William Darwins, Senior and Junior

Will the Real William Darwin, Jr., Please Stand Up?

 There are two possible genealogical interpretations from the particulars of the 1746 Hardy/Darwin Land Indenture. Two William Darwins are distinguished, Senior and Junior, and the question immediately arises, which William is the one whom we know, from the Darwin-Bland "Bible" Record as the one born in 1707? The two theories may be summarised:

 Theory A: Junior Born 1707

A common reading of the 1746 Indenture takes the named "William Darwin, Junr" to be the one who was born in 1707. In this interpretation, the Indenture thus includes a genealogical "bonus" by revealing the previous generation of the family, namely the "William Darwin, Senr., and Jean his wife." The assumption is that 36 year old William Darwin, Junior, required financial assistance from his father, William Darwin, Senior, in order to purchase the 100 acres, and secured that aid by writing both his parents (“William and Jean his wife”) into the deed.

 Theory B: Junior Born 1742

Under this interpretation, the “Senior” William Darwin is the one born in 1707, and the “Junior” is his son, William, whom we know from the Darwin-Bland "Bible" Record to have been born in August 1742. In this interpretation, 36 year old William Darwin, Senior, purchases the 100 acres in the name of his 4 year-old son, William Junior by means of a Life Estate Deed, whereby the son does not come into title until the death of his named parents.

 Theory A, Junior Born 1707, has a certain currency among other researchers’ notes published on the internet, probably because it appears to more closely match the interpretation one would give a modern real estate deed, as Life Estate Deeds are now a rarity. Such a reading certainly seems plausible and was indeed our own first assessment. But further investigation has led us to regard Theory B, Junior Born 1742, as far more likely to be correct, for the following reasons:


  1. First, we strongly suspect the name JEAN represents a spelling of JANE (both would have been pronounced identically); we have seen very clearly in other 18th-century American cases where both spellings are used interchangeably to refer unquestionably to the same individual. That William Darwins Junior and Senior (in the Theory A reading) should both have wives named JANE is not, given the frequency of the names, a noteworthy ‘coincidence’. But the spelling in the document alone does not rule out the possibility that "William Darwin Senr and Jean his wife" in fact refers to William Darwin (1707-86) and Jane (?Wilkinson).


  1. The 1746 Indenture needs to be considered in its contemporary context , and we are likely to be wrong to read it as we would a modern deed. We think this Indenture represents a transaction whereby William Darwin Senior (in this reading, the one who lived 1707-86) and Jane (?Wilkinson) secure title to 100 acres in the name of their 4-year-old firstborn son William Darwin Jr. (b. 1742), their son not to come into possession of title until their own deaths. The advantage of making the transaction this way would be to remove the need for a change of title (with attendant stamp or other legal costs) across two generations; in the event, when William Jr. (b.1742) died before his father (as we assume, for we know nothing further about him), title would automatically fall to the father and was subsequently transferred (as we know) in his will. More immediately, given the previous legal actions for debt against him, William Darwin may have used to Life Estate Deed to ensure his land was not in his own name and thus safe from future legal action by his creditors.


  1. The arrival of second son James in 1744 and third son Bartlett in 1746 or 1747 might have encouraged his father to think along the lines of eventual inheritance: 100 acres was simply not enough to divide among several sons. In accordance with the English practise of primogeniture , the eldest son would inherit to the exclusion of any younger in the event the father died intestate, so neither a Will nor a Life Estate deed was necessary to pass the property on to William Junior (born 1742). However, a Life Estate deed would allow provision to be made for William Senior’s widow (Jane (?Wilkinson)) without the overhead of other legal instruments, such as a Will.


  1. Perhaps the most telling argument against Theory A is that the 1746 Indenture is unique in naming two William Darwins, Junior and Senior. If there were two adult William Darwins, father and son, in Louisa in 1743, there would seem a good chance the lawsuits against one would specify Darwin Senior or Junior, and if so that would have to be conclusive that William Darwin (1707-1786) is indeed Junior. And if there were an elder William Darwin, who had indeed arranged in 1747 to spend the remainder of his life, with his wife, in a county for which all early records have survived, how can there be neither a will nor, if he died intestate, other legal documents about him? How can he not appear in any of the later parish or county tithing records, when his ‘son’ does?

 For these reasons, we think it nearly certain that


  1. “William Darwin, Senr” of the 1746 Indenture is the same “William Darwin” of the Darwin/Bland Bible Record born in June 1707—and thus the same “William Darwin” of later Louisa County records down to 1786


  1. “Jean his wife” is the Jane (? Wilkinson) Darwin, born 1715, of the Darwin/Bland Bible Record


  1. “William Darwin, Junr” of the 1746 Indenture is the same “William Darwin” of the Darwin/Bland Bible Record born in June 1742, son of the William Darwin born in 1707. It is highly probable this William subsequently died in childhood.


The above interpretation, we believe, is a far better fit with the available documents. Unless further evidence is found, the assumption that the parents of the William Darwin, born in 1707, were an otherwise undocumented "William and Jean" in Louisa County in 1746 is not proven, and that the designation "Junior" applied to this William Darwin is almost certainly an error.