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James and Mary (Byrd) Duke

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Date: 21 May 2006
Location: Charles City County, Virginiamap
Surnames/tags: Southern_Colonies Duke Byrd
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James DUKE and Mary BYRD, of Charles City Co., VA

A Preliminary Identification of Some Descendants of James and Mary (Byrd) Duke of Charles City County, Virginia.

by Charles Ward

The Byrds are counted among the prominent early families of Virginia. Among their number was Mary Byrd (b. 1683), daughter of William Byrd I and Mary (Horsmanden) Byrd, the sister of the noted diarist, William Byrd II, of Westover. Based on the surviving diaries of William Byrd II, his sister Mary can be identified as having married James Duke. James and Mary (Byrd) Duke resided in James City County and Charles City County, Virginia, which unfortunately are “burned” counties where many of the antebellum records were destroyed. The Dukes were not as prominent as their Byrd kin. Therefore, due to this and the destruction of early records, one finds something of a vacuum relating to the couple and their descendants. This has resulted in weakly supported conclusions by some researchers as to the children born to the couple. Nevertheless, surviving records do allow us to objectively determine some of their possible or probable descendants.

The Secret Diaries of William Byrd mention that his sister, Mary Duke, had a child who was stillborn on 6 Feb 1709. No name was given for the child in the diary.

Mary Duke (c1725-1805), second wife of Benjamin Ward (b.1717 in Henrico Co., VA; alive 1764), of Cumberland and Lunenburg Counties, VA is traditionally attributed as being a daughter of James Duke and his wife, Mary (Byrd) Duke. A decent case can be made that she was their daughter.

Mary (Duke) Ward’s death took place on 8 Oct 1805 at the age of eighty. This would place her birth at around the year 1725. It should be noted that ages given at death can be notoriously inaccurate and this should be seen as providing only an approximation of her date of birth. It could very well be that she was born earlier than this date.

We are fortunate to have the memorial of Doctor William Ward (1752-1835), a son of Benjamin and Mary (Duke) Ward, taken from in a Bible published in 1803 by Matthew Carey in Philadelphia and given to Peter Markham by Mary Ward, the widow of Doctor William Ward, along with Doctor Ward’s journal and other personal belongings. The Bible was owned by a descendant, William Markham, at the time it was transcribed. The memorial reads:

"To the Memory of Doct. William Ward the husband of Mrs. Mary Ward born the 14th of April 1752 in Cumberland County in Virginia the son of Benjamin Ward and Mary Ward His Wife Daughter of James and Mary Duke of Charles City County in Virginia. In early life he came to Tennessee and after sustaining an irreproachable reputation and a life of dutiful service to his fellow man he died in the full hope of a joyful resurrection on the 23d of July 1835 in the 84th year of his age. His memory will long be cherished by all who knew him."

The memorial provides the name of Mary Duke’s parents, James and Mary Duke, as well as their place of residence, Charles City County, Virginia. This was the place of residence for the James Duke who married Mary Byrd.

Although the memorial does not make a specific reference to the Byrd family, it is likely this connection would have been known within the family and not necessarily referenced explicitly.

The Byrd family was counted in the first tier of Virginia colonial society. The Duke family was counted in the second tier and was not as notable in the role they played in Virginia history and they did not possess the financial resources of the Byrd family. The children born to James and Mary (Byrd) Duke would have fallen in that second tier of Virginia colonial society. The Ward family, into which Mary Duke married, would have been considered a second tier family. Two relatives of Benjamin Ward, husband of Mary Duke, married into the Randolph family, one of the leading families of Virginia. So, in terms of class compatibility, the marriage of a daughter of James and Mary (Byrd) Duke into the Ward family would not be out of the ordinary or unusual.

Family names are also indicative of the relationship between the Ward and Duke/Byrd families. One finds the names Duke, James, Mary, and William among the children and grandchildren of Benjamin and Mary (Duke) Ward.

Typically, prior to 1750, one doesn’t find double given names. Until the early nineteenth century, they were still relatively uncommon. So, although we may look for a more definitive name, such as “William Byrd Ward,” or something along those lines among the Ward descendants, by the time the practice of double given names had become commonplace, the Ward connection to the Duke/Byrd families had become more distant. Furthermore, it was not common for the more immediate female line descendants of William Byrd I and Mary (Horsmanden) Byrd to bestow “Byrd” as a common name.

Beginning in the 1750s, one finds Charles City Co., VA records which allude to the estate of a James Duke. One 1755 reference mentions Mary Duke and Joab Mountcastle as co-executors of the estate of James Duke, deceased. This would indicate the James Duke in question apparenlty had a will, which appears to now be lost. In 1758, we find Mary Duke “orphan of James Duke,” selecting Richard Corbett as her guardian. Some have concluded that this was the daughter of James and Mary (Byrd) Duke. However, upon careful analysis, one quickly realizes this could not be a daughter of James and Mary (Byrd) Duke. Mary Byrd, the wife of James Duke, was born 23 Feb 1682/3. If we imagine that she had a child when she was fifty years old, that would place her having a child in 1733. It is highly unlikely she would have had a child so late in her life, but let us consider it, for the sake of argument. Even if Mary (Byrd) Duke had given birth to a child as late as the age of fifty, in 1733, that child would have been twenty-five years old in 1758, the date when Mary Duke, “orphan of James Duke,” chose her guardian. Therefore, obviously, the Mary Duke of the 1758 record could not be the daughter of James Duke and Mary Byrd. As this Mary Duke was then a minor, born no earlier than 1738, she can be neither the wife of Benjamin Ward, who was born about 1725 and who was married by 1750, nor could she be the daughter of Mary (Byrd) Duke, who was born 23 Feb 1682/3.

One would be remiss in a discussion of the children born to James Duke and Mary Byrd, not to discuss the book, THE DUKE FAMILY, by Evelyn Duke Brandenberger. This secondary source is often quoted as proof by some researchers for their own particular lines.

Brandenberger compiled two volumes which dealt with various branches of the Duke family. In volume two, chapter one, pages eleven through seventeen, she discusses James Duke and Mary Byrd. After having examined this section of the Brandenberger book, I must seriously question the conclusions offered.

Brandenberger states, page twelve, "The diaries also reveal that Mary had a male child. That child was William Duke named for William Byrd." I have examined the diaries of William Byrd and have not found any entry which states that Mary (Byrd) Duke had a son by the name of William Duke. Brandenberger further states that William Byrd took William Duke into his household, but offered no proof and I know of no proof that this ever took place.

Brandenberger further states, "Although the evdience for the father-son relationship of James and William that is provided by the Byrd Diaries is compelling, additional information confirming this relationship is given here."

Firstly, it should be noted that the "evidence" of the father-son relationship she mentions for James and William Duke is far from compelling; it is non-existent. Secondly, the additional information "confirming the relationship" is likewise non-existent.

Brandenberger cites Surry Co., VA records which place a William Duke in that county. She then cites Brunswick Co., VA records which mention a James and William Duke, no relationship stated or given. She has simply assumed because there was a James and William Duke listed together, that they are father and son, with absolutely no indication of their relationship, no ages given, etc. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that the aforementioned Dukes in Brunswick County had any connection to Charles City County or James City County, at all. What's more, the William Duke who is claimed by Brandenberger as being a son of James Duke and Mary Byrd does not appear to fall in the social class one would expect of a member of this family.

Although Brandenberger never specifies why, she indicates that James Duke apparently moved back to Charles City Co., VA leaving his son, William, in Brunswick.

Brandenberger states that the father-son relationship of James and William Duke is further illustrated in a manuscript compiled by Daniel Reaves Goodloe and given to his niece, Annie Goodloe Randall, in 1913. It, in turn, was said to have been based on a "Record" kept by Lewis Yancey Christmas, a great-grandson of William Duke, apparently the abovementioned William Duke. Brandenberger does not specify what information they relate that delineates this father-son relationship between James and William Duke and one has the impression if it was of sufficient merit, it would have been outlined more thoroughly.

The unfounded identification of William Duke as a son of James Duke and Mary Byrd is not the only questionable conclusion given by Brandenberger. She states (page twelve) that Mary (Byrd) Duke ".......died young, The exact date is unknown." She then proceeds to state that Mary (Byrd) Duke probably died in 1721 or thereabouts. She justifies this claim based on the fact that William Byrd's sister, Mary Duke, is last mentioned in the LONDON DIARY on 6 Apr 1721. I don't know if Brandenberger was aware of this or not, but the diaries of William Byrd are far from complete. Scholars feel that he maintained a diary his entire life and we only have portions of them today. Others undoubtedly exist, covering the rest of his life. To suppose Mary (Byrd) Duke died because she is not mentioned further in the existing diaries is illogical. We simply do not know when she died and one cannot infer a lack of mention as necessarily meaning she had died. As William Byrd was in London, she undoubtedly would not be mentioned as frequently as when Byrd was residing in Virginia. The statement that Mary (Byrd) Duke died in 1721 is presumptuous and unfounded.

Another statement, which defies belief (page twelve), "Mary and James Duke had only one son who survived infancy. That son was William Duke." This bogles the mind. There is absolutely no proof, based on the meager evidence which survives, for this statement. There is absolutely no proof that has been offered which would indicate any connection between William Duke and the family of James Duke and Mary Byrd.

Brandenberger further claims that James Duke married again, following the death of Mary (Byrd) Duke. She claims that the James Duke who died around 1754/5 in Charles City Co., VA was the same James Duke who had married Mary (Byrd) Duke. The co-executors of this James Duke's estate were Mary Duke and Joab Mountcastle. Brandenberger claims that this Mary Duke was the widow of James Duke, but it was a Mary, other than Mary (Byrd) Duke. She provides no justification for this assertion. Compounding her dubious claim, she goes on to speculate that this "other Mary" was James Duke's niece, that he had married. This illustrates a complete lack of understanding of colonial Virginia society. Such a marriage would have totally shocked contemporaries. It most certainly would have shocked William Byrd II and if such a theorized marriage had taken place, he would have made note of it in his diary. The marriage of an uncle and niece would have broken a major taboo and would have rightly been seen as incest. Marriages between uncles and nieces might have been acceptable in the Habsburg family in sixteenth century Spain, but not in seventeenth century colonial Virginia. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, a marriage between an uncle and niece would have been prohibited by the Church of England, as outlined in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. As the Byrds and the Dukes were Anglicans, the marriage probition would have barred the marriage of James Duke to his niece, as theorized by Brandenberger.

I would reiterate by stating that there is no proof that William Duke was a son of James and Mary (Byrd) Duke. There is no evidence Mary (Byrd) Duke died around 1721. Lastly, there is no proof that James Duke had a second marriage, nor that it was to his own niece.

As for James Duke, husband of Mary Byrd, I would propose there is no clear indication of his exact date of death and that no records survive regarding the probate of his estate. Although the records are meager, I would propose that the James Duke, of Charles City Co., VA, who died around 1754 and for whom some records survive, was a son of James Duke and Mary Byrd. For the sake of disucssion, let us refer to him as James Duke II and assign him a birth date of about 1705. The Mary Duke who is listed as a co-executor of his estate was very likely his wife. Surviving records provide us with a reconstructed family for James Duke II.

Anne, wife of Joab Mountcastle is a possible child of James Duke II. She was likely born around 1730. Her husband, Joab, served as a co-executor of the estate of James Duke (Charles City Co., VA Order Bk 1751/1757, p. 50). The will of Joab Mountcastle (Charles City Co. VA Will Bk 1766-1774, p. 447; dated 1770, proven 1773) mentions his wife, Anne, and Henry Duke is given as a security, with John and Samuel Christian acting as witnesses. Joab Mountcastle also named sons, Edmund and Henry (among others), in his will. These were names commonly used in the Duke family.

I would identify Edmund Duke as a son of James Duke II. Edmund Duke is identified as a son of James Duke, almost certainly the James Duke who died about 1754. Edmund Duke, then a resident of Cumberland Co., VA, sold one hundred acres in Charles City Co., VA to Brazure Williams (deed signed 7 Nov 1771, recorded 3 Jun 1772), land which was "...given me by my father James Duke" (Charles City Co., VA Record Book 1737-1774, p.364). Edmund Duke's will (Goochland Co., VA Will Bk 14, pp. 480-481) names his daughter, Mary Marston Duke. It should be noted that the wording of the abovementioned deed gives the impression that the land Edmund Duke sold could have been part of an inheritance, or in other words a bequest from a will. Unfortunately, the will of James Duke (d.ca 1754) no longer exists, but a previously mentioned reference to the co-executors of the will in court records allude to its existence.

I would place Henry Duke as a son of James Duke II. The Charles City Co., VA will of Henry Duke (written 1789, proven 1795) names his niece, Mary Marston Duke, daughter of "Edward Duke." Given the facts, and as Edward and Edmund were names which were often interchangable, it can be deduced that the Edward Duke who was mentioned in Henry Duke's will was in fact Edmund Duke, especially since we know Edmund was the father of Mary Marston Duke. Henry Duke also named Benskin Hopkins in his will, who is said to have married Duke's only child, Mildred B. Duke.

As previously mentioned, Mary Duke (born no earlier than 1738), can be placed as a daughter of James Duke II who died around 1754. As already mentioned, she is identified as his daughter in surviving Charles City Co., VA records.

Lastly, we come to a Sarah Duke who I would tentatively place as a daughter of James Duke II. Sarah Duke was married to Charles Christian in 1770 in Charles City Co., VA. As members of the Christian family can be found in association with other members of the reconstructed James Duke II family, I would place her within this family group, but perhaps without the same degree of confidence as the other members.

Who was the wife of James Duke II? It is almost certain she was the Mary Duke who served as co-executor of James Duke's estate, along with Joab Mountcastle, who would have been her son-in-law. It seems highly likely she remarried Richard Corbett. Corbett was selected as guardian of Mary Duke, James Duke II's orphan daugher, and in 1772, Richard and Mary Corbett sold Henry Duke the old James Duke mill. Naturally, we would conclude, based on the Corbett ownership of the aforementioned James Duke property, that Mary Corbett had been the widow of James Duke, prior to her marriage to Corbett.

As to Mary Duke Corbett's premarital identity, there is no clear indication. However, the naming of Edmund Duke's daughter, "Mary Marston Duke," may serve as an indication that she could have been named for her paternal grandmother and that Mary, wife of James Duke II was in fact a member of the Marston family or closely related to that family.

The reconstruction of the James Duke II and Mary Duke family group is very likely a partial reconstruction and it is entirely possible there were other children, especially given the apparent gaps between their probable birth dates.

All the children of James Duke I and Mary (Byrd) Duke, who were almost certainly born after William Byrd I made his will, cannot be identified due to the destruction of James City Co., VA and Charles City Co., VA records and the incompleteness of the diaries of Mary (Byrd) Duke's brother, William Byrd II. Based on the few surviving records, one may conclude their surviving children included Mary Duke (b.ca 1725; d. 1805), the wife of Benjamin Ward and James Duke (b.ca 1705; d.ca 1754), of Charles City Co., VA. Due to the gap between the birth dates of Mary (Duke) Ward and James Duke II, it is a near certainty there were other children born to James Duke and Mary Byrd, but to date, the surviving records have not divulged or hinted at their names (with the exception of the unnamed stillborn child mentioned in the Byrd diaries).

Copyright @2006 Charles M. Ward, Jr. Copying is permitted for noncommercial, educational use by individual scholars and libraries. This message must appear on all copied material. Any other use, including electronic reproduction or distribution, requires written permission of the author.


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