Who Was Hepsabeth L. Davidson? (1811-1870+) Lafayette County, AR

Hepsabeth L. Davidson is one of my more modern-era brick walls, being my husband’s 3X great grandmother.  She married William Alexander Williams and, in spite of all the roadblocks with burned records, living on the frontier and frequent moves, I have untangled many branches of that Williams tree.

I’ve not been as productive with Hepsabeth’s branch, which is pretty much just a twig, in  spite of some tantalizing clues.

First, we have Hepsy’s name, Hepsabeth (sometimes Hepzibah) with the middle initial L. Hepsabeth is quite an uncommon name for the early 1800s when she was born (28 January 1811, per a family Bible that doesn’t name her parents- ugh!) or the place she was born – Virginia. Hepsy reported in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses that she was born in Virginia.

In fact, I haven’t come but other females named Hepsabeth born in the late 1700s or early 1800s in Virginia, aside from “my” Hepsy.

Second, Hepsy and William Williams had a gaggle of children with middle names. Maybe there is a clue in there.


Judith Woodward, born 15 October 1829
James Henry, born 11 December 1830
William Washington, born 21 April 1835
Christopher C.F., born 27 February 1839 (twin)
Sally Anderson, born 27 February 1839 (twin)
Martha Jane, born 14 December 1840
John Alexander, born 10 January 1844
Mary Elizabeth, born 23 February 1847
John Christopher, born 25 August 1848
Harriet Virginia, born 9 October 1850
Thomas Jefferson, born 7 February 1852
Hepsabeth L., born 10 November 1853
Francis Davidson, born 13 April 1855

Some of these names are, obviously, very common. I can account for the source of daughter Judith and son William, as William Williams’ parents are William Williams and Judith Saunders.

Where did the middle name of Woodward come from? It appears that there was at least one Woodward family in Goochland County, Virginia in the late 1700s, but the name isn’t found often there.

The second daughter of William and Hepsabeth is named Sally Anderson. Could that be the name of Hepsabeth’s mother? Anderson is a name in the Williams family, but it was the maiden name of William’s great grandmother, so that is a stretch. It is a common surname around the areas of Cumberland, Bedford and Campbell Counties in Virginia, where William’s relatives lived before the mass migration to eastern Tennessee about 1805.

The last child born is Francis Davidson. We know the source of Davidson, but Francis is not a name I’ve ever come across in over 30 years of Williams researching. I can’t say I’ve found a single instance of a Francis Davidson in Virginia in the 18th or early 19th centuries.

As for the other given names of the children, Christopher and Alexander are not found among the Williams clan so could possibly be from the Davidson family.

Okay, maybe there is another clue to be had. William Williams had a brother, Mathias, who married Rebecca Davidson on 21 November 1825 in Roane County, Tennessee.

Now, I know the date that William and Hepsy married – 9 October 1828 – because it is also recorded in the family Bible. However, it doesn’t say where they married and the Williams clan removed from Roane County to Marion County, Tennessee in, yep, 1828 per a church letter of dismissal.

Because both brothers’ marriages happened close to the 1830 census, perhaps potential families could be identified for these Davidson girls, assuming they are sisters.

The 1820 census for eastern Tennessee was lost long ago, but the 1830 census is extant. In it, we have:

Alexander, in Anderson County, TN, aged 50-59
James, in Morgan County, TN, aged 40-49
John, in Anderson County, TN, aged 30-39 (He has young children so probably not a prospective dad for Hepsabeth.)
William, Anderson County, TN, aged 50-59
Henry, Roane County, TN, aged 20-29

A quick geography lesson is important here.

Anderson, Morgan and Roane Counties border each other. Morgan County was set off from portions of Anderson and Roane in 1817. The Williams clan had blood relatives and relatives by marriage in all three counties. The fourth red arrow indicates where William and Hepsabeth removed to in 1828. At the time, it was Marion County, but they appear to have lived in the area that is Sequatchie County now.

Morgan and Marion Counties are both burned counties, but Roane and Anderson had two other early Davidson/Davison marriages:

John Davidson married Sarah Hawkins, 26 July 1827
Silas Davidson married Polly Varner, 2 January 1834

I can’t place either couple in 1850. They either died or left Tennessee.

The 1840 census includes four Davidsons:

James, 50-59, Morgan County
William L., 30-39, Morgan County
Francis, 50-59, Anderson County
William, 40-49, Anderson County

The two Williams are too young to be the father of Hepsabeth. Following the Davidsons forward to 1850, we have Samuel, born 1772, Virginia, but he wasn’t in Tennessee earlier. Rachel Davidson, born 1794 and William, born 1794, are in Anderson with Samuel. However, their birthplaces are North Carolina.

Next, we have James, born 1784 in North Carolina and Frances, born 1790 in South Carolina. James could be another son of William Davidson and he is in the area early. William and Hepsabeth’s first son was named James Henry. Could James be our missing father?

William and Hepsy, along with all of their children, removed to the Hempstead/Lafayette Counties area of southwest Arkansas in 1841. There was a Thomas Davidson there in 1840, aged 40-49, but gone in 1850. The 1850 census showed one Josiah Davidson, a laborer, born 1826 in Tennessee, living with a Wallace family.

None of these are looking like very good candidates to be closely related to Hepsy.

Hepsabeth likely died between the 1870-1880 censuses, as no record has been found of her after the 1870 census:

Source: Ancestry

Thomas married Martha Ellen Jones, 17 December 1876 in Hempstead County, Arkansas. He, Ellen and son George lived in Hempstead County in 1880.

Franklin (not Francis) married Mary Elizabeth Ham on 28 December 1877 in Lafayette County. Frank hasn’t been found in any record after their marriage, but they had at least one child.

Izora Williams Capes’ death certificate, 25 August 1954 in Cherokee County, Texas names her parents as Franklin Williams and Elizabeth Ham and gives her own place of birth as Lafayette County, Arkansas.

Izora is misindexed as Doyore Williams in Smith County, Texas in 1900. She and Mary E., her widowed mother, are boarding with 29 year old Mary McCray from West Virginia and her 4 year old child. That census shows that Mary E. Williams had given birth to three children, all still living. Izora was the oldest, as she was born 8 months after her parents’ marriage, if actually born in 1878 and not 1879 or 1880.

It is assumed that Hepsabeth died in Lafayette County sometime before the 1880 census, but no mention of her has been found anywhere after 1870.

I have looked through Lafayette and Hempstead County records, in person, and searched for mention of Hepsabeth’s death. She absolutely disappears after 1870.

There is one last possibility- tax lists for early Tennessee. Anderson County lists don’t begin until 1838 and have nothing of interest. Morgan County, as I mentioned is a burned county, and there are no early tax lists there. However, it wasn’t set off until 1817 and there are Roane County lists for 1814-1817.

Captain Hall’s Company 1814 tax list included Mathias Sr., Mathias Jr., Thomas, John and Charles Williams, all well known to me as members of the Cumberland County, Virginia Williams clan. There were also two Davidsons, William Sr. and William Jr.

In 1815, Capt. Hall’s Company included Mathias, John, Charles and Benjamin Williams.  There were three Davidsons in the same company – William Davidson Sr., William Davidson Jr. and John Davidson.

By 1817, Capt. Stephens was the head of the company. His tax list included Mathias Sr., Mathias Jr., John, Benjamin, Charlotte (widow of Thomas), Charles, John Sr. and Robert Williams, along with John and William Davidson Sr.

Roane County had quite a few residents by this time, but these were the only Davidsons found anywhere in the tax rolls.

Unfortunately, from 1818 onwards, that area was part of Morgan County.

If I were placing a bet, I’d say William Sr., William Jr. and John are perfect candidates to be potential fathers of Hepsabeth and also of Rebecca, who married Matthias Williams.

There’s just one problem. William Davidson served in the American Revolution and was from Buncombe County, North Carolina. His property actually included what is now the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

The Davidson family path wasn’t documented anywhere, but the trail from Buncombe County to Morgan County doesn’t go anywhere near Virginia.

In spite of his military service, the family of William Davidson Sr. is not well documented. In fact, it is pretty much of a mess anywhere you look online. Many have merged him with General William Davidson who married Mary Brevard. The general actually died during a war battle in 1781, so he sure wasn’t the man in Tennessee in 1814.

Because William Davidson Sr. in Morgan County didn’t live long enough to apply for a pension and he lived in a county that lost most of its records in 1862, exactly who all his children were has not been proven.

The short list has been whittled down even more, as I believe William Davidson Sr. here was too old to be the father of Hepsabeth Davidson. I’d say that either his probable sons John or William, who appear with him on the Roane County tax lists are the best bets to be Hepsy’s father, along with James Davidson who was on those 1830 and 1840 censuses. She may have been mistaken about being born in Virginia or maybe the family moved onto the Virginia frontier before settling in Tennessee.

Have you been able to hang in there with me all the way to the end here? If so, congratulations!

Will I ever be able to document her parentage? I think probably not unless you can throw out some new research avenues for me to investigate. At the moment, I think it’s a three way tie between William Jr., John and James Davidson.




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