another post.