Cheaper by the Dozen?

The 12 Children of William Darwin?

 We are beholden to Christopher B. Darwin, who noted in his Descendants of William Darwin an

 unconfirmed report that there were 12 children in the family, the first six having been born in England which would suggest that some of the children died from infant mortality in Virginia.

 As Christopher notes, we are all grateful to Anne McNeil Darwin for running down (in a letter dated 10 February 1993) the following details:

 "Talked to Mrs. Rumble in Macon: Her information comes from the files of the late Maude Thomison of Dayton, Tn. It references bible of Jean Wilkerson, Hickory Grove, S.C. (York County) and the several pageslost in a 1961 fire. She says William (1707) and Jean (Jane) Darwin of Louisa, Va. had 12 children. The first 6 were born in England. They lived at a place called 'Cucoo' on the headwater of Holliwig Creek. JOHN was the first child born in Virginia. He married Jane Bland 19 March 1755. The will of William Darwin was written in old English script."

 This is an intriguing tangle of Chinese whispers. The "bible" referred to is unquestionably the incomplete Darwin-Bland "Bible" Record, and tantalisingly appears to preserve some lost information therefrom.

 Moreover, some of the information in this bundle, not derived from the "Bible" record as we have it, is nonetheless altogether sound. Cuckoo (after the name of a local tavern, later associated with the celebrated Jack Jouett) was indeed the name of the locality in Louisa County where William Darwin resided (the local name 'Bumpass' is later), and the local watercourse is indeed Hollowing Creek (as noted in a 1751 map of Louisa County) .

Clearly, Maude Thomison's source of information for the place names of Cuckoo and Hollowing Creek is accurate, and it may be that this information was derived from a now-lost page of the Darwin-Bland "Bible" Record.

 Or: it may be information derived from other sources. And, even if it is indeed from a lost page of the "Bible" record, their are other clear errors in this bundle of information which give pause, to wit:

 

  1. Although there may have been more children born to William and Jane than the 8 we currently know (6 from the Darwin-Bland "Bible" Record, 2 from William's Will), it would be difficult to fit in as many as 4 additional births, in any location. Her 8 known children are born between Jane's ages of 20 to 40, at an average interval of 2.5 years.

 

  1. The notion that John Darwin (born 1755) was the first born in Virginia is clearly an error. William and Jane married (location unknown) in September, 1734, and their first child, Agnes, is born 'right on schedule' 9 months later in June, 1735 (Jane was 20 at the time of this birth). We know from the Hardy - Darwin Lawsuit that William Darwin was already resident in Louisa County in July 1743, so there can be no serious doubt that his sons James (born June 1744), and Bartlett (born 1745/46) were born in Louisa. John's date of birth (which we know from his own hand, in his War Pension Application) was 19 March 1755 -- which appears in the tangled account above as the misplaced date for his marriage.

 

So what are we left with here? In my view:

 

  1. With certainty, we know that an earlier generation of family researchers had a source with some accurate information about the Darwins in Louisa County (the place names Cuckoo and Hollowing Creek).

 

  1. The possibility that that source of information was a page from the "Bible" record, now lost. But there is no necessary indication that was the source.

 

  1. Very low probablity that this additional source (whether a lost "Bible" page or other primary source) indicates as many as 12 children for William and Jane.

 

  1. Very low probabilty that this additional source makes reference to England. Had the claim been for a record making reference to, say, Yorkshire, or some other specific locality, it might be worthy of greater credence.

 

  1. Virtual certainty that such a source could not have specified the 'first 6' children as born in England; as we have seen, at best only the first three may have been born elsewhere than Louisa County, and we have no other source to indicate this.

 

It may be that at least part of this tangled report arises from a misreading of the Darwin-Bland "Bible" record as it stands, perhaps mistaking the list of children of Robert Bland on Quarto A for Darwin offspring? But this is to speculate about speculation!

 It may be worth noting, that there is some reason to doubt the claim of a 'fire' in 1961 as the cause of lost pages to the "Bible" record. The photostatic copies appear to show detached sheets, not fire-damaged ones, and the inverted writing down two of the quartos, along with the name of 'Decembus Abram Summerford his book' on just such a page might suggest sheets long detached from the original notebook rather than sheets miraculously spared from flames. But again, in the absence of a good report on the state of the original documents, this is simply speculation!