As I started down this path, my goal was to find one or more ties between Elizabeth Gwinn Spear’s maternal or paternal family lines that might point to the reason for her middle name.
Gwinn is spelled a number of ways – Gwynn, Gwynne, Guin, Guinn, etc. However, any way it is spelled, the name isn’t terribly common in the late 1700s in colonial America, which is where the tie would have to be as Elizabeth was born c1818.
I had narrowed down possible maternal holes in her pedigree chart:
Since I didn’t know the maiden names of her maternal grandmother, two of her great grandmothers, and no names at all for one set of great grandparents, there are multiple opportunities for a Gwinn ancestor to fit in this puzzle.
The Spears and the Crabtrees both came out of Maryland, with the Spears of Somerset County heading to Surry County, North Carolina and the Crabtrees from Baltimore County settling in Washington County, Virginia. Mathias Steelman moved from Kent County, Delaware to Surry County, North Carolina. No Gwinns have been identified there.
One monkey wrench in this quest is that the early Virginia censuses are lost, so there is no 1790 census sitting as a guidepost to research there. Assuming that the Crabtrees headed directly to Washington County, Virginia with no long stays anywhere along the trail, no Gwinns have been mentioned in early Washington County records. If the Crabtrees are, indeed, the Gwinn tie, it happened in Maryland.
What about Gwinns in Maryland?
There are a handful of records involving the Gwinn family in Maryland, too, but none in Somerset County, earlier home of the Speer family.
The Maryland Calendar of Wills has not a single entry for any Gwinns from 1749 through 1789.
There is a George Gween who left a will in 1795, bequeathing his estate to his sister, Nancy, wife of William Thornburg.
There is also Mary Gwinn, who had been the wife of John McGee and then David Gwinn. She left her estate to her only child, daughter Nancy McGee.
The 1790 census of Maryland includes 2 Gwinns in Baltimore County, 2 in Charles County, 2 in Prince Georges County, 3 in Frederick County and one each in Washington and Cecil Counties.
The Virginia 1790 census substitute lists include a handful of Gwinns:
1779 – David in Nansemond; Humphrey, James and John in Gloucester; Richard in Pittsylvania
1782 – Bartlett in Halifax; George H. in Pittsylvania
None of those counties are particularly close to Surry County, North Carolina, although Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties border North Carolina.
There are a couple of mentions of Gwinns in Augusta County, Virginia, too, but there are few records to identify and track them with any certainty.
Several Gwinn references have been located in Surry County, North Carolina:
Almon Guin (reportedly from Halifax County, Virginia) was taxed for 250 acres of land on the Dan River in 1782.
In the same year, Samuel Guin was taxed on 200 acres on Forbushes Creek. Andrew and Thomas Speer were taxed on land on the same creek, also in 1782.
Joseph Guin left a will date 18 April 1813 and proved in November 1815 in Surry County.
There was a John Guinn fined in Surry County in 1780. No other details.
Given that each of these men spelled their name as GUIN/N, they may have all been related and part of the Halifax County, Virginia group. I uncovered no connections in land deeds or court records that might link them to the Spear family.
Lastly, there was also Richard Gwinn, who had land entry #1889 for 550 acres on Fisher River in Surry County. The land began at Samuel Calloway’s line, adjacent to Col. Armstrong and was filed on 18 December 1779 in Surry County.
This man could be a lead, as his land bordered Samuel Calloway and the mother of the early Spears in North Carolina was Jane Calloway. He is likely the Richard Gwinn who died before 7 June 1781 (wife Sarah was administrator of his estate) and gave material aid in the cause of American Independence. (DAR Patriot Index cites NC REV WAR PAY VOUCHERS, #755, ROLL #S.115.93)
Richard Gwinn is said to be a son of Hugh Gwyn of Gloucester County, Virginia. Unfortunately, probate records of Gloucester County does not go back far enough to search for Hugh Gwyn’s heirs. Online, he seems to have had 19 children including SONS with the last name of Dixon, so I think I’ll take that with a grain of salt!
A bit about Col. Hugh Gwyn, grandfather of Richard Gwinn:
History of the Gwin Family: Gwin, Gwin, Gwinn, Gwyn, Gwynn, Gwynne, Guin, Guinn, Wynn, Wynne by Jesse Blaine Gwin
Wait a minute! Have I found the smoking gun, or at least as close to it as I can get?
As I checked the Somerset County, Maryland tax records, I found this entry:
In Nanticoke Hundred, Andrew Spear is taxed with dependent Henry Spear in the same household. They are living in household #76. But take a look at who is in household #75 – Samuel Calloway!!!
To recap, there are no Gwinns in Somerset County, Maryland in this time period. However, in 1759, Samuel Calloway appears on the county tax list living next door to Andrew Spear. The Spears removed to North Carolina by 1771. Then in 1779, one Richard Gwinn entered land that bordered that of Andrew Spear and, in 1782, Samuel Guin, Andrew Spear and Thomas Spear were all taxed on land on Forbushes Creek. (Just an aside, but the Forbush family was from Somerset County, Maryland.)
This is the one and only tie I have uncovered in this morass of research that proves that there were Gwinns living in the same neighborhood as any of the possible ancestral lines of Elizabeth Gwinn Spear.
Surry County records are reasonably complete back to its formation. Yet, there are many Spear marriages that I think took place there which don’t appear in records. I’m wondering if, with the American Revolution happening in that time period, that some records might have been lost by the ministers or the county clerk and not properly recorded. This thought segues into my current belief about the Gwinn-Spear connection.
Benjamin and his wife, Naomi Crabtree, named at least four of their five children with names that tie into their families – Mathias Crabtree Spear, Jane, Abraham, Elizabeth Gwinn and Naomi – so it seems likely that Elizabeth Gwinn’s name was given with a definite purpose in mind. (I can’t account for a Jane anywhere else, but Benjamin’s father had mostly daughters who I can’t identify.)
When looking back at Elizabeth Gwinn Spear’s family tree, notice that Jacob Spear’s wife, Elizabeth, is (MNU). (She is named in Jacob’s will and survived him.) While it is obvious that Jacob was living in Maryland when he married as a young man, there are no records to prove whether he had one wife or two. Could it be that he married a second time in North Carolina to Elizabeth and Elizabeth was a Gwinn?
Further, that wife might have been a beloved grandmother or step-grandmother to Benjamin Spear, who honored her by passing her name – Elizabeth Gwinn – on to his daughter, Elizabeth Gwinn Spear.
That is my current belief and working hypothesis. I’m not sure I will ever be able to prove more than the Spears were in Surry County at the same time as the Gwinns and that it is extremely likely that they knew each other, given that Samuel Calloway was a cousin and his property bordered that of Richard Gwinn.
Readers, what do you think? Have I narrowed the possibilities and honed in on a real candidate or is this too much wishful thinking on my part?