Monday, December 31, 2007


By Carey H. Bracewell

My dear friend and cousin, the late William C. Fields of Fayetteville,
North Carolina, would be the first to applaud this plan to memorialize his
life and contributions to Braswell research by quoting none other than--
himself. Why? Because 'accuracy', was Bill's obsession in all things. And
Bill nudged all of us--his younger contemporaries--to share that obsession.
Therefore I'm more comfortable memorializing Bill with his own accurate
and well-chosen words.

Bill advanced Braswell research tremendously not only by his many
important discoveries in North Carolina collections but even more by
his uncompromising adherence to the rules of evidence in both logic and
genealogy. Here are some passages from my forty years' correspondence
with that remarkable man that will at least hint at his legacy =

(25 May 2000)

"....My opinion is that these London/Grantham Bracewells were indeed
probably one family but that the precise relationships among them are
not yet proven."


"....My mother died on 19 February, her 86th birthday, after a two
months' illness. Work and everything else were neglected during that time so
I've now become inordinately busy, also with the extra burden of decisions
to make, added responsibilities and, it would seem, bizarre occurrences
that only a Russian novelist could dream up.

The latest and by far the most dramatic of these was my yard-handyman's
attempt a couple of weeks ago to murder me. Winston Churchill is
supposed to have said that the most exhilarating thing in life was to be shot
at without result but if that's anything like being charged by an axe-wielding
maniac he's all wet. It was terrifying. The poor man just went berserk
over imagined wrongs. He's had a couple of temper tantrums before but I was
able to calm him and it never occurred to me that he was crazy....

...the renters next door came to my rescue. They also took him to the
Mental Health Centerlater in the day after I'd collected my wits and figured
out what to do. The doctors there seem to think he can be controlled with

I'm at work on eight portraits and, among other activities I'm
involved in supervising the abstracting for publication of the Cumberland
Court Minutes, 1755-1791, as one of our contributions to the Bicentennial.
(And don't think it didn't take some leg work to pry the money for doing it
loose from the County Commissioners.) Genealogy has gotten scarcely a nod
for some time now." {Bill was able to see that important work to completion
before his death. CB}


"Congratulations on legitimizing your name. {"Brazil" changed to
"Bracewell" CB} I recall your saying that you contemplated doing it
and I'm pleased that you have.

Certainly you may quote from my correspondence if you wish....."


"I don't recall whether I told you I'm active in the North Carolina
Symphony, a V-P and member of the executive committee. The symphony
is now involved in some serious internal problems.... the net result will
probably mean that the executive committee will probably run the symphony
for the next few years."


"It was good to see you in Raleigh but I'm sorry you departed for the
day without a few final words. I hope you'll be able to get there again
before long...and let me know in advance and I'll make every effort to
meet you....

ON HIMSELF (14 Feb 1973)

"...I must quote a line from the obituary of my g-g-g-grandfather, the
rather noted Baptist divine, Elder JOSHUA LAWRENCE, as it may
explain a great deal. In other words certain of my traits are inherited and
there's nothing I can do about that; so when I wax critical of what I
consider to be ERROR you will understand which set of genes has gone into
gear and that the reaction is practically Pavlovian. The line: 'he had
the courage at first sight to expose error wherever and whenever he
detected it'. You can imagine the affection this engendered in the bosoms
of others and the obit goes on to say that 'his enemies attempted to trample
him down...(in) many portions of the United States ...(and) even his life was

ARCHIVES (4 Oct 1971)

"The genealogical display utilizing BRACEWELL-CARVER documents was
designed by George Stevenson of the Archives staff, but of course the
documents from a 'private collection' were provided by me as was the chart
and suggestions as to kinds of public records that had proved the progeny
of ANN and RICHARD and their descendants. Almost every type of record
that could be found in Archives was used so they felt that from that point
of view it was highly successful."


"....I agree that your Braswells came from Orange though of course the
precise lineage of any of that tribe is as yet not traced. However I
would not rule out RICHARD, will 1761, because we really know nothing
about his age. He listed a son as a poll on the 1755 tax list, Orange, which
means that said son was at least 16 years old. RICHARD may well have
been born early in the century...."

"....don't you think it odd that the name VALENTINE was completely
abandoned by the members of the family who remained in the eastern
part of the state?....right...offhand I can't think of a single one after that
one who was named in ROBERT's 1736 will...."

"I think the theory that VAL SENr moved to the vicinity of present the 1720's is perfectly plausible....No one knows how long
people were squatting on land waiting for the Granville line to be run
but we do know that when it was run a BRASWELL was there waiting and
that was in 1746....Meanwhile, back in Johnston County a VALENTINE was
on Middle Creek from 1746 to 1751, the chances being pretty good that he
had been there for several years before he got the survey...."

"I looked at Moseley's 1733 see what things were like up
country at that point and it was mostly Indians and wild animals.
HOWEVER, at the very place where the BRASWELLS set up housekeeping
there was a tract of some 30,000 acres designated as 'Ge Burrington's'. This,
I presume, was another tract such as the one Burrington purchased in the
Wilmington-Brunswick area to which he induced settlers to migrate. If
you look at the map you'll see the approximate location of VAL on Bridgers
Creek on the Roanoke, adjacent to THOMAS BRYANT. All he had to do was
go up the river to intersect the Indian trading path at the Virginia line
and then follow it down to Burrington's property....I still question,
though, whether this was the same VAL who appeared to be plodding
methodically west through Johnston in the late 40's and early 50's.

Then there is the assignment to VALENTINE BRASWELL by JOSHUA GINN
of GINN's 350 acres on Deep River in then Bladen County. The date on this
is 1746, presumably the date of the assignment. Since this is clipped to
the survey of VAL's 200 acres on Middle Creek in Johnston one supposes that
these two items refer to the same man but then I don't know who clipped
the papers together or when. However it probably was and perhaps VAL was
already contemplating this move when TOM DAVIS came along and relieved
him of the Middle Creek tract....All GINN seems to have had was an entry,
for which VAL paid ten pounds. MOSES GINN had a survey for 200 acres just
above JOSHUA on Deep River.....

Speaking of these GINNs reminds me of something. I suppose that in
your travels in these swamps you have no doubt encountered Boddie's
Mythology. A copy of his 'Southside Virginia Families' was recently lent
me so I could see what he had done with the BELL and NORFLEET families,
which to my astonishment he had worked out accurately, i.e. in agreement
with what I had already deduced. However in these cases there was ample
documentary evidence on which to base firm conclusions, unhappily not the
case in many instances. Also to my astonishment I noted the elaborate and
garbled BRASWELL lineages given in the same volume and wonder that such a
fantasy could be spun from such poor material. It's a textbook example of
drawing complicated - and erroneous - conclusions from such poor material.
But then that was Boddie's great gift: he has been known to strain at two
and two until it went as high as forty four...

Anyway I had often wondered who originated that nonsense about
JAMES and BENJAMIN being sons of WILLIAM I and now I see but what
is even more amazing is the 'evidence' offered to back up the theory:
that JAMES had bought his first piece of land in Edgecombe in 1741 from
CHRISTOPHER GINN 'probably his step-brother or relative by marriage.'
because the widow of WILLIAM I, MARY BRASWELL, had married as her
second husband MOSES GINN; also that JAMES and BENJAMIN witnessed
CHRISTOPHER GINN's will. That's the first time I ever heard of postulating
a relationship between a grantor and grantee unless of course the deed
was one of gift which this one was definitely not.

Much more to the point would be to speculate on the significance,
if any, of the connection between VALENTINE and the GINNs over on DEEP
RIVER, though at the moment I don't know what could be made of it. Boddie
has WILLIAM I as a son of ROBERT, will 1736, predeceased, but I don't
agree. There is no way of proving any provenance for WILLIAM but the
most reasonable theory, in my opinion, is that he was a predeceased son of
RICHARD of Isle of Wight. His son, WILLIAM II, was simply too old to
have been a grandson of ROBERT. On the other hand I do think it quite
possible that one of these VALENTINEs we see roaming over the landscape
was the son of ROBERT, named in ROBERT's will of 1736, though how one
could ever prove it is beyond me at this point...."

"....(I think BENJAMIN was JAMES' son, not his brother, incidentally.)
There is only one proven son of WILLIAM I, namely WILLIAM II, who seems
to have succeeded to all his father's land except the widow's dower,
according to the law of primogeniture, so several people have had a lot of
fun speculating as to which other Braswells were also fathered by WILLIAM
I....I've often thought that it was possible, if not likely, that RICHARD
II, father of RICHARD III and the CARVERs, may have had other legitimate
children but if so there is no indication as to who they were.

One is naturally tempted to speculate but it's when these speculations
are published, especially in something that is circulated as widely as
Boddie, that the trouble starts. Of course, as you observed anent our
friend from Gilmer, Texas {ROY B. BRASWELL, who had just mimeographed
his pamphlet, "Following the Braswells on the Move Westward..." CB} no
great harm is done for, viewed in a larger context, this is not that serious a
matter. I recognize that despite all my ranting and snorting about bogus
genealogies that purport to trace a lineage to Adam and Eve. However my
own personal view is that, even in pursuing the minor arts, it is preferable
to stick to proven facts."


"I regard the evidence extant on the Orange-Chatham BRASWELLs as
much too fragmentary to warrant hypothesizing with any hope of accuracy and
am chary of willy-nilly arrangements on the basis of what looks like a
good bet. Too many of these wild guesses have gotten transliterated into
gospel and only muddy the water. An example is JAMES, will 1760-1765,
Edgecombe. He has been pegged variously as a son of WILLIAM and MARY and
of ROBERT and SUSANNA. The former allegation is even supported by one
claimant (Viola Vick Braswell in her 'Lineage of Jacob Thomas Braswell')
by reference to Halifax DB 5, 51. The deed itself is erroneously designed
by her as 'Edgecombe'. incidentally. These early Edgecombe deeds, abstracted
by Hoffman, although literally dealing with what was then Edgecombe,
actually comprise the first six books of Halifax deeds. To designate them
as 'Edgecombe' is confusing because there is also an Edgecombe Book Five
and, since the Edgecombe books begin with the year 1759, by the time you get
to Five you're in 1789. But the point is that there is no hint whatever
as to the paternity of JAMES BRASWELL in HALIFAX DB 5, 41, and the fact
is that there is no evidence anywhere to support any allegations as to said
paternity. JAMES simply appeared in Edgecombe records about 1740.

(Ann Braswell and colleague have since found evidence that proves that
JAMES was the son of SUSANNA BURGESS BRACEWELL by an unknown father.
Economic distress in the Southern colonies around 1740 accounts for the
displacement of many families at that time. CB)

".... I believe there is ...a misunderstanding of what Malcolm Fowler
said....what he meant was that RICHARD who married OBEDIENCE was
a son of RICHARD...will of 1761. I believe too that you are wrong in your
estimate of the age of RICHARD. Remember that he was listed on the Orange
1755 tax list with a son. Unfortunately the son was not named but the point is
that, to be on the list, said son would have had to be at least 16, therefore
born 1738 or earlier. {RICHARD m. OBEDIENCE was born c. 1732 CB} This
places the birth of RICHARD, his father, in the very early part of the century
at latest (and IF he was the RICHARD son of VALENTINE SENr named in that
land entry of 1753 then VALENTINE must have been the original of that name,
one of the sons of RICHARD of Isle of Wight, Virginia....

Another thought occurs to me: could the WILLIAM who showed up in Orange
in the 1760's with the ferry, ordinary, etc. have been RICHARD WILLIAM
using his middle name to distinguish himself from RICHARD? As to {his father}
RICHARD's age at death in 1761, I see no evidence in the will to suggest whether
he was young or old. The fact that he gave four pet BRASWELL names to two
sons leads one to believe that this was the earliest instance on record of planned
parenthood. On the other hand he may have had and lost other sons who had
been given those names and simply added the names in order to preserve them
to surviving sons. There is no way of telling how many children he may have had
and lost or what the ages of those named in the will may have been. The 'son' on
the 1755 tax list may have been one of those named in the will or he may have
died after 1755. The daughters were unmarried but there is no suggestion that
they were minors and for all we know they may have been hard-bitten old
spinster's like ARTHUR BRASWELL's daughters. JOYCE may have been a
second or even third wife which would account for her name and that of her
daughter TABITHA not having been perpetuated among descendants. In any
case this 'name pattern' business can be overworked. Certainly when names
recur one can take this as a clue but I think it's a bit extreme to get worked up
over a lack of recurrence.


"....I'll jump to your letter to Cousin Pal of 17 September and say
that I couldn't agree more with your observation about the signatures on
depositions, etc. bearing the signatory's own handwriting.... the Granville
grants were all signed by the patentees; and all wills up to about 1775
and many later ones as well are the originals and are in bound volumes in
Archives. Those in the county court houses are, of course, clerks' copies.
However even in the copied records I believe there are some clues
endemic. I don't believe that, if a man could sign his name, the clerk would
have gone to the trouble of signifying that he'd made a mark and, in some
instances, of trying to duplicate said mark. Conversely I do know of
instances wherein the signatory could not write yet the clerk simply
wrote the name as if it had been signed.

Such was the case for RICHARD BRASWELL, SENr and JUNr....there are
deeds for each in which the clerks made no marks but on most of them they
indulged a wide range of artistic license, particularly in the case of RICHARD
SENr, in evident attempts to duplicate the original. Only one, however,
really bears any resemblance to the original.... most of these deeds have
been recopied at least once, the calligraphy being early 19th century at the
earliest. This compounds the possibility of error, too--another item
to bear in mind.


"Moreover I take strong exception to several of your 'Findings and
Conclusions'....Paragraph 5: the observations as to why some Braswells
got farther away from the {Edgecombe} 'cradle' than others I find
interesting but not especially germane to our central problem. Nor do I
see that the distance in itself warrants any particular conclusions. Even a
cursory glance at early Braswell records reveals that these people stayed on
the move, whether from one county to another or by hundreds of miles.
Those were restless times and the Braswells were evidently among the more
restless denizens thereof. They were in Georgia, for example, in the
early 1760's. The primary concern of the genealogist is who they were; why
they moved is of secondary interest though in any case it is my opinion that
ninety per cent of that hectic moving around was for economic reasons."

Enclosed are the results of my study of Johnston County {NC}
records and I submit that only this kind of thorough research and assessment
of records can lead to any sound conclusions. Here we have a perfect example of
the old truism that 'the microcosm reflects the macrocosm': For, even with
a plethora of records, as with the Braswells of earlier generations to
the east, precisely the same mysteries obtain as to the origins of the
individuals in question, some moving on so rapidly as to be mere
wraiths, some staying long enough to be identifiable as specific individuals
and some few even traceable as to their origins. It is my intention eventually
to collect all Braswell records in each locality and study them in the
same way, the only means I can see whereby there is the slightest hope of
identifying some of the individual members of this clan and their
connections with each other.

I already have, I might add, the great majority of the eastern North Carolina
Braswell records and while I have not yet put them together in this
concise fashion I have studied them sufficiently to feel confident that
no proof can yet be adduced as to the relationships obtaining among most
of these people. Therefore I strongly counsel against any over-sanguine
attempts at ASSUMING what these relationships might have been."

{N.B. Ann Braswell and her colleague have since sorted out the main
Johnston Braswell lines, a mix of RICHARD II's descendants and Virginia
TOWLE Braswells. CB}

(2 Nov 1970)

"....Thank you for your laudatory comment on my literary style. Instead,
however, I should have preferred having you concede the accuracy of its
content for I see we are in basic and irreconcilable disagreement. I
still maintain that a pedigree not only can but must be proven by direct
evidence and if not so proven has no validity whatever.

Your parable of the trout in the milk is amusing but in reality is
more of a red herring. I should call the trout's presence in the milk
direct evidence up to that point, how it got there then being our chief
concern. To determine that, since there obviously could be several
possibilities, we would indeed need the dairyman's signed confession
or other equally valid evidence in order to place the blame on the proper
culprit. Too often in the pursuit of genealogy the evidence consists only of
a fishy smell and yet many people will still persist in fabricating neat plots
out of it.

It is true that records diminish as one goes back in time and if
the necessary records cannot be found the story must of necessity bog down
in a morass of uncertainty. One the other hand, in a good many cases,
records can be found to prove a pedigree. As an example I enclose my
documentation on the Braswell-Carver branch of the family, which records I
believe are more than sufficient to prove the identities of the individuals in
question, viz that WILLIAM and ROBERT CARVER, who died testate in
Cumberland County, N.C. in 1767, were two of the four children born to
RICHARD BRASWELL SENr and ANN CARVER, formerly of Edgecombe
County, and that said RICHARD had at least one other son, RICHARD
BRASWELL, JUNr, presumably legitimate.

Of course one has to assume that RICHARD SENr had some evidence
that he alone had access to the favors of the fair ANN but he obviously made
that assumption and in any case it is one that must be made even when a
marriage is proven unless there is evidence to the contrary, as in the notorious
descendants of ROBERT and WILLIAM CARVER there already existed more
than adequate proof of numerous lines of descent from them.

In this case we were fortunate in finding a substantial quantity of
conclusive evidence that proved the identities and relationships of
these particular individuals. Sometimes they can be proven with far fewer
documents; sometimes, on the other hand, as with most of the
BRASWELLS, a surfeit of documents still proves virtually nothing.....Ironically,
however, every new record that has turned up on the BRASWELLS only adds
to the confusion instead of, as with the CARVERS, confirming or further
illuminating the case.....

Finally, by way of further emphasizing my skepticism of circumstantial
evidence, I'll tell you a true story, not a parable. Three EVANS
brothers in Bladen-Cumberland married, in the latter 18th century, three
CARVERS. I am descended from two of these couples and all my kin in this
part of the world are descended from one or more of the combinations. The
EVANSES had come here from Pennsylvania in 1737 (well documented), the
CARVERS supposedly likewise, somewhat earlier, though not so well
documented. Nevertheless, despite the decimation of Bladen records by fire,
enough remained to put together quite a respectable pedigree for these
ex-Pennsylvania CARVERS and the fact that WILLIAM and ROBERT could
not be fitted into it was explained away as due to the paucity of records.
Family tradition held that this was all one family and what more reasonable
assumption could one make? Until, of course, we got curious about the
references in 'Colonial Records' to DAVID's estate and some obvious
connection with some BRASWELLS. That led to Edgecombe and soon the
whole sordid story came out. I cut my genealogical eye teeth on this mess
and consequently no longer pay any attention to anybody's assumptions,
family traditions OR circumstantial evidence.

In case you are interested I might add that one EVANS brother
married a Bladen, or genuine, CARVER and the other two married
BRASWELL-CARVERS. I am descended from one of each brand of CARVER
and the thought has now occurred to me that, since discovering the identities
of the latter, we have assumed that RICHARD BRASWELL's paramour was
MISS Ann Carver but there is not a reason in the world for supposing this.
She may well have been a widow but even so the mystery could hardly be any
deeper as there are no records of any CARVERS in eastern Carolina of her period
and no palpable link between her and the few CARVERS who show up in Virginia
records of that time.

So, until I see documentary proof of any allegations, I shall continue
in my present happy condition of ardent disbelief."


" From your observations in your letter of 22 August I am led to
infer that you are, perhaps, confusing genealogy with social history. The
latter is a fascinating study in itself and an inevitable adjunct to genealogy
but the positive identification of individuals, which is the only way to
prove a lineage of descent, requires much harder evidence than name
patterns, proximity clues, and 'lifestyle' clues.

Precisely because of the quantities of records pertaining to the
Braswells are they such a frustrating family to research. At first
glance one would suppose that the lineages would fall into place almost
automatically. Although quite the opposite turns out to be the case
when the evidence is studied objectively many 'researchers' have predicated
various lineages on the basis of conjecture. I still contend that not one
of these can be proven back to the Rev. Robert. Conjectured, yes;
proven, no.

I accept the generally held belief that the four early eastern
North Carolina Braswells--Richard, Robert, Valentine, and Jacob--
are the same four named in the will of Richard, Isle of Wight, 1725, and
therefore grandsons of the Rev. Robert.
{Since proved through DNA evidence. CB} There even
exist tenuous bits of evidence to support this belief aside from the
fact that it strains credulity to consider their location there together as
mere coincidence. From there on, however, they are a shambles. No record
whatever is at present known to exist that would prove what became of
either Valentine or Jacob, whether they left progeny and, if so, who they
were and where they went...

I do not intentionally imply that our ancestors were fugitives from
justice, deliberately obliterating their tracks, though I have been
tempted to consider that possibility. The fact is that the great majority of
these people were not particularly important and unless they owned land,
acquisition and disposition of which was recorded, it is extremely
difficult to sort them out as individuals.

I supposed it could be said that courage is warranted for a pursuit
of this kind but I should say that prudence would be the more applicable
commodity. Genealogy is as exact a science as any other and, like any
other, is worthless if inexact....Historical evidence and logic play
little part in this fort the simple reason that we are dealing with
people as individuals."