Case Study: Was Elizabeth Gwinn Spear Given a Maternal Maiden Name? Part 1

It’s been a while since I presented a case study based on current research and I have a subject about whom I’ve wondered for years – Elizabeth Gwinn Spear, 3X great grandmother of my husband, Dave.

The source for her middle name is long lost in family lore, as I was told this by one of my husband’s aunts, long passed away. I do know that she personally knew Dulworth family members and I have no reason to doubt that Gwinn was her middle name.

My research question, though, is her middle name in remembrance of a maternal ancestor’s maiden name? If so, who is the Gwinn/Gwynn ancestress?

Elizabeth’s exact date of birth is undocumented and this family was mostly unable to read or write. Her age varies from census to census, but she was likely born in the 1811-1820 time period and lived her entire life in the Kettle Creek area of Cumberland County, Kentucky. However, she does appear in 1850, 1860 and 1870.

Elizabeth had died by 1880, when James was remarried to Ibby (Williams):

I mention her birth year because the early 19th century was an era where most Southerners weren’t yet given middle names (with the exception of German immigrants). When children were given one, it was often a maternal maiden name, which seems to be the case for Elizabeth.

A fact that makes me hopeful that Gwinn is a family name is that Elizabeth’s eldest brother was named Mathias Crabtree Spear, obviously named for paternal great grandfather Mathias Steelman and his mother’s maiden name.

My husband’s Southern lines have often been problematic because they were wanderers on the frontier and also managed to settle in burned counties.

Elizabeth’s tree isn’t without a few leaves and branches, but there are multiple opportunities to fit in a female Gwinn ancestress:

The tie-in was definitely NOT her paternal grandmother, who is proven as Ruth Steelman, daughter of Mathias Steelman of Surry County, North Carolina.

However, her maternal grandmother, Mary, married to Revolutionary War pensioner Abraham Crabtree has long been (MNU) (maiden name unknown).

Jumping back to her great grandparents, we have Jacob Spear married to an Elizabeth (MNU), Mathias Steelman married to Ruth (MNU), and Mary (MNU)’s completely unknown parents. Only her Crabtree grandparents are both identified – William Crabtree and Hannah Whitaker.

Therefore, I have four possible ancestral lines to trace to determine whether any of them might lead to the Gwinn/Gwynn family – Mary (MNU) Crabtree, Elizabeth (MNU) Spear, Ruth (MNU) Steelman and, lastly, the completely uknown mother of Mary (MNU) Crabtree.

On the positive side, I have locations for most of Elizabeth’s ancestors and I am obviously looking for a female Gwinn born in the mid-to-late 1700s.

  1. Benjamin Spear, Elizabeth’s father, was probably born in Surry County, North Carolina, c1784.
  2. Naomi Crabtree was probably born in Virginia and possibly in Washington County, Virginia, 1783.
  3. Benjamin Spear, Elizabeth’s grandfather, was probably born in Maryland, c1758.
  4. Jacob Spear, Elizabeth’s great grandfather, was likely born in Wicomico County, Maryland, c1725 and died in Surry County, North Carolina.
  5. Ruth Steelman, Elizabeth’s grandmother, was probably born in Kent County, Delaware and grew up in Surry County, North Carolina. Her father, Mathias, is thought to have migrated from Delaware to Surry County, North Carolina and it appears some, if not all, of his children might have been born in Delaware.
  6. Mary (MNU) Crabtree, born c1753, is the biggest mystery. For clues, we have to look at where her husband, Abraham Crabtree, was born and lived around the time he would have married. Thankfully, he had a pension which gives some details. He served in the militia as early as 1774 and as an Indian spy in 1776, both  in Washington County, Virginia. He was taken ill in 1777 and his brother and wife came to take him home, so he was married by that time. It seems likely that he married in Washington County, Virginia.

Therefore, my research path seems clear, although in a reverse order to what I would normally do. Although there are ties to Surry County, North Carolina, it doesn’t look like any of the possible female candidates married there.

My hunting grounds appear to be Maryland, Delaware and the frontier area of Washington County, Virginia. I am hoping my first step might save me a lot of time – we will see! Have any family histories about colonial Gwinn/Gwynns been published that have ties to Maryland, Delaware and/or Virginia AND are they accessible to me in some form?

Only one Gwynn hit came up in FamilySearch and this family were latecomers:

However, several came up under Gwinn. The introduction to one book confirmed that Gwinns had settled in not only Maryland and Virginia, but also in North Carolina:

From: History of the Gwin Family (Gwin, Gwinn, Gwyn, Gwynn, Gwynne, Guin, Guinn, Wynn, Wynne) by Jesse Blaine Gwin, 1961

Since no mention is made of this family settling in Delaware AND there are no Gwinns in the Delaware 1790 census, I will leave the Steelman line until last.

Also, since the easy-to-find mentions of Gwinns in Virginia tend to be in Orange and Augusta Counties, far from the frontier of Washington County, Virginia, I think this will be my next-to-last search.

That means the beginning of this project will be trolling the 1700s records in Maryland. Stay tuned for Part 2.


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