Do Unto Others: the Op den Graeff Connection

After researching Lydia Collings Uptigrove to the extent that was possible, I turned to Elijah Uptigrove, her husband. In the process of researching him, I unearthed some interesting history!

First, the working theory

As I outlined earlier, it seems clear that the Collings and Uptigroves were acquainted with each other in Albemarle County, Virginia, prior to moving to Patrick County.

Hannah Uptigrove married Elisha Collings, one of the older sons of William Collings, 17 June 1794 in Albemarle County. (Elisha must have returned to Albemarle to marry her, as he was living in Patrick County, Virginia by 1792.) Elisha lived next door to his father in Patrick County for decades until William’s death in 1829.

Hannah witnessed the will of Ephraim Bowin (Bowen) in 1790 (Albemarle DB A, p 38). Ephraim’s sons, John and Reuben Bowen, who are named in the will, are found that same year in the same district as Thomas Collings, father of William Collings. And on the 1787 tax list, a Sally “Upthegrove” is found in that district with Thomas.

So, the Uptigroves and the Collings can be placed in the same tax district during the same time period in Albemarle County, and again later in Patrick County. This explains how Elijah met Lydia Collings and also makes it pretty clear that he came from the Albemarle Uptigroves.

Sally (Sarah) Upthegrove was almost certainly the mother of Hannah Uptigrove. She is found in Albemarle County on the Hardware River as early as 1784, when she purchased a tract of land on the Hardware River (Albemarle DB 8, p 150). Her ability to buy land in her own name indicates that she was a widow. While I did not find any absolute proof online of this fact, her husband is widely presumed to be an Edward Upthegrove/Uptagrove.

Little is known about Edward other than he is recorded as a Revolutionary soldier from Albemarle County in 1781, and that he was born in Pennsylvania. But he clearly cannot be the father of Elijah Uptigrove if Sarah was widowed by 1784.

Who was Elijah’s father?

On the 1850 census, Elijah said that he was born in 1788 in Virginia. On the 1860 census, he said he was born in 1792 in North Carolina. However, the census taker could easily have assumed that Elijah was born in North Carolina simply because practically everyone else his age in Carroll County at the time was born there. It’s worth noting that Elijah’s daughter, Lydia, stated that her father was born in Virginia on the 1880 and 1900 censuses. Also, on the 1830 and 1840 censuses, he is listed as having been born between 1780 and 1790,. As the 1788 birth date appears to be the more accurate, the accompanying Virginia birthplace is more likely to be accurate as well.

As for Elijah’s father, there are four probable sons of Sarah and Edward Uptigrove: George, William, Solomon and Jesse, all of whom moved from Virginia to Rutherford County, North Carolina by 1800. All four have sons under 10 on the 1800 census!

Another likely son of Sarah and Edward, the eldest, Isaac Uptigrove, left a will in Surry County, North Carolina in 1817. Surry County adjoins Patrick County, Virginia. The will did not name Elijah, however, that does not completely rule him out. Sometimes, children who had already been given bequests were not named in wills, or they might not be named if they had “fallen out” with their parents. However, I’d say it makes Isaac the least likely father out of the five Uptigrove brothers.

Strictly speaking, this would rule out all the above Uptigroves as the father of Elijah, because they do not show sons aged 10-14 on the 1800 census. However, ages were more or less estimates by the census takers. Elijah could easily have been listed as being aged 10 in 1800 when he was actually 11 or 12. Isaac and George are the most likely to be Elijah’s father age-wise, having been born in 1761 and 1766 respectively. William, Solomon and Jesse were born in the early 1770s, making them less likely to be a legitimate father to Elijah–however plenty of teenagers made babies in those days so they can’t be completely ruled out either.

The bottom line

What it comes down to is this: Elijah Uptigrove was born about 1788 in Virginia, almost certainly in Albemarle County. I can say that he was very likely the grandson of Edward and Sarah Uptigrove by one of their five sons (or possibly by an additional son who slipped past the 18th century record-keepers).

Thanks to the unusual surname of Uptigrove, I can also say for certain that he was a member of the Op Den Graeff clan, most of whom eventually changed their surname to Uptigrove, Uptygrove, Upthegrove, or variations thereof (and even Groves in the case of the Rutherford County bunch).

Now for some cool history

The Op den Graeffs were a Dutch Mennonite family of weavers, originally from Aldekerk which at that time was in the Netherlands. In the mid-17th century, they relocated to Krefeld, just over the German border, to escape religious persecution. In Krefeld, the Op den Graeffs converted to Quakerism.

Abraham op den Graeff and his two brothers Herman Isaaks Op den Graeff and Dirck Op den Graeff arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683, part of a group of 13 Quaker families that founded Germantown, now a suburb of Philadephia.

Germantown was the birthplace of the American anti-slavery movement, thanks in part to Abraham and his brother, Dirck. They, along with their leader, Francis Pastorius, wrote the 1688 Germantown Quaker Declaration Against Slavery, a document based simply on the Bible’s admonition to “do unto others as you would have then do unto you.”

Beyond that obvious point (which was nonetheless ignored for hundreds of years in nominally Christian America) the document is now recognized as an assertion of universal human rights. It was the first such document known to be produced in America. It warns of the potential for violent slave revolts and even suggests that these revolts would be morally justified. This was some seriously progressive thinking for 1688!

Unfortunately, the petition was essentially shelved by Quaker leadership, and some slavery continued in the Quaker community along with the rest of Pennsylvania. Many of the signers continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery, however, it was not until 1776 that the national Quaker Meeting officially adopted a policy of abolition and began to actively work to free slaves. Nevertheless, it all started with that 1688 petition.

It is unclear from which of the three brothers my line descends. There were several Edward Op den Graeffs, Updegraves, Uptigroves and so on in Pennsylania at the time that my Edward would have lived there before moving to Albemarle County. I am probably not going to be able to figure out the direct line of descent any time soon, and so I’m going to “put a pin in it” and move on for now.

However, in part due to all the slaveholders I have researched, I am quite happy to find that at least one of my ancestors was an early abolitionist! And I find it interesting that in researching the Virginia and North Carolina Uptigroves, very few of them appear to have owned slaves. Nearly 200 years after the 1688 petition, Elijah Uptigrove’s Kentucky and Tennessee-born sons also fought for the Union in the Civil War.

A final note about Elijah: when he died in 1862, he owned two tracts of land “in fee simple,” or without mortgages. And his probate file states that the lands were “not needed to pay debt.” This was quite unusual for a small farmer at the time! I’ve read a lot of probate files, and everyone during that time period died in debt. Early Quakers were known for their frugality and dislike of debt. While Elijah was probably not a practicing Quaker himself, perhaps this ethic was part of his inheritance.

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