Case Study: Was Elizabeth Gwinn Spear Given a Maternal Maiden Name? Part 3 – Documenting the Benjamin Spear Family

Part of my efforts to determine whether there is proof of a Gwinn family tie that gave Elizabeth Gwinn Spear her name involved figuring out the FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) of her parents, grandparents and even great grandparents.

This process most definitely requires a close look at her paternal family, the Spears (in Kentucky)/Speers (in Maryland and North Carolina.

Benjamin Spear, father of Elizabeth, actually lived past the 1870 census, but was living in the household of Elizabeth and her husband, James Dulworth in 1860.

Benjamin was born c1784 in North Carolina and is reportedly the son of Benjamin Spear and Ruth Steelman, which seems to be accurate. There are a number of Speer families in Surry County, North Carolina in 1790, some of whom migrated to Cumberland County, Kentucky by 1810. Enumerated together in 1810 we find Ben Speer Sr. followed by Ben Speer Jr.

Benjamin Sr. was enumerated in 1790 in Surry County with one male over 16, two males under 16 and six females, presumably his wife and five daughters.  The last time Benjamin Speer’s name appears in the land records is in 1798. On 10 March of that year, he sold 123 1/2 acres of land to Michael Wilson. The deed was recorded during the August 1798 court session.

Presumably, the Spear family headed west that summer, making the 400 miles trip to Kentucky. However, no Spears are on the 1799 or 1805 tax lists for Cumberland County. I suspect that they might have been living just over the Tennessee border in the portion of Jackson County that became Overton County in 1806.

Benjamin Sr. was living in Overton County in 1820, aged 45+ and with one female, also over 45. A reasonable estimate of his birth year would be 1755.

Although Benjamin was living in Overton County in 1820 (he would have been 60-70 years old) and he isn’t there in 1830, or anywhere else unless he moved in with a married child, his name doesn’t appear in the land deeds of Overton County. Probate records don’t begin until the Civil War era.

Therefore, the best documentation I have for his children is the 1790 and 1810 censuses. In 1790, if all the children were his, he had two sons under 16 and five daughters under 16.

The 1810 household in Cumberland County, Kentucky showed one male and one female over 45. That would be Benjamin and wife Ruth. Then there was one male 26-44, one female 16-25, one male 16-25, one male 10-15, one female 10-15 and one female under 10.

Ruth, born c1758, might possibly have had a child under 10 in 1810, if the child was, say, 8 or 9 years old.

Preponderance of evidence supports the idea that Benjamin Jr. was a son of Benjamin Sr., as they were living next door to each other in 1810, when Ben Jr. was a newlywed. Ben Jr. was born c1784 in North Carolina, per census reports. Ben Sr. was born in the 1750s, so of an age to have a son born in the 1780s.

Piecing together a family, then, for Benjamin and Ruth (Steelman) Spear can be accomplished with some degree of accuracy using those two censuses. Let’s assume that Ben and Ruth weren’t far apart in age, that they were about 21 and 18, respectively, when they married and that the children in their two households were their own. That would mean they married c1777 and probably had their first child c1780.


1. Daughter, born c1778
2. Elizabeth, born c1780; died after 1850, probably Overton County, Tennessee; married John Smith, 9 August 1797, Surry County, North Carolina
3. Nancy, born c1782; died before 1850; married William Smith, 21 October 1835, Morgan County, Illinois
4. Benjamin, born c1784, Surry County, North Carolina; died after 1870, probably Cumberland County, Kentucky; married Naomi Crabtree, c1810, probably Cumberland County, Kentucky.
5. Daughter, born c1786
6. Son, born c1788 (probably Charles in 1830 census)
7. Daughter, born c1790
8. Mary, born c1796; died 3 April 1880, Clay County, Tennessee; married William Hogan, c1812, probably Cumberland County, Kentucky
9. Son, born c1798 (probably Abraham in 1830 census)
10. Daughter, born c1800

There were three other Speers enumerated in Cumberland County, Kentucky along with my two Bens. However, if related to Benjamin, they would be his brothers or cousins because all are over 45 years of age, too old to be his children.

One of the other two sons of Benjamin and Ruth Spear is likely Abraham Spears, enumerated in 1820 in Cumberland County. He was 26-44 years of age and may be the child born 1795-1800 in the 1810 census. Abraham doesn’t appear in any other Spear or Steelman families, but given that Ben Jr. married Naomi Crabtree, daughter of Abraham, that may be how the name came into the family. Abraham Crabtree may have been a well-respected neighbor and close friend. Abraham Spears was also living but two doors away from Benjamin Spear Jr.

The other son may be Charles Spears, also in Cumberland County, Kentucky in 1830. There is a male 30-39 years of age who would fit into Benjamin Sr.’s family.

Like Abraham, Charles is a given name not found in the Spear family, but Ruth had a brother, Charles Steelman, and the Spears may have named a child for him.

Identifying daughters of Benjamin and Ruth is much more difficult, as there were a lot of Spear girls running around.

However, I tend to believe that Elizabeth who married John Smith in Surry County, North Carolina in 1797 is probably Benjamin’s daughter. The Smiths removed west with the family and in 1850, Overton County, Tennessee, John and Elizabeth are at home with unmarried daughter, Ruth, presumably named for her maternal grandmother.

Another likely daughter is Mary who married William Hogan, probably in Cumberland County, Kentucky or Overton County, Tennessee between 1810-1814. They are also living in Overton County, Tennessee in 1850 with a number of unmarried children, including a daughter named Ruth.

Another clue might be that one Daniel Hogan is living just a few doors from Benjamin Spear Sr. in 1810 in Cumberland County, Kentucky.

Some say that Nancy Speer who married William Smith on 8 October 1800, also in Surry County, North Carolina was another daughter of Benjamin, certainly possible, and that they married brothers. Supposedly, William Smith eventually settled in Morgan County, Illinois, where he and Nancy both apparently died before 1850.

The given name Ruth has turned out to be somewhat of a clue, so I looked for a Ruth born 1800-1820 living in Morgan County, Illinois in 1850. There is a Ruth Lindsay, born 1811 in Kentucky, married to James Lindsay. James Lindsay married Ruth SMITH on 21 October 1835 in Morgan County, so Nancy may well be Benjamin’s daughter if Ruth Smith is her daughter.

There are four William Smiths living in Cumberland County, Kentucky in 1810, including one who fits the likely ages of William and Nancy (Spear) Smith.

That leaves four unknown daughters of Benjamin and Ruth Spear who may be lost to history unless new clues appear. With no extant marriage records in Cumberland County, Kentucky nor Overton County, Tennessee, identifying girls who likely all married by 1820 is quite impossible when added to the lack of probate and land records for Benjamin Spear.

The next post will look at Benjamin’s parents and siblings, but, so far, there is no sign of any ties to a Gwinn family, which is my goal for this case study.

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