William Hamner of Albemarle County, Virginia: Fact and Fiction

William Hamner, my 7th great-grandfather, lived in Albemarle County, Virginia for most, if not all, of his life. On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to read a tax list and see Thomas Jefferson’s name on it. Yes, that Thomas Jefferson. But on the other hand, perhaps because of this proximity to notable Americans, the record has been muddled a bit. It’s a good example of why we really have to insist on real documentation before copying anything from another tree.

For example, I read in some notes posted to Ancestry that William Hamner was a “friend” of Jefferson. Well, Monticello was just up the road from William’s plantation. They may have been acquainted, or done business on occasion. But the name Jefferson does not appear on any deed or document relating to William that I have found. Nor are there any intermarriages between the family that I know of. Nothing that would have qualified them as “friends” in the 18th century sense of the word.

Also, William Hamner was a “planter” but nowhere near as wealthy as Jefferson or other well-known James River planter families. I seriously doubt they would have run in the same circles. Myth busted—until I see it in 18th century handwriting!

Many sources online also claim that William served in the Revolutionary War. Specifically, in the 4th Company, 1st Battalion, 47th Virginia Regiment. The only problem is that, according to this history of Albemarle County, this regiment was a local militia, formed in 1794, several years after William died in 1788. The William Hamner listed in this regiment was one of the elder William’s nephews. Myth busted. (However, according to what looks like properly sourced Sons of the American Revolution applications, William did supply goods to the Continental Army.)

Another likely myth is that William Hamner was the son of Nicholas Hamner. That’s a bit trickier. There were three Hamners in mid-18th century Albemarle County who lived very near each other in the area of the Hardware River. William and Robert were brothers, as proved by Robert’s mention of “my well-beloved brother William Hamner” in his 1750 will. A John Hamner who lived nearby is certainly some kind of relative, and is the right age to be brother to William and Robert.

However, while many family trees state that these were all sons of Nicholas Hamner of York County, Virginia, I have yet to see any actual sources confirming this theory. They may exist, but I haven’t seen the citations. There is another Nicholas Hamner, a son of Robert Hamner who is named in Robert’s will. He is the logical candidate for being the Nicholas Hamner who signed the Albemarle Oath of Allegiance in 1777. For some reason, a few researchers have decided that this is his grandfather, also Nicholas. But there is no record that I can find of this older Nicholas ever having lived in Albemarle County!

Because of the Revolutionary connection, I checked the Daughters of the American Revolution ancestor roll for Hamners. This confirmed my doubts about the Nicholas Hamner connection.

Nicholas Hamner DAR

Nicholas and William Hamner DAR

I am therefore changing Nicholas the elder to “Unknown Hamner” in my tree, and placing John Hamner as a probable brother to William and Robert.

So, what do I know about William Hamner?

His wife was Mary Elizabeth Henley, daughter of Leonard Henley. This is proven by an 1813 court case in which two of her sons claim an inheritance from their grandfather.

His children, as named in his will, were Susanna (my ancestor), Samuel, Turner, Henley, Richardson, Jeremiah, Elizabeth, Molly, Rebecca, and Mildred.

He was well-off, owning many hundred of acres on the Hardware River, and other tracts on nearby Totier Creek. I’ve documented these deeds on my public Ancestry tree (My Combined Family Tree 2020) for anyone who wants to look them up.

The plantation on which William lived, at least in 1778, was on Totier Creek. It is mentioned in a deed as being on Little Totier Creek and bounded by that creek, Great Totier Creek, and the “old courthouse road,” presumably the road from nearby Scottsville to Charlottesville, now Route 20. This places the plantation as in or near the communities of Keene or Brownton, southeast of Charlottesville.

William held quite a few slaves, but was in the habit of undercounting them to the tax man. He never reported more than four slaves on the tax lists, but there are 10 named in his 1787 will (Kate, Nan, Jack, Sarah, Reubin, Toby, Phillis, Hannah, Dinah, Molando,and Easter) plus several mentions of un-named enslaved children.

Despite holding so many slaves, William did not appear to buy and sell very many. Or at least if he did, he kept it out of the Albemarle County deed books. I did find one mention of a woman named Jane and her child, Chiles, in a 1768 deed to his son, Samuel Hamner (Albemarle Deed Book 5, page 81).

William Hamner died before July 1788, as his will was probated in that month in Albemarle County.  For now, I am suspending my research on this line, as online resources are not complete on the counties that I need to research further. I look forward to visiting beautiful Albemarle County in the future in order to do more digging!

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