Category: The Uncommonly Common (page 2 of 2)

Damn Yankee Gone South!

I had a chance to get to the local Family Search Center here in Charlottesville this morning. I was interested in finding out what they had that I could access. So I found that out and found a cousin (by marriage) at the same time. First, the cousin, Dottie Nicholson Sullivan was manning the center with her husband Wayne. She mentioned her family difficulties in tracing the Nicholsons back out of Virginia. I said, "Nicholsons? We may be related!"

She explained and, lo and behold, she is a descendant of a related family branch of the Wilsons, not directly related to me but to Clara Frances Nicholson of Madison, Virginia. Clara married the great-great-grandson of Edward Paul Dyer who was born in Topsham, Maine, in 1841.

Edward's story is interesting and quite unique among the Wilsons because he's one of the few who went south in the 1800s. He went to Virginia during the civil war with the 16th Maine Regiment. His story was thoroughly examined by Henry W. Bashore who wrote Old Rag Mountain, Rebirth of a Wilderness, in 2006[1]. Edward's story is one of two about Wilsons who went south included in my book.

The Shenandoah National Park

Bashore's book is about families displaced from the Shenandoah National Park in 1935 to return the land to the wilderness you see today on the Skyline Parkway only 30 miles or so up the road from here. The park meets all expectations but the story of its birth from this family's point of view is a sad tale indeed.

"Money didn't buy Shenandoah Park," said Randolph Shifflet, who was 8 years old when government men torched his family farm. "It was bought with tears, heartaches, grief and hardship."

Bashore goes on to say

"Your next visit to the park will have a fuller, deeper meaning for you if you consider the heartaches and hardships the mountain people endured when they were removed from their homes and their land. Because of their sacrifice, we have the privilege of enjoying the natural beauty of the mountain streams, forests, canyons and the majestic views from the mountain peaks." [2]

I couldn't said it any better myself. It's just gorgeous here in middle Virginia. We have views of the mountains – not overwhelming views but quick glimpses as you turn a corner or crest a hill. This is the first time I've lived near mountains since 1968 and it's one of the reasons why we live here. It's really hard to describe the lift I get every time I get rewarded with a mountain view just riding around town.

Virginia – Where All Us Southerners Originate From

Having the park so close is another benefit and it never occurred to me that I would find family ties to the park or even to Virginia. When we moved here in 2008, I was not interested in genealogy. I knew my mother had some family information but she had never delivered it to me.

Turns out I have major roots here in Virginia. The Elam family were some of the original settlers in the Bermuda Hundred shortly after the Jamestown colory failed. The Vances' first appearance in the New World was in Rockbridge County, Virginia in the late 1700s. The Maynards came through Mecklenburg County on their way to Edgefield, South Carolina, in the mid to later 1700s.

My husband family (without the Yankees) is even more typical. Every one of his ancestors came early to Virginia.

It just seems only right to have a Wilson connection to Virginia as well!

Edward Paul Dyer

Edward was born 16 Oct 1840[3] in Topsham, Maine to Charles Dyer and Mary Ann Margaret Alexander. Margaret's great grandmother was Jennet Wilson, the only known Wilson daughter of James Wilson. This is the original Wilson family that arrived with the Robert Temple ships in Maine in 1719.

Jennet married William Alexander and they moved closer to the ocean to Harpswell, Maine, to establish a family dynasty of their own. Many of their descendants were sea captains and it was their family I traced first after starting the Wilson project. Margaret, in fact, had two brothers, Joseph and Thomas, who were captains. Both their gravestones have that fact engraved on them.

Edward's mother was barely sixteen when she gave birth to Edward. I couldn't find a marriage or divorce record for Margaret and Charles but Margaret married William S Michaels on 4 April 1843[4] when Edward was only two so it is likely that William was the only father he had known. Charles died when Edward was just six years old.[5] His mother, Margaret, died 3 Jan 1861.

The next year both Edward and his half-brother joined the military together on 14 Aug 1862[6], the first day of service or the 16th Maine Regiment. Half-brother William was only 16 and lied about his age in order to be able to enlist.

We do know that William's death occurred 18 Feb 1863[7] in Virginia. There are no details – he may have been wounded before that. Edward is listed as deserting on 20 Jan 1863.[8] That is right after the disastrous Battle of Fredricksburg. The actual day was a horrible one for all of the 16th regiment. They were on the march in some incredibly bad weather with rain, under equipped and having just lost 13,000 men at Fredricksburg.

From A.R. Small's 16th Regimental History:

"January 20. A long wearisome march was now before us. The threatening rain came down in torrents. At 12:00 noon, we took up the line of march in the direction of Falmouth, crossed the railroad, continued up the Rappahannock until 9:00 p.m… The storm increased in power, and torrents of rain drenched us. In the darkness regiments and brigades became separated, companies went astray and whole divisions of troops were in helpless confusion."[9]

Desertion in the Civil War

Did Edward inadvertently get separated and lost as some have theorized? Or did he truly just desert? That question will probably never be answered but it is important to understand that desertion then was not unusual nor was it the shameful thing it became later. Not only that but the desertion rate of Union soldiers far exceeded that of the Confederates.

"The daily hardships of war, deficiency in arms, forced marches (which sometimes made straggling a necessity for less vigorous men), thirst, suffocating heat, disease, delay in pay,~ solicitude for family, impatience at the monotony and futility of inactive service, and (though this was not the leading cause) panic on the eve of battle – these were some of the conditioning factors that produced desertion. Many men absented themselves merely through unfamiliarity with military discipline or through the feeling that they should be "restrained by no other legal requirements than those of the civil law governing a free people"; and such was the general attitude that desertion was often regarded "more as a refusal . . – to ratify a contract than as the commission of a grave crime." "[10]

That same article states in December of 1862, " no less than 180,000 of the soldiers listed on the Union muster rolls were absent, with or without leave." from the Union army. After the Mud March of January 20? If Edward deserted, I expect he was in good company with understandable reasons and no shame attached to his actions then. Add in the fact that his mother was dead and that he might have known about his half-brother's injuries and pending death and you have a recipe for desertion.

One of the tales told in Bashore's book is that Edward was "wrestling and playing around near the camp boundary. As they wrestled they moved closer to the camp boundary and eventually just walked awary from camp." A truly benign tale and just as possible as running away from the action though the weather on the 20th was certainly not conductive to such behavior. Just because his desertion date is listed as January 20, however, does not mean that is the actual date he left.

Working through all the family tales is the fun part of this story and there are many tales, not all chronicled in Bashor's book. Will we ever know the truth? Probably not but the information I unearthed during this research does help to discount some of those tales handed down from generation to generation.

— edited 13 June 2015

  1. Bashore
  2. Bashore, 3.
  3. Edward Paul Dyer, death certificate no. 3715, Virginia Bureau of Statistics, Richmond.
  4. "Maine, Marriages, 1771-1907," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 February 2015), William S. Michiels and Margaret Alexander, 04 Apr 1843; citing Brunswick,Cumberland,Maine, reference ; FHL microfilm 10,595.
  5. Maine State Archives; Cultural Building, 84 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0084; Pre 1892 Delayed Returns; Roll #: 32
  6. Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.
  7. Maine State Archives; Cultural Building, 84 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0084; Pre 1892 Delayed Returns; Roll #: 75
  8. Historical Data Systems, comp.. American Civil War Soldiers [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999.
  9. A. R. Small, The Sixteenth Maine Regiment in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Portland, Maine, B.Thurston & Company: 1886), 92.
  10. Desertion in the Civil War Armies,, accessed 15 May 2014.

The Arrival, 1719 – 1722, Chapter 4

Note: this is chapter 4 from my book The Uncommonly Common about the arrival of James and Jean Wilson of Maine.

Ships laden with the Scotch Irish started arriving in 1718 and continued up to 1722. One particular one is of interest. Bolton teased out what details were available about them and lists three ships arriving in 1718 and 1719 from Ireland and Londonderry and bound for the Kennebec (river) and Casco Bay.[1]

These were among the ships arranged by Robert Temple. Bolton states, “Temple could not persuade [Captain] Law and his company to continue their voyage to Connecticut, and on the eighth of September the “Maccallum” sailed out of Boston harbor, for the territory owned by the Gentlemen Proprietors of Eastern Lands, at the mouth of the Kennebec River”.[2]

Settlers from the Maccallum and the succeeding ships spread towards Nutfield, New Hampshire, and into the Merrymeeting Bay cities of Brunswick (established as Township May 1717) and Topsham (subsequently laid out in 1717).[3] (Anyone with an interest in the particulars of the early history and founding of Topsham and Brunswick will find details in the Wheelers’ History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell.) Much of this land was purchased from the Indians in the later 1600s after King James granted a charter in 1620. Many of the Indians had vacated the area by 1713 after the Treaty of Portsmouth ended most of the regional strife.

But by 1721, war with the Indians once again reigned. Then, in 1722, war was declared that lasted 3 years. Named Father Rales, Lovewell’s or Dummer’s war, the root cause was disputed territory east of the Kennebec, the agreed upon boundary in the treaty. Settlers started moving into the area and Indians of the Wabanaki Confederacy eventually started pushing back[4].

In June of 1722, Indians seized (and released) nine entire families in Merrymeeting Bay, not very far north of the Brunswick area where early settlers were living – bringing home the war to my ancestors.[5] The next month on the twelfth Brunswick was “reduced to ashes”.[6]

Bolton describes life then in Maine: “During these days of Indian warfare, pillage and reprisal, men were impressed for sentinel duty, and distributed in small groups at garrison houses throughout the frontier towns in Maine, which was then under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. One of the unpleasant experiences of young Scotch Irishmen was to be met in the street by an officer and his attendants, and forced into military service. Many fell sick under the strain of such a life in the Maine woods, and through rough usage at the hands of officers. This ill-treatment fell heaviest upon the ‘Irish’, and particularly at the outset of the Indian troubles.”[7]

At this point some of the more affluent (I assume) settlers fled permanently south towards Boston and to Pennsylania. The ones left behind would be those who owned land and those who had no where to go. Some of hardy Scotch Irish would be included in that population who had no where to go.

A number tried to sail to Boston but were “warned off”. Included in those lists on “July 28, 1722 from the Eastward viz.1 [the following who from their names, notably that of McFarland, evidently came from about Merrymeeting Bay .][8] is a Jean Wilson with 4 Children. Bolton also lists Jean and a James Wilson as settlers of Merrymeeting Bay Scotch Irish Settlers, 1718-1722.[9] So Jean was fleeing Brunswick within weeks of the incursion on July 12.

In a 1914 volume about the Alexanders of Topsham, we find William Alexander “married Jennet, daughter of James Wilson, who came from Ulster, Ireland, to Topsham, Maine, in 1719”[10]. The Wheelers describe the Wilsons in Topsham, “Among the early settlers of Topsham were Hugh, Samuel, Robert, William, and Thomas Wilson ; and an Alexander Wilson settled at Harpswell. Hugh, Samuel, Robert, William, and Alexander were probably brothers. Thomas, according to family tradition, was of no relation to the others of the name. A James Wilson is called the father of Hugh, and so was probably father of Robert, Samuel, William, Alexander, and Jane, who m. William Alexander of Topsham, afterwards of Harpswell.”[11]

The Wheelers go on to describe the sons in more detail, thus laying the foundation for the known information of James Wilson (my sixth great grandfather), his sons, Hugh, Robert, William, Samuel and daughter, Jane or Jennett.

So starts my genealogy – which quickly ballooned into more.

  1. Charles Knowles Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (Boston: Bacon and Brown, 1910), 133-153.
  2. Bolton, 142.
  3. George Augustus Wheeler, M.D. and Henry Warren Wheeler, History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell including the ancient territory known as Pejebscot (Boston: Alfred Mudge and Sons, Printers, 1878), 29.
  4. Rale’s War,, accessed online 4/12/2014.
  5. William Durkee Williamson, The History of the State of Maine: from its First Discovery, AD 1602, to the Separation, AD 1820, Inclusive, Vol. II (Hallowell: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1832), 114.
  6. Williamson, 114.
  7. Bolton, 227.
  8. Bolton, 231-232.
  9. Bolton, 238.
  10. William M. Clemens, Alexander Family Records. An Account of the First American Settlers and Colonial Families of the Name of Alexander, and Other Genealogical and Historical Data, Mostly New and Original Material Including Early Wills and Marriages Heretofore Unpublished (New York: the author, 1914), 15.
  11. Wheeler, 860.

The Uncommonly Common is still a work in process. If anyone finds any errors, I beg you to inform me!

Setting the Scene, Chapter 2

Note: this is chapter 2 from my book, The Uncommonly Common.

I'm starting this off just like most genealogies – about the name Wilson – but I am warning you, this is a story of more, for it is a tale of a number of entwined families of early Maine.

According to, Wilson is the tenth most common name in the United States[1]; it is even more common in Great Britain – the seventh most common name there[2] As normal with a name with son on the end, Wilson at one time probably was son of Will, a popular medieval name.

First recorded in England in 1324[3], the name Willeson gave rise to the present day Wilson and Willson, the more common American spellings. It is found among the Scottish and Irish as well as the British. There are multiple coats of arms (over 70!) so I am not even going to talk about the possibilities of that. I'm pretty sure my forebears were not worried about that kind of thing: they worried about survival.

The origin of the name William (where Will probably came from) is actually quite important in genealogy because of DNA. William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, was a descendant of the Vikings. His 1066 entry into England brought the blood of those Vikings into Anglo-Saxon England.

If your ancestors are from the British Isles, your DNA test is quite likely to show Scandinavian origins.[4] Mine does, my husband's does (he is mostly English) and, as the footnoted page tells you, "even individuals with deep British pedigrees often have some Scandinavian" ancestry. So there is almost no such thing as pure English, Irish or Scottish.

In fact, origins can to get really murky for us of Scotch Irish descent as my line of Wilsons (and one of my southern lineages) is. My DNA test is right on the mark with Irish, Scandinavian, British, Scottish, French and Polish origins – nice to have that confirmation!

Wilsons can be solely English or Scottish but the Scotch Irish Wilsons of Maine make no claims to either. This Scotch Irish background is extremely important for these Wilsons as it explains a lot of things I found in this family tree.

I had been told I had Scotch Irish origins and years later I was totally confused about whether my Scotch Irish Presbyterian southern ancestors on my Mom's side originated in Scotland or Ireland and what difference did it make?

I found the answers in my Yankee tree. The Scotch Irish background is a tale of survival starting back in Scotland originally for some but this American term is more likely used to describe the Protestant inhabitants of Northeastern Ireland or Ulster who came to America in the 1700s and the 1800s. The term Scotch Irish is said to have been adopted by the Protestant Irish to distinguish themselves from the influx of Catholic Irish after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s[5] and is not a term most Englishmen are even familiar with.

(Oh, and one side note here – as I mentioned before I make no claims to be producing a scholarly tome of history; thus, I frequently consulted for part of this historical background. When I refer to a Wikipedia page, I am also providing access to further reading material in case anyone wants to read more about a topic. I have used original source material where most important.)

This Scotch Irish pride is manifested in one 1910 book written by a little known but important New England author named Charles Knowles Bolton. He writes, "They came to America, not as discoverers, but as the pioneers of their race; they defended the frontiers against Indians, and their numbers in the South so much augmented the forces in the Revolutionary army that they may fairly be said to have saved Washington from defeat."[6]

His book is an interesting look into the early Scotch Irish pioneers starting in New England as many American stories do. One particular relevant fact is found in his appendix – a list of ships that arrived from Ireland between 1714 and 1720. Interestingly, among those ships is the first one in 1718 with a master named John Wilson.[7] No, he's not my original ancestor and he most likely did not settle in the New World but my James Wilson did arrive on one of those ships.

The history of these "Scotch Irish" immigrants is a tale of a people looking for religious freedom and opportunity denied to them, first in Scotland and later in Ireland. First sent to Ireland by James VI, the king of Scotland who inherited the English and Irish thrones in the 1500s, the original Scotch Protestants left an overpopulated low country Scotland with its high rents and harsh conditions.

By the end of the seventeenth century, a third of the Ulster, Ireland, population was Scottish. Conditions, however, worsened as time went on because there was no government support there for Protestantism and the long term Irish leases started expiring. A well-written description of this piece of history is available at if you desire a more detailed account of this time period.

Bolton tells us: "Under Queen Anne (1702-1714) the Presbyterians in Ireland again lost almost every advantage that had been gained, and became by the Test Act of 1704 virtually outlaws. Their marriages were declared invalid, and their chapels were closed. They could not maintain schools nor hold office above that of a petty constable."[8]

This lead to a rush to immigrate between 1717 and 1727 that was encouraged by American colonists such as those in the Massaschusetts colony. Massachusetts did not desire the Scotch Irish as their neighbors though; they only wanted them for protection.

As early as 1706 the well-known Rev. Cotton Mather wrote, "I write letters unto diverse persons of Honour both in Scotland and in England; to procure Settlements of Good Scotch Colonies, to the Northward of us. This may be a thing of great consequence." It was Mather's plan to settle hardy families on the frontiers in Maine and New Hampshire to protect the towns and churches of Massachusetts from the French and Indians.[9] This was actually common all over the Eastern seaboard – delving into my South Carolina roots found the same story down there.

So the Scotch Irish arrived after generations of migration, upheaval and, in Ireland, the isolation of being surrounded by and increasingly suspicious of the Irish Catholics. They tended to be clannish as the Scottish and this shaped many things in Maine – not marrying out of their extended family, for example.[10] This marks the Maine Wilsons in many ways and actually has assisted me and other family researchers because the only other Wilsons in coastal maine in the 1700’s and early 1800’s were an Irish and an English family. The family patterns are obviously different between the three families and there was little intermarrying. 

In addition, they used different first names; whether by design or because of naming traditions in the different Wilson families, I just don’t know. For example, you’ll find very few Thomas Wilsons among James’ descendants; there’s only two. The Irish Wilson original ancestor was Thomas and there were plenty of Anns in his family as well. James’ family used Ann as a middle name and not as a first name. Between the clannishness of James’ family and the naming traditions, separating out who was who was much easier than one would think. (except for those Marys – I swear the most common first name back then for a woman was Mary!)

  1. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Smith: America's Most Common Surnames,, accessed 9 Feb 2015.
  2. Wilson (name),, accessed 9 Feb 2015.
  3. Reaney, Percy Hilde (1995), Wilson, Richard Middlewood, ed., A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, p. 495.
  4. Got Scandinavian? Why your DNA results may have unexpected ethnicities,, acccessed 4 April 2014.
  5. Scotch-Irish American ,, accessed 4 Jan 2014.
  6. Charles Knowles Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (Boston: Bacon and Brown, 1910), 6.
  7. Bolton, 15.
  8. Bolton, 231.
  9. Bolton, 17.
  10. W.J. Montgomery, A Montgomery Family Genealogy,, accessed April 4, 2014.
Newer posts

© 2022 The Maine Genealogist

a division of Wiztech, Inc. - Up ↑