Unique Blevins Signature Marks

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The origin of the southern branch of the Blevins family in North America has been a subject of controversy on WikiTree for many years, as the heated comments on some Blevins profiles reflect. Everyone seems to agree that two Blevins men – a James and a Daniel – appeared on the list of taxables for the Monocacy Hundred in what was then Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1733,[1] and that James appeared there again in 1734 on the list of men who failed to burn their substandard tobacco as required by local law.[2] Blevins researchers also seem to agree that these two Blevins men were associated with the Walling/Wallen family, including in particular Elisha Walling. Elisha and his brothers James and William also appear on those same lists in the Monocacy Hundred in 1733-4; and beginning in the late 1730s or early 1740s, Elisha Walling and his descendants, as well as several Blevins men and other related families, all migrated from Maryland to the southwestern Virginia frontier.

What has been hotly disputed, however, is where those Blevins men who appear in the Monocacy Hundred in 1733-34 came from: in other words, who were the ancestors of this southern branch of the early Blevins family in North America? Most of the answers to that question have been unsourced and speculative. Various conflicting theories have been proposed in published sources and in countless online family trees and internet posts – most of which are wrong. The purpose of this free space page is to explain a key genealogical clue that, together with a few other pieces of evidence described below, should resolve the debate. This key clue appears to have been discovered originally by Alton Blevins, a researcher from San Antonio, Texas. Alton Blevins did not publish his findings, but he shared them with a researcher named Robert Blevins who did, in a set of excellent self-published papers that are the primary source for the presentation here.[3]

The Use of Signature Marks in Early American Colonial Legal Documents

Many early colonial ancestors in America were illiterate and could not sign their name on formal legal documents such as deeds and wills. Instead, they applied their “mark” to the document. Frequently, this mark was just an “X,” but in some cases our ancestors chose to use a unique symbol instead. When they did so consistently, they left behind important clues to their identity in these documents. Although most available deeds, wills, and similar legal documents used in genealogical research are handwritten copies created by the clerk for a court docket rather than the original document itself, the court clerks who prepared these official copies generally tried to duplicate the original marks. Even when the handwritten court records were later transcribed and compiled into collected volumes for genealogical and historical research, the authors of those later compilations also often attempted to faithfully reproduce the original signature marks. Thus, when they exist, unique signature marks can offer persuasive evidence that an individual with a particular name who appears in one time and place is the same person as another with that same name who appears in a different time and place. In Robert Blevins’ words, it is “[a] rarely used, but very powerful technique for the researcher….”[4]

Fortunately, several of the early Blevins men in colonial North America used unique signature marks. The two whose distinctive signature marks provide the key to determining the origin of the southern branch of the Blevins family are James Blevin (Blevin-32) and his son James Blevin (Blevin-33).[5]

The James Blevin of Oyster Bay, Province of New York

The first appearance of the older James Blevin is in the town of Oyster Bay in the Province of New York in February 1678/9, when he acquired land in the town.[6] Eight years later, in January 1686/7, he left behind at least two legal records in Oyster Bay containing his unique signature mark.

The first is the record of an arbitration dispute dated 7 January 1686/7 involving John Rogers and James Blevin, both of Oyster Bay. A transcription of this record is contained in the Dongan Papers edited by Peter Christoph.[7] In addition to a transcription of the document itself, Christoph includes a handwritten reproduction of the unique signature mark. That portion of the document is reproduced in image 1:

Image 1: Oyster Bay, Arbitration Dispute 7 Jan 1687/7

Christoph’s notes to this document explain that “[t]he mark of Rogers and the last names of both men are obscured by the remnants of two wax seals” on the original document.[8] In fact, the bottom right corner of James Blevin’s mark was likely also obscured by the sealing wax. While the symbol on the right in this image resembles an “A” or an “R,” in every subsequent appearance of James Blevins’ mark, as discussed below, the mark includes the same distinctive vertical line with three horizontal cross lines symbol on the left, but the symbol on the right is clearly a “B,” as in Blevin. Robert Blevins renders this distinctive mark as reflected in image 2:[9]

Image 2: Robert Blevins Rendering (Blevin-32)

The second known Oyster Bay record in which the mark appears is a deed by James Blevin and his wife “An[n]” dated 14 January 1686/7. This deed contains both of their signature marks. An[n]’s mark on this document was a simple X, but James again used his unique mark. In the typeset transcription of this deed compiled by John Cox Jr. from the original in 1916,[10] it is rendered as reflected in image 3:

Image 3: Oyster Bay, Deed 14 Jan 1686/7

This “E:B:” seems clearly to be an attempt by the compiler to reproduce that same unique handwritten mark, given the limitations of using typeset to do so. The original source from which this typeset transcription was compiled is Book B, p. 109, of the original Town Records of Oyster Bay. If the original record can be located, this page will be updated to reflect a discussion of that original.

The deed made by James and An[n] Blevin in January 1686/7 is the last known documentary evidence of their presence in Oyster Bay.

The Two James Blevins of Westerly, Colony of Rhode Island

In 1694, a James Blevins was accepted as a freeman in the town of Westerly, on the far western frontier of the Colony of Rhode Island. This James Blevins appears to have operated a tavern in Westerly for several years, and he obtained land there in January 1702/3. He appears in the court records as a witness during 1704 and 1705.[11]

For the purposes of this discussion, however, the two key Westerly records relating to him were made in 1708 and 1714:

On 13 April 1708, James Bliven acquired a 50-acre tract of land in Westerly from a sachem of the Narragansett tribe; the following day he made a deed granting a future interest in that same property to his “son James Bliven” with title to transfer after the older James’ death and the death of his wife.[12] Significantly, this deed contains the unique signature mark of the older James, and it matches the distinctive signature mark of the James Blevin who had previously resided in Oyster Bay. An image of the relevant portion of the deed is reproduced in Image 4:

Image 4: Westerly, Deed 13 Apr 1708

Then, on 12 August 1714, “James Bliven Senior and James Bliven Junior both of the town of Westerle” conveyed this same tract of land to a Daniel MacKoone. Because both James Blevins were grantors, this 1714 deed contains the signature marks of both father and son. The mark of James Blevins Senior again matches his unique mark in the earlier records. The mark of James Blevins Junior appears as a small circle with a curving tail from right to left, possibly intended to be a cursive J. Robert Blevins renders this mark as reflected in Image 5:

Image 5: Robert Blevins Rendering (Blevin-33)

The deed also identifies the wives of both men, who affirm the waiver of their dower rights in the property being transferred: Ann, the wife of the older James, consistent with her identification as “An[n]” in the Oyster Bay records; and Margery, the wife of his son.[13] The relevant portion of the instrument is reproduced in Image 6:

Image 6: Westerly, Deed 12 Aug 1714

Given the unique stylized nature of the signature mark used by the older James, it is highly unlikely that two different individuals were using this same unusual mark by coincidence. Thus, from the series of documents discussed above we can confidently conclude:

  1. The James Blevin who appears in Oyster Bay from at least February 1678/9 – April 1689 is the same James Blevin Senior who appears in Westerly, Rhode Island, beginning in 1694.
  2. He was born before 1658 (because he must have been an adult when granted property in Oyster Bay in January 1678/9).
  3. His wife was named An[n].
  4. He had a son who was also named James.
  5. His son James was born before 1688 (because the younger James was already an adult and able to be the grantee of property in 1708).
  6. The younger James’ wife was named Margery.

The last record pertaining to this younger James Blevins and his wife Margery in Westerly, Rhode Island, is a 1718 quitclaim deed by Margery’s stepfather Job Card, which establishes that her last name at birth was Tosh.[14]

The James Blevins of Goochland County, Colony of Virginia

As discussed above, a James Blevins appears as the head of a household on the list of taxables in the Monocacy Hundred in what was then Prince George's County, Maryland, in 1733. There is also an adult Daniel Blevins in his household in 1733, and several Walling men, on the same list. These Blevins and Wallen/Walling men, along with other related families, began migrating from Maryland to the southwestern Virginia frontier in the late 1730s.[15]

The first stop in Virginia for at least some and perhaps all the Blevins men was Goochland County. A James “Bleving” received Virginia land patents for two tracts of land – one for four hundred and the other for 295 acres – both along Muddy Creek, a tributary on the south side of the James River in what was then Goochland County (now on the border between Powhatten and Cumberland counties), on 15 August 1737.[16] And there are at least three land records filed in Goochland County, Colony of Virginia, reflecting his sales of this land between 1743-1745, which establish that the James Bleving/Blevin who acquired this land in Goochland County in 1737 used the same “cursive J” signature mark as the James Blevin Junior who had previously resided in Westerly.

These transactions, along with an image of the relevant signature marks, are reflected in Images 7-9:

  • 13 August 1743, James Bleving, grantor, to Robert Douglas, 295 acres:[17]
Image 7: Goochland, Deed 13 Aug 1743
  • 9 August 1744, James Blevin, grantor, to Edward Booker, 400 acres:[18]
Image 8: Goochland, Deed 9 Aug 1744
  • 17 May 1745, James Blevin Senior, grantor, to Robert Douglas, 295 acres (correcting error in the 1743 deed).[19]
Image 9: Goochland, Deed 17 May 1745

These matching “cursive J” signature marks are persuasive evidence that the James Blevins Senior who appears in Goochland County between 1737-1745 (and by implication the James Blevins who appears in the Monocacy Hundred in 1733-4) is the same man as the James Blevins Junior who was born in Westerly, Rhode Island, before 1688.

Corroborating Evidence Refuting the Possibility of Coincidence

In contrast to the distinctive stylized signature mark used by the older James Blevins, however, this “cursive J” mark used by the younger James is arguably less unique. The use of a simple X or a printed J would certainly be more common, but it would not be so surprising for two different men named James Blevins to both use a cursive J as their signature mark. The symbols used by the Westerly James and the Goochland James both have the same distinctive small circle and looping tail pattern, arguably making such a coincidence less likely, but it is still at least possible that the “cursive J” marks made in the Westerly and Goochland documents were by two different James Blevins who just happened to choose a similar mark.

However, there is additional corroborating evidence that makes such a coincidence unlikely.

First, as discussed above, there was a male aged 16 or older named Daniel Blevins in James Blevins’ household in Maryland in 1733, and no other Blevins men appear on that taxables list. As explained in more detail in James’ profile, this implies that Daniel was probably James’ oldest son.

Second, as discussed above and in their respective profiles, by the 1740s this Daniel and several of his likely younger brothers, along with the Wallen/Walling and other related families, had migrated further west to the remote frontier and settled along the Smith River in what was then Lunenburg County, later Halifax, and then Pittsylvania County by 1767.[15]

On 1 July 1771, a Daniel Blevins Sr. then living in Pittsylvania County executed a Power of Attorney in connection with his efforts to recover 100 acres of land in Westerly, Rhode Island in which he claimed an interest.[20] Why would an old man living in southwestern Virginia in 1771 believe he had a claim to property rights in Westerly, Rhode Island? This otherwise puzzling document makes sense if he was the same Daniel Blevins who had been living in James’ household in Maryland in 1733, the oldest son of James Blevins; and if that James Blevins was born and raised in Westerly as the signature mark evidence suggests. Under the rules of primogeniture then in effect, when James died, his oldest son Daniel would have become heir to whatever property interest James might still have in land James had previously owned in Westerly.[21] In the light of this power of attorney, the matching signature marks in the Westerly and Goochland documents are highly unlikely to be a coincidence. We can therefore confidently conclude the James Blevin Junior of Westerly and the James Blevin/Bleving/Blevins of Monocacy/Goochland are the same man; that he was the son of James Blevin and Ann (__); and that his wife was Margery Tosh.


  1. Maryland Hall of Records, Calendar of Maryland State Papers, No. 1, The Black Books, (1943), 42; Digital images, Hathitrust, (https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uva.x000475038 : accessed 8 May 2021).
  2. Grace L. Tracey, & John P. Dern, Pioneers of Old Monocacy: The Early Settlement of Frederick County, Maryland 1721-43, (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987), 368-69 (citing Prince George's County Court Records V:98); Digital Images, Ancestry.com, (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/49295/ : accessed 8 May 2021) [subscription required].
  3. Those papers are all available at Robert P. Blevins: Blevins Genealogical Research Publications, (https://www.rpblevins.com/ : accessed 14 June 2021).
  4. Robert P. Blevins, The Blevins Men of New York and New England: The First Blevins Settlers in the New World (Acme, Penn.: s.p., 2020), vi; digital Image, Robert P. Blevins: Blevins Genealogical Research Publications, (https://www.rpblevins.com/ : accessed 14 June 2021).
  5. In addition to the analysis relevant here, Robert Blevins provides an extended discussion of the use of this tool to identify younger Blevins men in subsequent generations in his papers.
  6. See profile for James Blevin (Blevin-32).
  7. Peter R. Christoph, ed., The Dongan Papers: Admiralty Court and other Records of the Administration of New York Governor Thomas Dongan, 2 parts (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 2:6.
  8. Dongan Papers, 2:6.
  9. Blevins, Blevins Men of New York and New England, vii.
  10. John Cox, Jr., ed., 'Oyster Bay Town Records, 8 vols. (New York: various publishers, 1916-40), 1:437.
  11. See profile for James Blevin (Blevin-32).
  12. Westerly Land Evidence vol. [3?], p. 20-21; digital images, FamilySearch, “Land evidence vol. 1-3 1661-1728,” FHL microfilm 940222, items 4-6; DGS 7896694 (FHL/FHC access only). [Access to these digital files at regional FHCs is unavailable, and I need to verify the volume number from the DGS file when access is restored -McClain-3310 ].
  13. Westerly Land Evidence vol. [3?], p. 161-62; digital images, FamilySearch, “Land evidence vol. 1-3 1661-1728,” FHL microfilm 940222, items 4-6; DGS 7896694 (FHL/FHC access only). [Access to these digital files at regional FHCs is unavailable, and I need to verify the volume number from the DGS file when access is restored -- McClain-3310 ]
  14. See profiles for James Blevins (Blevin-33) and Margery Tosh.
  15. 15.0 15.1 See profiles for James Blevin (Blevin-33) and his children; see also, e.g., profiles for Elisha Walling and his children.
  16. Virginia Land Patent Book No. 17, pp. 394-95; digital Images, Library of Virginia, “Virginia Land Office Patents and Grants Index,” (http://image.lva.virginia.gov/LONN/LO.html : accessed 13 Jun 2021).
  17. Goochland County, Virginia, Deed Book vol. 4, p. 218; digital images, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9P6-9SBV : accessed 23 May 2021); FHL microfilm 31,654, DGS 7,645,024.
  18. Goochland County Deed Books, 4:263.
  19. Goochland County Deed Books, 4:563.
  20. Pittsylvania County Virginia Deed Book No. 2 1770-1772, p. 317-18; Digital Images, FamilySearch, “Deed book, v. 1, 1767-1770 (includes list of surveys 1768-1769) -- Deed book, v. 2, 1770-1772,” (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9PX-G4LJ : accessed 16 Jun 2021); FHL microfilm 33,262; DGS 7,646,004.
  21. For further development of this argument, see Robert P. Blevins, The Blevins Men of Monocacy and Goochland: The Southern Migration of the James Blivin Family (Acme, Penn.: s.p., 2020), 20-22; digital Image, Robert P. Blevins: Blevins Genealogical Research Publications, (https://www.rpblevins.com/ : accessed 14 June 2021).


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