Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The search for William Romulus Powe's father

For a long time, I’ve tried to find the ancestry of my ancestor William Romulus Powe.

Finding William Romulus Powe - ‘WRP’ – in the first place was an interesting journey which I’ve described before

A major difficulty is that he is often assumed to be William Powe, the son of Revolutionary War veteran William Powe (1759-1849). They were both about the same age but married different wives in Garrard County Kentucky and moved to Missouri at about the same time.  

But having clarified that, I became stuck on trying to find who WRP’s parents were. I’d come to a dead-end.

So, I decided to get some (more!) expert help from genealogist Dr Leonard Butts.

My request was simple: can you find the parents of WRP and document his relationship with the other Powes in Garrard County, Kentucky?

What we know

Here are the main things we know about WRP.

WRP married Margaret Brown in Garrard County in 1817. She was, a member of the Brown family into which the Revolutionary War veteran, also named William Powe, married. The older William married Jerusha Brown.

WRP served in the War of 1812, enlisting in Garrard, and was at the decisive Battle of New Orleans.

WRP left Kentucky for Missouri well before the death of Revolutionary War veteran William Powe in 1839 and was not mentioned in his will.

WRP separated from Margaret Brown and their children in Missouri in 1849 and after marrying again moved to Indiana and then Illinois, where he had additional children.

WRP served in the Battle of New Orleans, January 1815. Copy of lithograph by Kurz and Allison published 1890. Courtesy National Archives.

William Romulus Powe’s connections

WRP states in census records that he was born in Virginia. 

Although Madison County, Kentucky (part of which became Garrard) was in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time of early settlers, it would have been part of Kentucky well before the time of WRP’s birth in about 1795. However, no evidence of William’s origin in other parts of Virginia has been found, even though some of his descendants believed he was born in Virginia.

The only possible Powe family connection with WRP is with that of Revolutionary War veteran William Powe (1759-1839) of Garrard County, Kentucky. This William Powe married Jerusha Brown, whose relationship with William Romulus Powe’s first wife Margaret Brown was likely as an aunt. A Frederick Brown posted bond for the wedding of WRP and Margaret, which suggests he too could be a relation.

Although WRP has often been confused with the son of William and Jerusha Powe (also named William), he is clearly a different person. William Powe Jr, born about the same time as WRP, always stated he was born in Kentucky.

WRP could have some relationship to the John Powe who appears in both Madison and Garrard counties in 1794, a few years after the Revolutionary War veteran William Powe. The suggestion is that they were related and possibly brothers.

If it was John Powe who brought WRP to Kentucky, the time of arrival is close to coinciding with William’s birth. This might explain why William always stated he was born in Virginia since both John and the elder William were from Virginia. This theory fits the few known facts but it's important to note that there are many gaps in the records.

WRP’s use of 'Romulus' began when he migrated to Missouri, possibly to distinguish himself from William Powe Jr., who migrated to the same county in Missouri at about the same time. A search for the origin of the name Romulus – as a surname or as a paired connection with the name Remus (the mythical founding twins of Rome) revealed nothing to indicate that the name was anything more than a fanciful use by William himself or his parents. 

This idea is reinforced by the fact that William seems to have used ‘original’ rather than family names for his own sons. William did name a daughter Agnes Royston Powe. While there was a Royston family in Garrard County, no prior relationship between the Powe and Royston clans could be discovered.

William Powe senior and John Powe

The most obvious research path for WRP is through William Powe and John Powe, who arrived in Madison and Garrard counties in Kentucky after the Revolutionary War.

William Powe, the Revolutionary War veteran is well-documented and there is enough material for a future item on him. WRP married into the same Brown family as the elder William Powe, which suggests a double family connection. Unfortunately, though there is nothing certain about his ancestors either.

John Powe is more mysterious and for that reason has been assumed to have had some connection to WRP, possibly as his father.

The elder William Powe and John Powe served in the Revolutionary War out of Orange County, Virginia, but the only Poes living there at the time and previous to the war could not be connected to William and John.

‘Powe’ is not the spelling of the name in Virginia, but William and John spelt it that way, as did their children and WRP, whose relationship to them is unknown. WRP and the elder William’s son William Powe Jr. both migrated to Missouri at about the same time, reinforcing a close family connection.

In the end, Leonard’s research showed that it is lack of records which has prevented identification of WRP’s parents. There is some early tradition believed by William Powe junior’s descendants of a connection with WRP’s family, though exactly what that relationship is we don’t yet know.

Next Steps

Among Leonard’s suggestions for next steps are several related to the YDNA project which boil down to ‘get more people to take part’. There is a good chance that Revolutionary war veteran William Powe (1759-1849) who died in Garrard County KY is connected in some way. Some of his numerous descendants are easy to find but none of them wants to take part – and none live near enough for me to ‘drop in’ with a test kit.

He also suggested doing the same search for some other specific family groups, though locating such descendants is more problematic.

I have also agreed to take part in an autosomal test to identify possible Poe ‘cousins’ as recent results from a known relative have shown some promise.

A focus on Orange County, Virginia, records is also a logical option though access to such records, especially the many which are unindexed is likely to be expensive.

Further research on other family connections among early settlers of Garrard County who were from Orange County is also a potential focus.

A critical clue is the Garrard County court record showing John Powe brought two mulatto children to Garrard County from North Carolina. However, without knowing where in North Carolina he brought them from, it is impossible to know where to look. Should evidence emerge showing some connection of the Garrard County John Powe to someone in North Carolina prior to 1794, this could help resolve the mystery.

Do you know a Poe?

Meantime, if you know anyone with the surname Poe or Powe would you please ask them to consider taking part in the YDNA project

Don't rush me. I'm thinking...

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