Saturday, January 30, 2016

Somerled, King of the Isles and Man

Note: The name for the Isle of Man is spelled variously as Man” and Mann. I have elected to use the former in this essay.

Consider Scottish history in the shape of an hour glass, and name the narrow “waist” in the center Somerled after the great medieval hero of the Hebrides.  The top globe of the hour glass can then be considered Somerled’s Norse input; and the bottom globe, his Scottish output. 

For hundreds of years, scholars, antiquarians, and clan historians have debated as to whether or not Somerled was Norse, Celtic, or a mixture of the two.  DNA testing for clans known to have descended from Somerled—the MacDonalds, MacDougals, MacDonnells, MacRorys, and MacAllisters—show that Somerled’s DNA was, in fact, Scandinavian.[1] 

This has been a bitter pill for some to swallow—including me, as I have long identified with Scotland by way of my Scottish mother—but I think a Clan Donald writer has come to the proper conclusion: “No genetic discovery, or conclusions drawn from [the DNA study], can change the millennia of our ancestors’ Celtic culture” [emphasis mine].[2]

That said, my purpose here is not so much to look at genetics or culture, but simply to look at Somerled from a historical and genealogical point of view, since the man does show up on my family tree.  I must, however, remain humble about the presence of the great hero on my tree, since Professor Bryan Sykes, who did the DNA study, states that the “Genghis Khan effect” may be at play in Scotland’s genetic history.  Just as “a staggering 16 million” men alive today in Asia carry the Y-chromosome of the ancient Mongol emperor,[3]  Somerled’s Y-chromosome is also shared by many millions of Scotsmen and their kin who have migrated around the globe.  

I feel compelled to comment on Somerled’s name, as it also has been the subject of much dispute. Before DNA testing came along, those who argued about Somerled’s ancestry would ground their debate on the proper understanding of his name—especially in view of the fact that the writers of  ancient chronicles, sagas, and Latin histories have left a tangled and confused mess for the rest of us. 
Somerled's name in a Latin manuscript

The Clan Donald writer explains that the Gaelic spelling of the sea king’s name was Somhairlidh, which, on the basis of spelling alone, was romanized to Somerledo by the Latin writers of the Middle Ages. He explains the pronunciation of the Gaelic name Somhairlidh would more correctly be rendered in the Roman alphabet as Sorley and further insists that both the spelling and the principles of Gaelic pronunciation prove that the name is clearly Celtic, not Norse.  Indeed, some today do write the man’s name as Somhairle, to account for this pronunciation of the last syllable.  

On the other hand, in 1912, someone writing for those with Scandinavian  interests asserted unequivocally, “The name Somerled is Norse. Sumarlidi [in Old Norse, SumarliĆ°i] means “summer slider”—i.e., Viking but from a nickname; it had become a regular personal name at least a hundred years before our hero was born.”[4]  Each of us must decide, I suppose, which interpretation to embrace.

Since this story involves a lot of Norwegians and Celts roaming around and fighting in the northern seas, a quick look at a map of the region is in order.  The Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, while the Hebrides are located to the north of Ireland and to the west of Scotland. The Orkney Isles are located north of Scotland and west of Norway.  Imagine yourself sailing west from Norway in a Viking longboat on a somewhat gamma-shaped route (┌).  This sea path would lead you westward between the Orkneys and Scotland until you turned south and sailed down the west coast of Scotland past the Hebrides to Ireland and the Isle of Man.  It is this route that was the major conduit for Norse adventurers in the Early Middle Ages. 

The Hebrides first became an object of Norse ambition in 794 with the Viking raids on Iona and Skye.  Then, in 872, Harald Fairhair, who had been warring with other Scandinavians, managed to take control of all Norway.  This may have made Harald happy, but his Scandinavian enemies were forced to flee to the west, where they settled in Scotland and the isles.  When these folks later took to raiding their old stomping grounds, Harald Fairhair tried to put a stop to their high jinx by taking control of Orkney and the Hebrides himself. 

Men of King Magnus in Ireland
His mistake was in returning to Norway, allowing his enemies to re-gain their foothold there.  Harald then sent a fellow known by the colorful name of Kettil Flatnose to hold the islands on his behalf, though whether Kettil had lasting control is a matter of debate. 

About a century later, in 1098, Norway’s King Magnus III also responded to the siren call of power in the western islands in the Irish Sea.  After subduing them, he took Orkney on his way back to Norway. These victories ultimately forced King Edgar of Scotland to recognize Magnus as King of the Isles, officially ceding Scotland’s claim to the islands to Norway at long last.

This brings us close to the time of Somerled’s birth, which scholars believe was in 1113 or thereabouts.  Constant warfare had long plagued the Hebrides, and at the time Somerled came to manhood, things were no different. 

Somerled’s father, Gillebride, is traditionally considered by the Scots to be a valorous Gael working tirelessly to throw off the rule of the Norse in the Isles. Before Somerled’s birth, however, Gillebride had fled to the mainland, seeking refuge from the Norse on Morvern, a peninsula in Argyll.  Since Gillebride’s name comes down to us as Gillebride na h-uaimh (Gillebride of the Caves), he is naturally considered to have been hiding out in the caves that abound in the area, in much the same way as St. Columba had once inhabited the Keil Caves in the same region.
Keil Cave

At this time in his life, Somerled was yet untroubled by the life of a warrior king. As an ancient chronicle put it, he was “a well-tempered man in body, shapely, of a fair and piercing eye, of middle stature and quick discernment. . . . His looking glass was the stream; his drinking cup the heel of his shoe; he would rather spear a salmon than spear a foe; he cared more to caress the skins of seals and otters than the shining hair of women. At present, he was as peaceful as a torch or beacon unlit. The hour was coming when he would be changed, when he would blaze like a burnished torch or a beacon on a hilltop against which the wind is blowing.[5]

The hour the chronicler predicted arrived in 1153.  Few details are known regarding how Somerled was roused from his halcyon days, but the Chronicle of Holyrood records that on November 6 of that year, “Sumerled [sic], and his nephew, that is to say, the sons of Malcolm, having taken to themselves many associates, rebelled against king Malcolm, and caused grievous disturbances over the greater part of Scotland.”[6] 

So, what was that all about?  

Scotland’s king, David I, had naturally considered that his son Henry, Earl of Northumberland, would become the next king of Scots.  However, Henry died about a year before his father, causing David to name his grandson as his successor, and this lad took the throne as Malcolm IV at age twelve in 1153.  This is the “king Malcolm” named in the chronicle. 
David I and Malcolm IV

So, who was the other Malcolm, and what were his sons up to? 

The other Malcolm was Malcolm MacEth, an illegitimate son of King Alexander I (b. 1097).  He had married a sister of Somerled, which, of course, made the two brothers-in-law. Now, as the son of Alexander I, he was the nephew of King David I (c. 1083-1153), and David had never taken kindly to his illegitimate nephew.  Someone with royal blood was always a potential threat to the ruling monarch in the Middle Ages.  Malcolm MacEth, though illegitimate, would naturally have thought himself the rightful heir to the throne upon Alexander’s death, while David, viewing Malcolm through the cold eyes of the law, considered himself the rightful and legitimate heir of his brother Alexander.  In 1134, David captured Malcolm MacEth and imprisoned him at Roxburgh Castle. 
Reconstruction of Roxburgh Castle (15th century) by Andrew Spratt

As often happened amongst claimants to a medieval throne, Malcolm’s son, Donald MacEth, saw his opportunity for revenge when King David died and a boy-king came to the throne.  This Donald was the nephew of Somerled referenced in the Chronicle of Holyrood. He and Somerled rose up against King Malcolm late in 1153, as the Chronicle states, and continued their campaign until 1156, when Somerled was embroiled in the affairs of the Isles.  Donald was captured and imprisoned with his father around this time, though 1157 found them all friends again when King Malcolm released both of the MacEths from prison and made Malcolm MacEth the first Earl (or Moramaer) of Ross.

So, what was going on in the Isles at this time?
Lewis chessman

1153 was not only the year when King David died; it was also the year that Olaf Godredsson, King of the Isles, was killed.  Olaf was the youngest son of Godred Crovan, founder of the Crovan dynasty which held sway as Norse kings of Man and the Isles from late in the eleventh century to about the middle of the thirteenth century.  Olaf had two colorful nicknames: to the Scots, he was known as Olaf the Red; to the Norwegians, Olaf Bitling (or, as they might put it on the rodeo circuit, Olaf Little Bit—apparently he was short). 

Despite these affectionate names, he was not able to forestall an uprising on the part of his own nephews.  The Chronicle of Man narrates the tale:

Three sons of Harold, the brother of Olave [Olaf], who had been brought up in Dublin, assembling a large body of men, and among them all the refugees from the dominions of Godred, came to Man, and demanded from the king one half of the whole kingdom of the Isles for themselves. The king having heard their application, and being desirous to pacify them, answered that he would take advice on the subject. When the day and place for holding a meeting had been agreed upon, these most wicked men spent the interval in planning the death of the king. On the appointed day both parties met at the port called Ramsey, and sat down in order, the king and his followers on one side, and they with theirs on the other. Reginald, the second brother, who was to give the fatal blow, stood apart, speaking to one of the chiefs of the country. On being summoned to approach the king, turning to him as if in the act of saluting, he raised his gleaming battleaxe on high, and at a blow cut off the king’s head. As soon as this atrocious act was perpetrated they divided the country between them.[7]
Reconstruction of a Danish longboat
from this period

But this was not an end to the story.  Vengeance was on the horizon, as it almost always was among the warlords of the time. The chronicler continues:

In the following autumn Godred, his son, came from Norway with five ships, and put in at the Orkneys. All the chiefs of the Isles were rejoiced when they heard of his arrival, and assembling together, unanimously elected him for their king. Godred then came to Man, seized the three sons of Harold, and, to avenge his father’s murder, awarded them the death they deserved. Another story is that he put out the eyes of two of them, and put the third to death.

While ruling as King of Man and the Isles, Godred was asked by the Dublin men to come to be their king, which did not at all please Murrough, King of Ireland.  Godred  was able to triumph over Murrough, then returned to Man, where, the chroniclers say, he grew rather full of himself:

When he now found himself secure on his throne, and that no one could oppose him, he began to act tyrannically towards his chiefs, depriving some of their inheritances, and others of their dignities. Of these, one named Thorfinn, son of Oter, more powerful than the rest, went to Somerled, and begged for his son Dugald, that he might make him king over the Isles. Somerled, highly gratified by the application, put Dugald under the direction of Thorfinn, who received and led him through all the islands, subjecting them all to him, and taking hostages from each.

Once Godred got wind of Somerled’s scheme, the fight was on.  A naval battle was prepared and fought, but matters came to a draw apparently, as after only one day, Somerled and Godred agreed to divide the islands among them.  Now, the Chronicle of Man, which serves as historians’ main source of information about the history of the isles, was written by monks at Rushen Abbey, whose founder was Godred’s father.  Therefore, we can hardly be surprised that the monk who wrote the account, perhaps a hundred years later, clinched his narrative with this jab:  Thus was the kingdom of the Isles ruined from the time the sons of Somerled got possession of it.”
Rushen Abbey

Ruined, indeed, for two short years later, Somerled broke his truce with Godred, who fled to Norway, leaving Somerled the undisputed King of Man and the Isles.

The next we hear of Somerled in the chronicles is the narrative of his death. The Chronicle of Melrose reports, under the year 1164: 

Sumerled, the under-king of Eregeithel [i.e., Argyll], who had been in a state of wicked rebellion for twelve years against his natural lord, Malcolm, king of Scotland, landed at Renfrieu [Renfrew], with a large army which he had collected together in Ireland and various other places.” [8]

As before, we see that the monks don’t have much favorable to say about Somerled.  It isn’t that the man was a pagan or an atheist.  There was church building and support for monasteries in his regions, notably Saddell Abbey, a Cistercian center in Argyll (built probably by Somerled’s son Ranald, though some say by Somerled himself).  Moreover, his daughter Bethoc (Beatrix) was prioress of Iona, no small honor. Someone probably needs to undertake a study of Somerled’s religious leanings by comparing the places he supported with the places that seemed not to like the man at all. 
Ruins of Saddell Abbey

At any rate, the story of Somerled’s demise was written down in poetic form in “The Song of the Death of Somerled,” a Latin poem written by a monk who identifies himself as William at the end of the work.  The poem is an account of the Battle of Renfrew, which occurred in 1164, not far from Glasgow.  Alex Woolf of the University of St. Andrews has written a persuasive article which suggests that the first twenty-four lines of the poem are actually a narrative of Somerled’s 1153 invasion, depicting an attack on Glasgow in which Kentigern, the patron saint of the city, is dishonored by the Isleman’s sack of the place.[9]  If so, then we see the latter half of the poem as St. Kentigern’s long-awaited vindication.

The poem tells how Herbert, bishop of Glasgow, “venerable and praiseworthy,” hearing of Somerled’s return, “at once spurned his bed, and set out immediately on a journey, night and day, as if a young man . . . to free and save himself from the hand of hateful Somerled, repulsive with fraud, most savage of enemies. . . .”[10] 

Reproduction of Walter FitzAlan's Seal
It is known that Somerled had arrived with an army of 15,000 in a flotilla of 160 Hebridean birlinns. King Malcolm’s army was led by Walter FitzAlan, High Steward of Scotland, with Scoto-Norman knights and men-at-arms.  In the poem, however, Somerled is engaged by Bishop Herbert and his “innocent one hundred.”  Somerled falls “in the first crack of battle . . . wounded by a spear, felled by a sword.” With him falls his son, Gillecallum.  Though William’s statement that “none of those fighting against them was killed or wounded” stretches credulity, Somerled’s army did scatter once their leader’s death was known.  But William tells the ending  best:

And so with the troops of the enemy driven off and mocked,
the whole kingdom praised Kentigern with loud voices.
The cleric cut off the head of unhappy Somerled, and
gave it into the hands of the bishop:
as he was accustomed, he wept piously, when he saw
the head of his enemy, saying that the Scottish saints should surely be praised.
And he delivered the victory to blessed Kentigern:
Hold his memory always, and fittingly.

With Somerled's head in Herbert's hand, the balance of the universe had been restored, at least in the mind of the bishop and his beloved Glaswegians.

It was a vicious age, and men both won their kingdoms and lost them through conquest.  The Norse eventually re-established themselves in Somerled’s territories, wresting control from his son Dugald, but the history of Scotland became, in large part, the history of Somerled as so many of Scotland’s great men have had their origins in him.  Perhaps the great Scottish author Sir Walter Scott conveys Scotland's memory of Somerled best in his poem, “Lord of the Isles,” set 150 years after the fall of Somerled in the days of Robert the Bruce when Somerled’s descendant, Ronald, is to be wed:

The heir of mighty Somerled!
 Ronald from many a hero sprung,
The fair, the valiant, and the young,
LORD OF THE ISLES, whose lofty name
A thousand bards have given to fame,
The mate of monarchs, and allied
 On equal terms with England’s pride.—
 From chieftain’s tower to bondsman’s cot,
Who hears the tale and triumphs not?[11]

[1] Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. New York: Norton, 2006. 126. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[2] “It Began with Somerled: Origins (Part 3).” Clan Donald Heritage.  n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[3] Saxons. 126.
[4] R. L. B. “Somerled of the Hebrides.” American Scandinavian.  Mar. 1912. 5.143. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[5] James Henry Lee. History of the Clan Donald, the Families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell. New York: Polk, 1920. 15. Google Books. n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.
[6] The Chronicle of Holyrood in The Church Historians of England. Trans.  Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeleys, 1853.  73. Internet Archive. 24 July 2006. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.
[7] The Chronicle of Man and the Sudreys. Ed. P. A. Munch. Trans. Alexander Goss. Douglas: Manx Society, 1874. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.  (Note: Some of the dates in the chronicle were placed at 15 years or so before the actual date.)
[8] The Chronicle of Melrose in The Church Historians of England. Trans.  Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeleys, 1853.  130. Internet Archive. 24 July 2006. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[9] “The Song of the Death of Somerled and the Destruction of Glasgow in 1153.” Academia. n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[10] “Song of the Death of Somerled.” Trans. Helen Foxfall Forbes. Academia. n. d. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[11] The Poems and Plays of Sir Walter Scott. Ed. Ernest Rhys. London: Dent, n.d.  2.297. 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.

(c) Eileen Cunningham, 2016

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fathers Friday - John Lanham, the Immigrant (1661-1745)

The County of Suffolk with Wortham at the center of the
northern border.
John Lanham, the immigrant, was born on May 18, 1661, in Wortham, England, which is located in the county of Suffolk.  He was the son of Jonathan Lanham (1630-1725) and Mary Marsh Lanham (1632-1705). 

The times were perilous.  King Charles II, having returned from exile on the continent, had been crowned less than a month before John Lanham’s birth.  Charles’s father, King Charles I, had been executed by the Puritan Parliament in 1649, and in the intervening years, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell had established a Commonwealth, making England a republic rather than a monarchy.  Following Cromwell’s death, the Commonwealth could not be sustained, and Charles’s son, with a heart bent on revenge, returned to England from exile on the continent to restore the monarchy and establish religious uniformity, requiring conformity to the Anglican Church.  The times were not propitious for the religious Dissenters of the country.

Little is known of John Lanham’s father or childhood, but it is a matter of record that young John found his way to London and emigrated to the New World as an indentured servant in 1678 at the age of only seventeen—not even old enough to have graduated from high school had  he been living today.  He arrived in Port Tobacco, Maryland, on the ship Dover, Captain John Harris commanding, as a servant indentured to Col. Benjamin Rozier (variously spelled as Rozer and Roser), who owned a plantation in Port Tobacco.

What exactly did it mean to be an “indentured servant”?  Persons who lacked the financial resources to pay passage to America could make their way to the New World by signing a contract, or indenture, with a landowner already in the colonies, who would pay for the emigrant’s passage in exchange for his or her agreement to work for a defined period (usually four to seven years) without pay.  During the period of indenture, in exchange for their labor, the land owner provided his indentured servants with food, clothing, housing, and the all-important training they would need when they struck out on their own.  When their term of servitude was complete, they were free to go their own way to fulfill their American dream of freedom and self-determination. 

To undertake an indenture was, to be sure, a risk, as life was harsh and uncertain, and persons striking out with indenture in hand could not know if they would even survive long enough to gain their freedom.  As depicted in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped, some unfortunates were unwillingly indentured, so for John Lanham to go willingly is a sign of a very strong desire to leave England.  What might have motivated him to put himself into the service of another person in a foreign land for perhaps up to seven years?  A look at the times in which he lived will give us a clue.
With John Lanham’s location being Suffolk and the year of his transportation to the New World, 1678, it is hard to neglect the possibility that the Lanham family were religious Nonconformists, a term applied to those whose religious views departed from the Church of England’s—folks such as Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians.  Suffolk had been the center of religious controversy before, when the famous Puritan leader John Winthrop had left England for the New World in 1630, twelve years before the beginning of the Civil War between the Puritan Parliament and the Anglican (some would even say Catholic) monarchy.
Coronation of Charles II, 1661
Cromwell’s Protectorate was, of course, Puritan in its outlook (meaning it wished the Reformation of the Church to continue in order to “purify” it of all non-biblical elements of medieval Catholicism).  However,  after Charles II took the throne in 1661, the Restoration began, a period when the philosophy “eat, drink, and be merry” was lived out at Charles’s court, and many who sought to practice a more serious way of life looked toward the New World as their hope for the future. 
Whether John Lanham’s motivation was religious freedom or an improvement in his economic condition, his decision to sign on for service in Maryland, in particular, is perhaps explained by the fact that his cousin, Josiah Lanham, had left for Maryland ten years earlier in 1668.  Josiah settled in Kent County, Maryland, and became a well-respected member of the community, marrying the daughter of Major James Ringold and serving as a justice of the peace. 
Indentured servants harvesting tobacco in
Tobacco Production by Sidney King
Once the indentured servant had finished his stipulated service, he would typically receive a new set of clothes along with his “freedom dues,” a pre-arranged termination bonus which could be land, money, or a gun.  John Lanham may have served a relatively short period of four years, as he appears in the records in 1682 as a debtor to John Watkins of Anne Arundel County.  Perhaps he had borrowed money as he set out on his life of independence. 
This loan and his own hard work apparently paid off as, by 1686, he was a cattle owner, which is known from the fact that he registered his cattle mark (brand) in Charles (now Prince George’s) County.
17th-century Bride
With stability within sight, he married a woman named Dorothy, and their first child, John, Jr., was born in 1690.  Genealogists have been unable to determine Dorothy’s surname with any certainty—some noting it as Burch (the name of a well-known Prince George’s County family) and others, as Shaw.  Dr. Howard G. Lanham in his work The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia favors the name Shaw for the following reason[1]:

On March 19, 1710/1, John Lanham was a party to an agreement between Prince George’s County resident Ralph Shaw, Sr., and the planter Edward Marlow, Sr., in which Marlow  agreed to provide life-long room and board to Shaw and his wife, presumably an older couple who were seeking retirement. In exchange for this room and board, Shaw signed over all his personal belongings to Marlow.  At the same time, Shaw gave Lanham two cows and calves and half of all the grain currently in his fields. Researcher Dr. Lanham believes that the equitable division of his assets suggests that Ralph Shaw may have been the father-in-law of both John Lanham and Edward Marlow.  Though this cannot be proved, it is probably as close as we can come to identifying the family of Dorothy (or Dorotha, as it appears in the records).

The children of John and Dorothy Lanham who survived to adulthood included the following:
1.  John, Jr., (1690-1763)                  
2.  Richard (1697-1750)
3.  William (1699-1750)
4.  Ralph (1701-1742) (twin?)
5.  Thomas (1701-1754) (twin?)

As the years passed after his marriage, John Lanham continued to advance and prosper.[2] 
 1694:  On October 3, he was able to purchase a tract of 219 acres of land called Oxmontown, originally patented to Lanham and another man named William Hutchinson.  However, on October 18, Hutchinson assigned the land to Lanham alone.  This tract was on the Piscataway Branch (or Creek), on the north side of which a town called Lanhams is depicted in a map of 1794, which is probably the same place of the current Lanham, Maryland, an unincorporated community with a population of just over 10,000 people.
Piscataway Creek with town of  Lannhams just north (lower left quarter)
from Map of the State of Maryland, 1794
1696:  On April 10, he was asked to serve as witness to a deed, on which he made his characteristic mark (see at right).  This request indicates that he was a man who had the respect of his neighbors.
1697:  In November, he recorded registered marks for cattle and hogs on behalf of his sons.[3]

1699: On May 15, John, Sr., was the administrator of the inventory of Michael Kersey of Prince George’s County, perhaps a neighbor.[4] In these last two documents, his name is recorded as Lannum and Lennam, respectively, not uncommon in the era before spelling was standardized and people wrote down what they thought they heard.

1705: On May 13, John Lanham, now age 44, was granted a patent for Lannin’s Addition, 200 acres in Prince George’s County, which had been assigned to him  by Luke Gardner, Jr., on October 13, 1704. The land adjoined Stony Harbor. 

The subsequent deeds that appear in the records of Prince George’s County show that at the age of 52, John was beginning to transfer his property to his sons.

1713:  On September 22,  John Lanham (now styled Senior) transferred the 100 acres of a tract called Lanham’s Addition to his son, John Lanham, Jr., for “love and affection.” Dorotha Lanham gave up dower rights to that property. About three weeks earlier, the records show that John, Sr., had transferred a 100-acre tract simply called Addition to his second son, Richard Lanham.  However, researcher Dr. Howard Lanham notes it is not clear if the Addition was a different tract or the same one given the following September to John, Jr. No other source mentions a Lanham-held tract simply called Addition. Four years later, on November 16, 1717, Lanham’s Addition was transferred to John, Jr., once again under the same terms: “for love and affection” with Dorotha Lanham giving up her dower rights.

1729:  On May 3, John Lanham, Sr., transferred Oxmontown, 95 acres, to his son Richard again for “love and affection” with Dorotha Lanham, wife of John Lanham, Sr. giving up her dower rights.

1744: On January 19, John Lanham, Sr., transferred the remaining section of Oxmontown to his son Richard.  In this case, the term “for love and affection” was specified, but there was no mention of his wife giving up her dower rights. The deed also mentioned that 45 acres were reserved for William Lanham, John Sr.’s, third son.

John Lanham died in 1745 at the age of eighty-four.  From the lot of a hungry lad of seventeen setting out on rough seas to an uncertain future to the status of a prosperous landowner with a large family and the respect of his community, John Lanham epitomizes the American ideal of hard work, determination, and an upright life.  Interestingly, if he were buried near Lanham, Maryland, in Prince George’s County, where his property was known to be, he lies interred just 19 miles northeast of the resting place of his sixth great-grandson, Patric Levi Lanham (1915-1954), a naval photographer of World War II who lies in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Robert Louis StevensonRequiem seems to capture the family bond:
Under the wide and starry sky 
  Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ’grave for me:
  Here he lies where he longd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
  And the hunter home from the hill.


 (c) Eileen Cunningham, 2015

[1] “Controversies in Lanham Genealogy. Topic Three: Who Was the Wife of John Lanham?”
[2] The details in this section were discovered by Dr. Howard G. Lanham and presented in The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia. For complete documentation, see:
[3] This document is problematic in my opinion in that Dr. Lanham states that the marks were made for John, Jr., Richard, and Thomas.  However, Thomas was not born until 1701.
[4] 1658-1758. Charles County, MD, Families “First 100 Years”: Wills, Court, Church, Land, Inventories, & Accounts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Amanuensis Monday -1787 North Carolina Land Record for Abel Lanham

State of North Carolina
Know ye that we have given and granted unto Abel Lanham a tract of land containing two hundred acres lying and being in our County of Green lying on Bent Creek the waters of the Nolychucky [sic] River. Beginning at a stake on William Rupert’s line thence North one hundred and one poles[1] to a white oak thence West two hundred and sixty poles to a stake on John [?] Alan’s line, thence South one hundred and forty six poles to the Beginning. To hold to the said Abel Lanham his heirs and assigns forever. Dated the 20th September 1787.

[1] A pole was the British term for a linear or square rod.  A linear rod was 5.50 yards (16.5 feet).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fathers Friday - Abel Lanham: From “Traitor” to Hero—An American Life (1762-1838)

Just so that you will not be alarmed by the title, let me say upfront that Abel Lanham was not a traitor to the patriot cause in the Revolutionary War, but we will get to the accusation anon.

Abel was the great-grandson of John Lanham (1661-1745), who had come to America from Wortham, England, in 1679.[i] He paid for his transportation by signing an indenture that bound him for five years to Col. Benjamin Rozier of Charles County, Maryland.[ii]  In Maryland in 1679, John married a woman named Dorothy (debate continues regarding her surname, either Shaw or Burch[iii]), and their son William Lanham was the grandfather of Abel Lanham.  The family lived in Prince George’s County, Maryland, for more than sixty years.  
Sample Indenture

Then William’s son John Lanham, father of Abel Lanham, moved from Prince George’s County (formerly Charles County), Maryland, to North Carolina, where his marriage to Comfort Brown was recorded in 1742.[iv]  John and Comfort were the parents of six children, the youngest being Abel Lanham, who was born in Mecklenburg County in 1762.

Eighteenth-century records, which present the name variously as both Lanham and Langham, show land grants to Abel’s father in both Anson and Mecklenburg Counties.  Interestingly, one of his Mecklenburg properties was a land grant for 150 acres on the Millstone Branch of Fishing Creek, near the property of Peter Kuykendal, whose daughter Jean became Abel Lanham’s wife on December 3, 1777.[v]  The Kuykendalls had been in the colonies since 1646, arriving from Holland and living first in New Netherland, later to become New York.  At the time of their marriage, both Abel and Jean were fifteen years old.

Much is known about Abel’s service in the Revolutionary War since he provided a narrative of  his military service in February 1837, when he applied for a veteran’s pension.  Perhaps it is better to let Abel tell his own story, presented here with its original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization:
First Broad River and Second Broad River can be seen
in the upper left corner of the map.
“I entered the service of the United States the 1st of March 1778, as a volunteer, and as a private, under the command of Captain Kerkendall [sic], in the Regiment of William Grimes in Rutherford County in the State of North Carolina.  We rendezvoused on a creek called Sandy run.  My Captain and company were detached from the Regiment and ordered to go in quest of outlying Tories.  We crossed 1st and 2nd broad rivers to the frontiers of the State for the purpose of intercepting men who were in the habit of doing mischief, and then fleeing to the mountains.  We also kept in awe [dread], such men as were inclined to harbour bad men.  We marched from place to place as necessity required, and kept the disaffected citizens from collecting together.  We took ten tories in our rout, and delivered them over to Col. [William] Grimes, who commanded our Regiment.  We were kept in the service scouting about from place to place until the last of May, when we were discharged by Col. Grimes; having been in the service three months.
“On the 1st of March 1779 I volunteered my service again as a private in the service of the United States, in Rutherford County State of North Carolina under the command of the said Captain Kerkendall, and Col. Grimes, we met at a place called the Cross roads, I was marched from there to the frontier settlements, to a fort called McFadden [near Rutherfordton], where we were stationed for three months for the purpose of protecting the citizens engaged in cultivating their farms.  We were engaged while there in marching about, sometimes across the Blue ridge, and in the [?] mountains, guarding the passes through which it was thought the Indians would attempt to pass into the settlement and then returned to our Fort.  We were discharged the first of June 1779, and returned home.
Blue Ridge Mountains

“From North Carolina I, the said Abel Lanham, went into South Carolina, on a visit to my sister, and whilst there I volunteered again as a private on the first of September 1781, in Orangeburg District under the Command of Captain [William] Young, my Colonel’s name I cannot now recollect, and joined Col. or General Sumpter at Orangeburg Court house.  Sumpter lay at Orangeburg Courthouse three months, during which time we had to subsist chiefly by foraging.  Whilst here we did nothing of importance and during this time [General Anthony] Wayne came on there on his way to Georgia. I was again discharged the first of February 1782.  I then went to Washington County, North Carolina (now Tennessee).  The first of September 1782, I volunteered again, in sd. County under the Command of Captain Samuel Ware, in the Regiment of Col. John Sevier, as a private.  This service I performed as a horseman.  We were marched against the Cherokee nation of Indians.  We started from the Big Island on French Broad river, and marched to Tennessee river, and crossed the same at an Indian Town called Chota—from there to Hiwasee river, passed Bulls town and crossed Cooses river to an Indian Town called Estanolee, from there to little shoemaker plains and from there to old Hiwasee Town [Hiwasee Old Town].  In this campaign we destroyed the Indian crops and fourteen towns and returned home December 1st 1782, when I was discharged. This was my last service as a soldier.”
Henry Timberlake's map of the Cherokee country, 1765, showing
Chote about mid-way in the S-curve.

Now let’s examine the bogus charge of treason.  On July 8, 1782, Abel Lanham and 110 other men were charged in Rutherford County, North Carolina, of having aided the king of England on October 1, 1780.  Specifically, the charge stated that these men “with force & Arms in the County aforesaid Wickedly & treacherously entending and Designing as far as in them lay to Overturn the present free Government of this State & reduce the inhabitants thereof Under the Power of the Army of Great Britain then & now at Open War with this State and the United States of America did then & there with force and Arms feloinously [sic] & treacherously Knowingly & Willfully did aid & assist the said King by Joining his Army Commanded by Major [Patrick] Ferguson and by bearing Arms in the Service of the said King Against the Good Government Peace and Dignity of this State.”[vi] 

Now, it is true that Major Ferguson was sweeping through the Carolinas to enlist loyalists to fight with him.  It is also true that on October 7, 1780, just six days after the alleged treachery of Abel Lanham and others, Ferguson was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain.  It is interesting to note that one of the commanders of the American patriots at King’s Mountain was Col. John Sevier.[vii]  It is highly unlikely that a man who had been with Ferguson at King’s Mountain fighting against John Sevier would be fighting with him in September 1782—just two months after the charges of treachery were brought!  And a man who had been fighting with the patriots since 1777, at that!

Certainly the new government of the United States never brought charges against Lanham, and when he applied for a pension in 1837, it was granted in the amount of $20 per annum.  What’s more, his second wife, Sarah Nunn Lanham, was granted a widow’s pension in the same amount in 1840, retroactive to 1838, the date of Abel Lanham’s death.  At least one other person on the list of the accused has also been vindicated, Freeman Jones, who was also granted a pension after the war.[viii]

One might wonder why such serious, yet unsubstantiated, claims could be made, and in that context we have to look at what happened to loyalists.  Some escaped to Canada.  Some were tortured. Some were hanged.   But in all cases their lands were confiscated and sold, with the profit going toward the war effort.  Therefore, it was a temptation to unscrupulous neighbors to make false accusations and scoop up the land when it became available. 
A Tory under arrest by patriots

After the war, white settlers began to move westward and treaties were made with the Cherokee to establish what might be called “zones” of ethnic communities.  Tennessee would not become a state until 1796, but change was coming on as North Carolina started ceding land to the federal government.  Abel Lanham’s name emerges next in August 1795 when 600 acres in what would become Grainger County, Tennessee, were surveyed for him and another man, Alexander Martin.
Cherokee Territory, 1804

The dates of birth for the children of Abel and Jean are all post-war.  The first, Elizabeth, is reported by some researchers as having been born in Camden District, South Carolina and by others, Lee County, Virginia, but all agree her birth date was 4 March 1780.  This date was between Abel’s second and third deployment, and the war was still raging.   The second child, Robert, born 1786, did not survive, but most researchers locate his birthplace in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  The third child, Solomon, born 1 January 1788, identified his birthplace as Tennessee (or what ultimately became Tennessee) in the census record of 1850,[ix] so this puts us on firm ground as saying that after the war, Abel and Jean were among those who moved somewhat to the west of their childhood homes and settled in the Claiborne County area, where members of the family still reside today.

From 1784, when the 600 acres were surveyed for Lanham and Martin, until November 1837, Abel Lanham is on record both buying and selling land in not only Claiborne County, but Greene and Grainger Counties as well.[x]  In addition, he was active in the community.  For example, in about 1802, he was one of the commissioners selected to locate the seat of justice and lay out the town of Tazewell, Tennessee, where the first house was erected in 1803.  From 1810 to 1814, he served as a trustee for the county administration.[xi] 

Statue of Col. John
On 20 June 1797, Lanham was commissioned by John Sevier as a lieutenant in the regiment of Grainger County.  Sevier, under whom Lanham had served during the campaign against the Cherokee during the Revolution, was at that time governor of Tennessee.  Two years later, Sevier named Lanham justice of the peace for Grainger County.[xii]

Jean Kuykendall Lanham died 29 August 1810 at the age of forty-eight and was buried in the Lanham cemetery near Tazewell.  Between 1780 and 1808, Jean had borne thirteen children. On September 6, 1818, Abel married his second wife, Sarah Nun (Nunn), and from that union, eight children were born.

It is hard to say what caused Abel to fall on hard times in 1837 to such a degree that he sought a veteran’s pension for the first time.  In his statement given at the Claiborne County Court in August of that year, Abel stated that “he would have applied sooner, but he was then in independent circumstances, and was, as he thought, able to live comfortably without assistance from the government; he further states that he never intended applying for a pension whilst in affluence, but that misfortunes have of late come upon him and he has been forced to part with his property and is now reduced to want.”[xiii] 
Abel Lanham's Will
p. 1

On 3 July 1838, Abel Lanham wrote his will.  The heart of the will reads, thus, with its original conventions of language:

“I give and bequeath to Sarah my dearly beloved wife all and singular the remainder of my land and movable estate to be applied to raising my dear children or so much of my said estate as may be left after all my Just debts are well and truely paid. At the death of my wife Sarah if there be any property left it is my will that [it] be sold for cash and equally divided between my last children.  Likewise Sarah Lanham my beloved wife whom I constitute make and ordain my sole Exutrix of this my last will and testament.”[xiv]  He died about eight weeks later on 22 August 1838 and was buried beside his first wife, Jean, in the Lanham cemetery near Tazewell.
Graves of Jean Kuykendall Lanham (left)
and Abel Lanham (right)

But that is not the end of the story.  In 1974, Zella Armstrong published a book entitled Some Tennessee Heroes of the Revolution, based on the government’s Revolutionary War pension records.  On pages 20-21, she recounts the narrative that Abel himself provided in 1837, which appears above.[xv]  Then on 12 November 2005, 167 years after his passing, the people of Claiborne County, a place carved from the wilderness by Abel Lanham himself, was honored by the dedication of his grave.  Under the auspices of the Bonny Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the General Joseph Martin Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, forty to fifty people gathered by that simple countryside grave for the ceremony, which followed this program: 

Trumpet call by the Reverend Samuel Johnson

Presentation of Colors by Rutledge High School

Welcome by Patricia F. Hunter of the DAR

Invocation by June Burnett, DAR Chaplain

Pledge of Allegiance by Todd Williams of the SAR

Posting of the Colors by JROTC of Rutledge High School

Presentation of certificates by Virgil Herrell, Claiborne County Mayor

Historical narrative by Ollie Ellison of the DAR

Tribute in honor of Abel Lanham by Chuck Minton, great-grandson
Headstone of Abel Lanham,
Lanham Cemetery, Tazewell, Tennessee

In his tribute, Minton said, in part, “We are gathered here today in honor of an individual who believed, as most colonists of the 13 colonies did, in a dream to be free of tyranny. At the age of 16, the man who lies here in this cromlech took up arms to defend this dream. This dream is now called America. . . . From his youth to his death, Abel Lanham witnessed the birth of the United States and ultimately the birth of a county known by the name of Claiborne County.  This country and this county will always remember you, Abel Lanham, for a job well done.”[xvi] 

And so endures the memory of Abel Lanham, a man once falsely accused of treachery but now remembered and honored as an American hero.  It is the stuff of dreams and well illustrated by this American life.

[i]  U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s.  Maryland, Year: 1679. 281.  Provo, UT, USA. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

[ii] Charles Co. Ejectment papers: Rozier, Henry; MSA Maryland patent libers 16:71 and WC #2:130. Cited in Oran Stroud Lanham. “The John Lanham Family 1661.” Rev. ed. Clifford W. Lanham and Kevin W. Lanham, eds.  1.3.5. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

[iii] Lanham, Howard G. “Controversies in Lanham Genealogy.” Angelfire. n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

[iv] Yates Publishing. U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900. Provo, UT. Operations Inc, 2004.

[v] Jeff Barefoot. “Records of the Lanham Family of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.” 1991. Available Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

[vi] U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Provo, UT: 2010. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

[vii] Michael Toomey. “John Sevier (1745-1815).” North Carolina History Project.  John Locke Foundation. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

[viii] Doris Froehmer. “Re: Freeman Jones Sr.-1782 Rutherford Co. Court of Pleas & Quarter.” To Jones-Freeman-L Archives. Rootsweb. 28 Apr. 2002. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.  

[ix] 1850 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT:2009. Operations. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[x] Barefoot.

[xi] Barefoot.

[xii] “The Lanham Cemetery.” Claiborne County Cemeteries.  Rootsweb. n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

[xiii] U.S. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Images 522-23. Accessed 26 Oct. 2015.


[xv] Baltimore:Genealogical, 1975. 20-21. n.d. 27 Oct. 2015.

[xvi] “Dedication of Abel Lanham Grave.” Claiborne Progress. 17 Nov. 2005. Cited in Joe Paine. Webworks. n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

(c) Eileen Cunningham, 2015