The Downman Daughters, 1778-1852

Rawleigh Downman wrote his will (not found recorded in the county courthouse because it was a burned county). A copy was eventually published in the Virginia Genealogist. He acknowledged that he had two daughters “which I have no reason to doubt that they are mine.” And he left them each L500.00 as dowries and he charged his wife Ann, with the responsibility to see that they got their legacies.

Ann wrote her will about three years later. She acknowledged the debt her husband had left her and his charge that she see to the payment of the legacies. She appointed John McRae as their representative to pay the legacies. She also reported that there were two John McRaes  and distinguished between them. Since she had remarried, she charged her new husband with the responsibility to see that the legacies were paid.

After her death, her new husband wrote his will. Acknowledging the two daughters, he named his executor as responsible to oversee the payment of the legacies. Within a short time, he, too, was dead. These two wills were also published in the Virginia Genealogist.

In the meantime, John McRae bestowed on his brother Richard the task of watching over the Downman daughters. Richard also died, shifting the oversight and responsibility to his cousin Charles, who was also a government official of considerable note. Charles went to London in his official capacity and while there, he died. But first, he acknowledged his trust and shifted it to his brother, who lived back home.

By now, the Downman daughters had married. One of the girls, Charlotte named Violet as her mother who gave consent for her marriage. And several years later, Violet was named in a McRae chancery case as a principal, according to the legal notice in the newspaper. This notice appeared in 1852, stating that she and her co-plaintiffs had lost their case. And they were appealing the verdict to a higher court.

This brief summary, although factual, does not represent the full story—of the search, of the research, of the daughters, and their dowries. Nor the circumstantial evidence of their mother’s identity. Violet was not the mother of the girls. The counties are burned, and the original records have many gaps. Stay tuned for more details.

There is almost no way that a probate case can be finalized with only one copy of the records—there are always copies made. Full copies, extracts of documents reported to the courts and the newspapers, hand-copied records made at different times to fulfill the needs of the cases. Oral exchanges of information shared with legal counsels, representatives, relatives, friends, descendants, parties directly involved with the families and officials connected with the courts.

Among the manuscripts preserved at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture are pages and pages of such copies—all individually indexed—every name! I made a list of the names I knew about and began to search. As each document description appeared on the computer screen, I added other names to my surname list. And I looked them all up too. Then I looked at the documents and procured copies of those relevant to my problem.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode in my search for the real mother and birth relatives of the Downman daughters. Your favorite Virginia Genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Most of the full story is there. In hand-written copies of official documents. You will be amazed!

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