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What Do We Know About Sarah Stanley's Ancestors?

Sarah (or Sally) Stanley Martin was born somewhere in Virginia in 1793 and died in Fremont County, Iowa, in 1863.  According to the inscription on her tombstone, her exact dates were 22 February 1793 to 6 March 1863.

As mentioned in our discussion of John's ancestors, our primary source of information about earlier generations is the letter of Elza Martin.  However, the information it provides about Sally's ancestry is even sketchier than that given for John's.  It tells the compelling story of how Sally's mother, as a young girl, was the sole survivor of an Indian attack on her family.  But it gives no further information about this woman — not even a first or last name or the area in which she lived — which makes it hard to connect the story to anything in the historical record. Similarly, the letter refers to Sally's father only as “a man by the name of Stanley.”  However, based on census records, land deeds, and other legal documents, I believe her father to have been a man named Isaac Stanley, who owned land adjacent to the property where she and John settled after their marriage. This relationship is supported particularly by the 1827 will of Isaac Stanley, which refers to “my eldest daughter, Sarah Martin,” and by the fact that Sally named her first-born son Isaac.

However, the apparent survival of Sally's father until 1827 does not square with Elza's assertion that “Mr. Stanley died and my great grandfather married his widow . . . .”  My guess is that Elza simply got the roles reversed. That is, it was Mr. Martin who died and Mr. Stanley who married the widow.  I don't doubt Elza's recollection that his grandparents were “stepbrother and sister” — that seems like the sort of tidbit that would have impressed him as a young boy — but he may not have remembered so clearly the exact details of how that came about, who married whom.  This theory could also explain why we find no records of Edward (or Edmond) Martin after about 1805.  Interestingly, the Athens County marriage records do show that one Isaac Stanley married a “Mrs. Elizabeth Martin,” but that marriage did not happen until 1815, which would have been too late to make John and Sally step-siblings prior to their own marriage (circa 1808).  On the other hand, perhaps they were already husband and wife before they became step-siblings, and Elza misunderstood the order of events.

Isaac Stanley (like “Edward Martin”) is named in Charles M. Walker's History of Athens County as one of the earliest inhabitants of Alexander Township.  W.E. Peters' map of the First Settlers of Alexander Township shows that Isaac owned three parcels of land in the township, one of which was adjacent to John Martin's property.  In addition to Sally (born 1793), several other children are believed to have been born to Isaac and his first wife.  These include John (born abt 1792), Archelaus (abt 1796), Isaac, Jr. (abt 1799), Elizabeth (abt 1800), William (abt 1802), and Jane (abt 1804).  One more child was born to Isaac and his second wife (the former Mrs. Elizabeth Martin):  Hiram Stanley (born 1815).  Hiram may have been a half-brother to both John Martin and Sally Stanley.

Census records show that Isaac Stanley's four oldest children were all born in Virginia and, hence, that probably is where Isaac and his first wife both came from.  Unfortunately, no records for the State of Virginia have survived from either the 1790 or 1800 Federal Censuses, so we have to rely on other early records to identify where Isaac had lived before moving to Ohio.

I submit that Sally’s parents most likely came from Berkeley County, VA (which is now part of West Virginia).  THIS CONCLUSION DIFFERS FROM THOSE OF SEVERAL OTHER STANLEY FAMILY RESEARCHERS, which will be discussed below.  A man named Isaac Stanley filed a will in Berkeley County in July 1794, and died sometime prior to the following December.  Hence, he would not have been the man who later settled in Athens County, OH.  But one of the heirs identified in his will was his son, Isaac Stanley, Jr., and I suggest that this younger man was Sally's father.  According to the elder Isaac Stanley's will, Isaac Jr. had siblings named Joseph, John, Archelaus, Elizabeth, Mary, and Ann.  The fact that Isaac Stanley of Athens County applied three of these same names to his own children (especially Archelaus, which is somewhat unusual) reinforces the idea that these two families are related.

The elder Isaac Stanley, in his will, granted property to his sons John and Joseph, but left his son Isaac only a monetary inheritance of 67 pounds, 10 shillings.  Hence, Isaac would have had less incentive than John and Joseph to remain in Berkeley County.  Nevertheless, he did stay a few years, as his name shows up on Berkeley County personal property tax lists that remain from 1794, 1795, and 1798.  (It should be noted that Isaac’s taxable personal property consisted of one horse in each of the first two years, and two horses in 1798.  Slaves also would have counted as taxable property, and the schedules show that neither Isaac nor his mother nor any of his brothers owned slaves.)  Isaac, however, is not listed on the 1799 tax list, most likely indicating that he had left the county.  A year later, 1800, a man named Isaac Stanley shows up in a listing of adult males in Washington County, Ohio (in the part of that county that later became Athens County).

We have no record of who this Isaac Stanley married.  If he IS Sally Stanley’s father, he likely would have married sometime prior to 1792 (when Sally's brother John was born), and that marriage probably would have been in Berkeley County.  A few 18th century marriage records are available for Berkeley County, but they are far from complete, and I have not found one for this Isaac.  I have also found no report from Berkeley County that specifically mentions a 4-year old girl who escaped from a burning cabin, as described in Elza's letter.  If Sally's mother had been — say — 18 to 22 when her first child was born, she would have been 4 years old about 1774–78.  That span covers what was known as Dunmore's war and the early years of the American Revolution.  There were many clashes between Indians and settlers along the western frontier during both of those conflicts, so it is believable that such an incident could have happened in Berkeley County or any adjacent area.

We do know that the senior Isaac Stanley was married to a woman named Mary, based on his will.  Various on-line postings further identify her as Mary Rush or Roush, though none of these cite documentary evidence for this name.

Previously, several Stanley family researchers had identified Sally's father as the Isaac Stanley who married Elizabeth Brooks in Goochland County, VA, in 1786.  Others suggested he could have been the Isaac Stanley who married Frances Nash in Pittsylvania County, VA, in 1792.  A few even submitted that the same man had married both of those women and subsequently moved to Athens County, Ohio.  I reject all of these theories based on the following points:

  • A will filed in Goochland County by one Mary Brooks, on 21 March 1804, makes reference to “my beloved daughter Elizabeth Stanley,” “my grandson Jackson Stanly,” “my grand daughter Gule Elma Stanley,” “my Grand daughter Mary Stanly,” and “my grand daughter Elizabeth Stanly.”  Of the four Stanley grandchildren named in Mary’s will, only one matches the name of a known descendant of Isaac Stanley of Athens County, and that one happens to be Elizabeth, which has been one of the most popular girl's names throughout our history.  There are no records showing that Isaac Stanley of Athens County ever had children named Jackson, Gule, or Mary.  Also, Mary Brooks’ will does not mention where her daughter Elizabeth Stanley was residing in 1804, which it probably would have done if she were then living in Ohio or, indeed, anywhere other than Goochland County.
  • Regarding Isaac Stanley who had married Frances Nash . . .  I believe that he is the Isaac Stanley who is buried at Butcher Cemetery in Union County, TN, having died in Grainger County, TN (from which Union County was later formed) in 1810.  Grainger County records show that Isaac Stanley had bought land there in 1807 (see index here).  One primary reason for thinking that this Isaac was Frances Nash's husband is the report on the Family Search site that Frances Nash's father — John Nash — also died in Grainger County.  It is well known that family groups tended to move together and stay near each other in those early days.
  • Add to these observations the fact that both Elizabeth Brooks and Frances Nash had clearly identifiable parents who survived until these women were fully grown.  Hence, neither of them could have been the girl described in Elza's letter as the sole survivor of an Indian attack on her family — the girl he identified as Sally's mother.

Pete at John Martin Family dot org

     —Pete Martin

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