ELIZABETH YANCEY BRAME
INFORMATION CONCERNING COL. THORNTON YANCEY, STERLING YANCEY, AND JAMES YANCEY OF VIRGINIA.
Written and Submitted by Mr. Albert H. Spinks
3129 Sutton Place
Burlington, NC 27215
November 5, 1995
As some of you are aware, I have been working on the Yancey clan for some 15 to 20 years in an attempt to determine the parents on one of my ancestors, Betsey Yancey, who married Samuel Chiles Brame in 1807. I seem to have carried the project as far as I reasonably can, and the purpose of this letter is to document in capsule form what I have found, and to SPECULATE on the ancestry of Betsey based on what data we currently have available. Maybe something will come to light in the future that will document conclusively Betsey's origin, but I believe it will have to come from some family document laid to rest in the proverbial 'trunk in the attic.' I have covered pretty thoroughly public and private information in southern Virginia, northern North Carolina, Georgia, and southern Alabama. In addition, I have swapped information with many of you that have been very kind in communicating with me, offering many helpful suggestions.
First, who is Betsey Yancey and how does she fit into my family. My father was Albert Grady Spinks, born and reared in Kemper Co., Miss., son of Albert Hunter Spinks, my namesake, and Undine Brame. Undine Brame was born in Alabama, daughter of Charles Edward Brame and Mary Francis Webb. Charles Edward Brame was born, 1823, in Petersburg, Va., son of Samuel Chiles Brame and Betsey Yancey, the subject of this letter.
Just what data do we have to draw on to determine Betsey's parents. Following are the primary sources I have run across with a discussion of pros and cons for each.
1. The Charles Edward Brame Bible.
I have in my possession the Charles Edward Brame Bible, the first entries of which appear to have been made by Charles Edward Brame himself. I found this Bible among my mother's genealogical possessions and remember having seen it on the living room mantel of my Aunt Mary Spinks Stephens (my father's sister). I feel with confidence, Aunt Mary got it from her parents home, having been brought there by my grandmother, Undine Brame Spinks; and that Undine got it from her father's home. The Bible is in relatively good shape, having been rebound somewhere along the way. Written on the first of the original pages, "Presented to C. E. Brame by his friend Hon. A. A. Coleman, at Livingston, Ala., in 1852."
The Family record section is between the old and new testaments, in the traditional manner. The very first two entries are very important and are quoted from the marriage records as follows:
"Transcript from the Family Record in the Family Bible of the Father of C. E. Brame now in the hands of his brother James of Montgomery, Ala."
"On the 6th of January 1807 was married by the Rev. Henry Yancey, Samuel Chiles Brame to Miss Betsey C. Yancey, both of the County of Mecklenburg, Virginia."
In the Births section it is written:
"Charles Edward son of Samuel C. Brame and his wife Elizabeth Yancey, daughter of Sterling Yancey, was born in Petersburg Va. on the 15th day of January 1823. Lost his mother in infancy at the age of eight months and was fatherless before he was seven years of age."
There is one big problem with the above documentation, and that is the claim that Betsey Yancey's father was Sterling. I have researched Sterling Yancey very thoroughly. The records support only one Sterling from Mecklenburg, Va./Granville, N. C. area and he left an unusual amount of documentation, including a family Bible. He was born in Granville Co., N. C. in 1762. He moved to Mecklenburg Co., Va. in the early 1800's, was in Cumberland Co., N. C. in the census of 1810, and was in Raleigh, N. C. by 1812. He was an ancestor to be proud of. The records are full of his public service and contributions to his community. At one time he was what we would call today mayor of Raleigh. He appeared to be successful financially, owning a complete block of property for his home just north of the current N. C. State Library. The Sterling Yancey and Samuel Chiles Brame families were obviously close and it is my belief that the two men were often in business together. S. C. Brame owned property in Cumberland County at the same time Sterling Yancey was there, and the records document that they both lived in Raleigh at the same time. In addition, it is documented that several of Sterling Yancey's sons went to Petersburg, Virginia, during the same time period that the S. C. Brame family was there. It is my belief that the boys went there to work for S. C. Brame and to gain experience in the mercantile business. In 1815, Sterling Yancey passed away unexpectedly. Even though he did not have a will, his estate was well documented in Wake County records, listing heirs including his wife and children by name. Very importantly, Betsey Yancey, wife of Samuel Chiles Brame was not listed as an heir. If she were a legitimate daughter, one would certainly think her name would be there. She and her family were living only a short few blocks from the Sterling Yanceys at the time of his death. Under today's laws she would be included even if she were illegitimate; I am not sure what the case would be back in the N. C. of 1815. A daughter named Elizabeth was included in the estate. However, she was a minor at the time, only 15 years old in 1815 and could not possibly be my Elizabeth Yancey Brame.
Another problem with accepting Sterling Yancey as the biological father of Betsey Yancey Brame is that she is not listed in the Sterling Yancey Bible. I have seen Xerox copies of the family record section of that Bible, which is currently archived somewhere in Tennessee.
One additional comment about the Charles Edward Brame Bible records. I have attempted to find the Samuel Chiles Brame Bible that C. E. Brame claims he copied some records from. Every time I go to the Alabama archives, I ask about it; and I have asked a number of Brame relatives. No luck so far.
2. Princeton University library documentation:
It is documented that Charles Edward Brame attended the State College of New Jersey which later became Princeton University. In September of 1987, my wife and I stopped by the Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton to see what information was available relative to the Brame Family. I was shown a folder dedicated to Charles Edward Brame and in it I found, among other things, a two page biography of C. E. Brame sent to the library by Elizabeth Brame Rhyne, a Brame descendent. Mrs. Rhyne attributes the source of the information for the biography to something written by Thomas Webb Brame, a son of Charles Edward Brame. This biography really complicates the search for Betsey Yancey Brame's parents. I quote one paragraph sent in by Mrs. Rhyne:
"Samuel Childs Brame, son of Samuel Brame and Elizabeth, moved to Alabama in the early part of the 18th century. He was married to Betsey Yancey, June 6, 1806, the ceremony being performed by her father, the Reverend Henry Yancey in Petersburg, Virginia. Samuel Childs Brame died October 3, 1829, near Independence, Alabama."
Well, the date of the ceremony differs from that given in the Charles Edward Brame Bible; but the real 'curve ball' is the claim that Betsey Yancey's father was Rev. Henry Yancey.
I've followed up on this lead, searching diligently for Henry Yanceys in the early 1800's in N. C., southern Virginia, and in and around Petersburg. I found some Henry Yanceys, but none that were preachers. However, one could have been a J. P. and performed the ceremony. But I found absolutely no connection between a Henry Yancey and my Betsey. S. C. Brame's father and mother were Samuel Brame and Elizabeth, and S. C. Brame did pass away 3 OCT 1829 near Independence, Ala. However, the rest of the above paragraph is bogus, even the part about going to Alabama in the early 1800's. He didn't go until after 1825 or so.
3. Family tradition in southern Alabama:
James Yancey Brame, grandson of Samuel Chiles Brame, was interested in family history and much of his writings have survived. It was his belief that Betsey Yancey Brame was an aunt of William Lowndes Yancey, a prominent south Alabama lawyer and politician of the first part of the 19th century. It seems that James Yancey was basing his belief on some correspondence between one member of the S. C. Brame family and a member of the William L. Yancey family that referred to their kinship. Well, as it turns out they were distant relatives with common ancestors a number of generations back that lived in Virginia. The branch that I believe Betsey came from went from Virginia to North Carolina and the William L. Yancey branch went first to South Carolina and then to Alabama.
William L. Yancey's father was Benjamin Cudsworth Yancey and his father was a James Yancey. James left a will in South Carolina naming his children. There was no mention of a Betsey. If James Yancey Brame's claim about Betsey were true, then she would have been listed in that will. To be as fair and open to this theory as I can, I should mention that Betsey Yancey Brame named one of her boys Benjamin Lafayette Brame and to my knowledge there is no Benjamin in the North Carolina branch of the Yanceys.
4. Betsey Briggs and William Yancey:
Back several years ago, I ran across a book by Camin titled "North Carolina Bastardy Bonds." Now don't panic and throw my letter in the trash can. This information is quite interesting. Illegitimate births are not just a modern occurrence. Our ancestors throughout time have had to deal with it and its resultant problems. Anyway the authors of the above book had gone through some bond records associated with illegitimacy and now located in the N. C. Archives in Raleigh. They had compiled the data and published the result. I found an entry for one Betsey Brills and a William Yancey was somehow involved. It was dated 1785. Since the data given in the book was concise, I went to the source documents in Raleigh to see just what was there. It seems that whenever it was reported that an unmarried lady was pregnant, a deputy sheriff was sent out to bring her before a panel of the local J. P.'s. She would be asked if she was with child, which was usually obvious, so she would say, "Yes." She would then be asked who the father was. If she would tell his name, the deputy would go get him and he would be required to put up a bond to assure that the child would be taken care of financially. The JP's wanted to assure that the community would not have to finance the child's upbringing. How is that for taking care of the problem? Effective, eh what. If the mother would not divulge the father's name, then she was required to make bond.
Anyway, in the original records I found that the lady's name was Betsey Briggs, not Brill. And the main JP she went before and who signed her documents was non other than Col. Thornton Yancey, Sterling Yancey's father. In the usual manner, Betsey Briggs was asked who the father was. The document said that she refused to tell. So the JP's gave her 24 hours (or whatever) to come up with the bond, knowing full well that she would make a bee line to the father of the child and collar him for the bond money. In this case, it was recorded that bond was made by Betsey Briggs and one William Yancey. William's relationship to the problem was not given.
Now since there are a number of legal matters surrounding illegitimate births that often appear in the court records, I went straight for those records for the year 1785. To my disappointment, the court records for Graville County have disappeared for a number of years that include 1785.
Now I just have to ask several questions. Is it just a coincidence that Miss Briggs has the same first name as my ancestor, Betsey Yancey? Is it just a coincidence that there are several Yancey men involved in the above proceedings? And is it just a coincidence that any child born to Betsey Briggs in 1785-86 would be in its early 20's in 1807 when my Betsey Yancey married Samuel C. Brame? Of course I don't know the answer to these questions, but it is interesting to mull over them in my spare time.
5. Names of Betsey's and S. C. Brame's children
Per the Charles Edward Brame Bible, Betsey and Samuel C. Brame named their children as follows:
Harriett Partella Brame
Benjamin LaFayette Brame
William Thornton Brame
Thomas Washington Brame
Edwin LaFayette Brame
James Yancey Brame
Samuel Childes Brame
Charles Edward Brame
Many of the above names were familiar to the Granville Co., NC/Mecklenburg Co. Va. branch of the Yancey clan. Of special interest to me is Thornton. Col. Thornton Yancey was Sterling Yancey's father. And James Yancey was Thornton Yancey's father. The point I am making is that Betsey's children's names point to the James Yancey/Thornton Yancey lines of Granville Co., N. C.
6. Harriett Partella Brame:
Note above that Betsey Yancey Brame named her first born, a girl, Harriett Partella Brame. I have felt this name might be a key to Betsey's mother and, therefore, have looked thoroughly into the Partella name. I found one Rev. Henry Pattillo (note the difference in spelling) in Granville County, NC in the late 1700's. He was born in Scotland in 1726, married a Miss Anderson. He settled in Granville Co., was associated with the Presbyterian Church, and ran a school (for girls I seem to remember). In the census of 1790, he was in the same district as Sterling Yancey. He died in 1801. For a while I had hopes that Sterling Yancey might have had a first marriage to a daughter of Henry Pattillo who maybe was named Harriett, and hoped they had daughter Betsey. No luck in proving that. I did see a listing of Henry P.'s children, and there was no Harriett. Unfortunately, the records I looked at did not give Miss Anderson's first name. (However, I did find an implication that her name was Mary) And if I had found a Harriett P., I would have been faced with that question previously stated, "If Betsey were daughter of Sterling, why was she not in his estate settlement of 1815?"
Concerning the difference in spelling of the Partella/Pattillo name, I followed Harriett P. Brame to Louisiana where she passed away in 1852 near Covington. In the records there I found her middle name spelled the same way as it was for Rev. Henry Pattillo back in N. C. So Charles Edward Brame must have spelled it in his Bible records like he thought it sounded.
7. Betsey, daughter of Col. Thornton Yancey.
In several places it is documented that Col. Thornton Yancey had a daughter named Betsey, and for a short period of time I had hopes that she was my Betsey Yancey Brame. In the Granville Co., NC, deed records it is recorded that Thornton Yancey sold in 1802 a slave named Dycey to his daughter Betsey. And in Yancey family records the children of Thornton Yancey are recorded and a daughter Betsey is included born in 1772. The problem with accepting this Betsey as my Betsey is that in 1807 she would have been 35 years old. One is then faced with the question as to whether she could have had eight children after that age. I feel that is not likely. In addition, I feel that if Betsey Yancey Brame had been the daughter of Col Thornton Yancey, it would have been well known and Charles Edward Brame would have said so in his family Bible.
8. The Sterling Yancey Bible.
Sterling and Elizabeth Yancey's family Bible has survived and imbedded in its birth records is the following entry:
Jackson M. Yancey son of James Yancey was born ? of October ????. [The year looks like it has been erased]
It is unfortunate that the year of birth did not survive. The only Jackson M. Yancey that we are currently aware of is the one who married Elizabeth Goode, was born in October of 1791, and whose parents have never been proven. It is quite a puzzle as to what connection he would have with the Sterling Yancey family that would prompt his birth to be recorded in that Bible.
The Jackson M. Yancey entry is in the left hand column on the birth page. Right across from that entry in the right hand page is an entry that appears to have been sloppily erased. A "Y" survived that looks like the "Y" used elsewhere in the record for the first letter of Yancey.
Now I would like to put my spin on all of the above information. Understand what I am about to say is strictly a THEORY, but it is based on much calculated thoughts.
First, I believe that Betsey was born under very unusual circumstances, circumstances for which the Yancey/Brame families were not particularly proud. I feel this way because there are just too many conflicting stories about her origin and documentation of her early life is not there. As someone has put it, she just parachuted in. However, I believe the Yancey family rose to the occasion and reared a very fine young lady of whom we all can be proud. I think she was educated and perhaps went to Rev. Henry Pattillo's school and that is why she gave her oldest child the middle name of Pattillo. Her signature (no X's) appears on a number of public documents, and she raised her children with an appreciation for education and the finer things in life that it can bring. As I have pointed out, my great grandfather, C. E. Brame, went to a school that later became Princeton University. And many of the family became prominent members of the Montgomery, southern Alabama business community.
I further believe that Betsey was reared primarily in the Sterling Yancey household. Sterling Yancey and wife Elizabeth were like that. Public records show that they often took responsibility for orphan children. I believe this is why Charles Edward Brame thought his grandfather was Sterling. I believe that whenever anyone asked Betsey about her father, she would claim Sterling; but he was her FOSTER father. Additional proof of this claim is the apparent closeness of the Sterling Yancey and S. C. Brame families. They seemed to move about together, often living in the same community, only a few blocks apart. Usually, the relationship between the orphans and Sterling's family was short lived, but Betsey's relationship seemed to be permanent. She must have had Yancey blood.
If Sterling Yancey was not Betsey Brame's father then who was? Dennis Yancey of Miami several years ago made a calculated suggestion and I have gradually come around to his thinking. Sterling had a brother who was the 'black sheep' of the family. His name was James and I have followed his life through the public documentation from Granville County into southern Virginia and westward to Campbell Co., Va., where he passed away in 1817. Courthouse records document that on several occasions Sterling had to bring suit against his brother, James, to recover loans he had made. And in Pittsylvania County, Va., it is recorded that suit was brought against James by Nelly his wife for beating. She was a battered wife. She won, and James spent some time in jail for it. Before the suit, they had daughter Polly Clayton Yancey. After the suit they did not have any more children, though it appeared that they continued to live in the same home. Dennis Yancey suggests that this is the James that was documented in the Sterling Yancey Bible as father of Jackson M. Yancey. Dennis further suggests that he fathered Betsey Yancey Brame as a teenager or a young man. Much, much speculation, but the most plausible theory I have thus far.
Dennis Yancey has already put Betsey in his records as daughter of the above James. I also am going to do that, but with a note of caution. I do firmly believe that Betsey is granddaughter of Col. Thornton Yancey. The big question is which of Thornton's sons sired Betsey, and I am choosing James.
With best regards,
Albert H. Spinks
July 8, 2001
Since researching and writing the above material, I have become aware that back in the early years of our country, an illegitimate child could not normally inherit property from a parent. Sometimes they could inherit from the mother but not from the father. Therefore, if Sterling Yancey sired Betsey out of wedlock, Betsey could have been daughter of Sterling as Charles Edward Brame claimed, but she would not have been allowed to participate in the settlement of Sterling's estate. I now consider this to be a strong possibility.
August 12, 2003
I am currently reading "Benjamin Franklin" by Walter Isaacson. Starting on p. 75 (of the hardback edition), there is a discussion of William, an illegitimate son of Benjamin. It seems that Benjamin Franklin readily admitted to fathering William and appears to have raised the boy in his own household. Significant to me is the fact that Benjamin kept the identity of the mother very confidential, so much so that people then, and today, were reduced to speculating about who she was.
What is important is that the same moral responsibility could have existed 55 to 60 years later in the NC/VA area; and as described above, the county leaders held the fathers quite responsible for their folly. Sterling Yancey, the son of a prominent family of the area, could have sired an illegitimate daughter (Betsey??), taken her into his own home to raise (he did a good job), and the family became very 'closed mouth' as to the identity of the mother. When Sterling passed away in 1815 without a will, Betsey's illegitimacy precluded her from inclusion in Sterling's estate distribution. Therefore Betsey's son, Charles Edward Brame, wrote in his Bible that Betsey's father was Sterling Yancey, and he left the mother out of the records because he did not know who she was.
I therefore, am changing my records to show Sterling as Betsey's father and leaving her mother as unknown.
Aug. 12, 2003