William Logan, “Clench / Clinch,” and Illegitimacy

Most William Logan (of Spotsylvania County, Virginia) researchers believe the court alias “Clench” or “Clinch” refers to illegitimacy. So do some impartial (non-Logan) Virginia researchers. Let me quote one, Ann Avery Hunter. This correspondence with Ann is from nearly 20 years ago (1999). Some excerpts:

“I have never seen an alias in a Court record that was assigned by the individual and I can’t think of any reason for it. I have seen records that say ‘William Garthright, known as Whisperer’ and ‘John Jones, called Frognose,’ but the only times I’ve seen ‘alias,” and I have seen a number of them, it has been in the case of an illegitimate birth. I have also heard that [so] stated in a talk by one of the experts on VA genealogy at a statewide conference.”

Ann Avery Hunter goes on to give some specific examples from her research. It’s a different county (Chesterfield), but the Virginia law/court system is the same, of course. “I spent a year reading the Chesterfield Co., VA Court Order books page by page and saw any number of ‘alias’ deeds and will beneficiaries. They were all illegitimate offspring who had to use their mother’s maiden name in legal documents. In many cases, the father was brought to court by the mother and ordered to pay support, so there was no question about why the ‘alias’ was used on later documents. Sometimes when these people left wills themselves, they had been using their father’s surname for so long that the will was recorded in that name. I guess by that time no one remembered or cared that this was not a legal name.” [Note: The Spotsylvania County, VA, court records referring to William Logan “alias Clench or Clinch” do not pertain to deeds and wills, so these specific examples don’t pertain except to bolster the case about aliases used in the colony of Virginia’s courts.]

Researcher Hunter goes on to offer this advice: “… look at the Spotsylvania Court Order books from the time your Logan ancestor was born until he was 14 or so and see if there is anything on a Clinch/Clench paying for his support. For the most part this happened just before the father was being legally married, probably because the mother was worried about not getting any help from him after his marriage.” [Note: The Spotsylvania Co. and Orange Co. records all appear to be after William Logan was older than 14; however, it’s still a good tip in terms of researching other counties where he may have been raised before coming to Spotsylvania.]

Ann Avery Hunter adds this: “Sometimes you need to read through ‘all’ of the Court documents in the time period in which your ancestor lived. About 1/3 of relevant information is found in documents not indexed under the surname you are searching for [!, exclamation mine].” She gives an example of three generations of one of her family lines that was indexed in the name of an unknown sister’s husband. None of her family left wills and had no other deeds, “so it was a dream come true.”

Most of us genies don’t get exercised about illegitimacy; nonetheless, since not everyone in one’s family is a genealogist (I repeat: alas), it’s always good to add some context:

  • In colonial Virginia, for the most part, the “crime” of bearing an illegitimate child fell on the mother. [Aside: Women couldn’t vote or serve in the House of Burgesses. All laws were written by men and adjudicated by men.]
  • For colonial Virginia, there are three major factors to keep in mind regarding extramarital activity: gender (see first bullet point), class, and race. [Aside: Come to think of it, we’re not that far removed from colonial times after all.]
  • In terms of social class, many colonists were indentured servants, that is, people who got their ocean passage paid and were then “bound” in service for several years’ work. (Far more people came over by indenture than paid their own passage.) By definition and circumstance, these people were not the wealthy upper class, of course.
  • Indentured servants weren’t allowed to marry. A term of indenture could be seven years. This presented some challenges when a young couple fell in love, but had to wait several years to marry.
  • At the same time, women who were indentured as servants often worked in their master’s home, isolated. Sexual predation by men to whom they were indentured was common. Those men held most of the power in the equation. In addition, masters sometimes deliberately tried to impregnate indentured females to extend their time of indenture.
  • Several writers point to both the gender imbalance in colonial Virginia and the comparative “weakness of community institutions and standards,” especially in the frontier communities, which is what Spotsylvania County was at the time, to explain why the illegitimacy rate in the colony was 2-3 times higher than in England.
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