Spear Land Deeds to the Rescue. . .Sort Of

I often find terrific bits of information in land deeds – information that isn’t to be found elsewhere.

One loose end I have on the Spear family is Thomas Spear who sold land to Levin Fletcher in 1764 in Somerset County. My biggest problem is that no Thomas Spear ever shows up on the Somerset County tax lists between 1723-1759. That seems very odd to me. I thus went digging into the land deeds.

Surprisingly, there are very few listings in the Somerset County grantor and grantee indexes. I also have to add here that I’ve never quite seen any book labeling system that comes close to that of Somerset County. Most counties either use letters – books A, B, C or numbers – books 1, 2, 3 – in some combination, but in consecutive order.

Take a look at the Somerset County books:

I’ve never seen a county organizational system quite like this, nor have I figured out the method for naming these volumes.. This mess continues for decades.

Aside from that, I did find the deed filed by Thomas Spear in 1764:

Thomas Spear to Levin Fletcher, 20 June 1764
Somerset County, Maryland DB C:222-223
Source: FamilySearch

It isn’t necessary to transcribe the entire land deed – I am focusing only on the chain of ownership of the tract of land called Donegal.

This indenture made the Twentieth day of June anno Domini One thousand Seven hundred and Sixty four Between Thomas Spear of Somerset County and Province of Maryland of the One part and Levin Fletcher of the Same place of the Other part . . . .did Grant unto Andrew Speers all that part of land called Dunegal. . . . .and seized in for of the Said Land at the time of his Death and dying intestate Henry the Eldest Son of the Said Andrew Became heir . . . . .and the Said Land not being devised to Any Person by the Said Henry Speers Last will and testament the Said land became the Right of Inheritance to the Said Thomas Speer he being the Eldest Son of the Eldest Son of the Said Henry. . . ..

Clear as mud, right? That is, unless one meticulously pored over the Somerset County tax lists. The lists are invaluable because a male becomes a dependent of the head of household at the age of sixteen.

I’ve previously discussed those tax lists in depth. Robert Spear is clearly the eldest son of Henry, at least the eldest to attain the age of 16 and show up on the tax list.

Robert was born c1717, as he first appears on the 1733 list. Further, Robert remains on the tax list only through 1745, when he is taxed as head of household. He most likely died in late 1745 or early 1746.

Thomas has to be his son, but never appears on those tax lists. Why? I think I have it figured out. The tax lists only go forward, at least online, to 1759.

I believe that Thomas took the opportunity to sell his inheritance as soon as he was of legal age – 21 years old.

Backtracking from that date, the land transaction was 20 June 1764. That would give Thomas a birth year of 1753. Why didn’t he show up on the 1759 tax list? He would have been 16 years old in 1759.

I think I have a viable answer to that conundrum. Tax lists were normally created in the spring – March, April and May. What if Thomas’s birthday was soon after the 1759 tax list was created? He would have still been 15 years old and would not appear as a dependent until 1760.

That fits the scenario perfectly and is quite plausible. If there was a 1760 list, I am confident Thomas would have appeared on it. Actually, I wish there was an extant list because Robert had obviously died and the tax list would have shown Thomas in another household – possibly that of a stepfather and I would then know who Robert’s widow next married.

The Somerset County land deeds did answer one other question I had – when did the Spears move en masse to Surry County, North Carolina? Andrew Spear is taxed in North Carolina in 1771. That is a wide gap from 1759 in Maryland to 1771 in North Carolina.

However, Andrew, Jacob and Aaron Spear all sold off land in a narrow space of time (January through March 1770) and recorded those deeds (Somerset County, Maryland DB E: 70, 82 and 107) by April 1770.

It seems evident that they sold off all their Maryland real estate by spring of 1770 and I believe they headed south when winter weather subsided.

This really is my last post about the Spear clan, at least for a while. I don’t like leaving loose ends and I wanted to clear up the mystery about Thomas.

I hope that my methodology – expanding my research into both land deeds and tax lists – has helped you to think outside the box in proving family relationships.


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