The Quest for James Rawlins / Rawlings / Rolens / Rollins


(by Lola La Rae Sorenson)

To begin this search all the previous research was reviewed and studied. The facts and the traditions were weighed carefully and new facts were looking for in the hopes of securing more names for Temple work and compiling a biographical account.

Traditionally we have been told that James Rawlins was a troy leader and that his oldest son, Roderick was born near where the battle of Bunker Hill was fought during the Revolution in the year 1776. Tradition states that he deserted his family and was never seen again. Another branch of the family stated that their family tradition was that he was executed, while yet another branch of the family stated that he was put in prison and escaped never to be heard from again. Tradition states that he had a brother, Charles, who served for the Revolutionary cause while he served against the cause and for remaining loyal to the crown.

Archive copies from his son, Charles, showed on two sheets that Charles was either born in Rutherford, Pitt County, North Carolina (there is no Rutherford in Pitt County) or in Pitt County, North Carolina. Yet other sources in the family stated that Charles might have been born in Rutherford County, North Carolina.

To sift through all the records that I could I went to the old church records to see what his grandson, an early member of the LDS Church in Nauvoo might have known about him. The Nauvoo baptisms for the dead file show that James was aware that his grandfather, James Rawlins and grandmother Priscilla Rawlins were dead by 1844. His grandparents on the Gregory side were also dead by then, as well as many of his aunts and uncles. (See filmed cards from the Nauvoo baptisms file for work done by James Rawlins and his wife Jane Sharp Rawlins.)

Since James Rawlins the early LDS convert was aware that his grandfather was dead, it would seem therefore, that he had some kind of knowledge of his death and therefore, the tradition of his deserting his family and never being heard from again doesn't seem to ring true. To know someone is dead you must have some knowledge of that death.

Family tradition also begins with James's Rawlins (convert's grandfather and namesake ) being born and reared in London, England. Since the family clues seemed to mention Pitt and Rutherford counties in North Carolina I began there to see what solid clues I could find to establish where James might have been when he married his wife, Priscilla Blount.

The Pitt County, North Carolina deeds abstracts show a James Rawlin there as early as 1773 several years before the birth of Roderick. He witnessed a land deed at that time (975.644R2A, deed book F). No wills in Pitt County showing this James Rawlins again.

Next document mention that we have of James Rawlin / Rawlins is events leading up to and capture of the Tory leader, James Rawlins. The account of his capture and his sworn statements in his own defense as well as the statements made against him. This is recorded in the North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol 2 (975.6D26N) pages 398 - 404. On page 404 Abram Jones gave a report on James Rawlins capture as follows:

 "One Friday, August 1777, I understood by report that a certain James Rawlins was one of the heads amongst the Tories and that he was expected to pass by the settlement of Mattamuskeet, or to call there about the next day, and as I was resolved to apprehend him, if possible, and keeping a watch out for him spied a small sail off in the sound. I fitted out in a boat with four men along with me, came up with said sail and found it to be the same James Rawlins with his family, upon which I apprehended him and carried him before a majistrate which took the deposition of the said James Rawlins, 6 Aug 1777. - Abram Jones"


Now this bit of information is very interesting because it definitely shows that it was not only James Rawlins in the craft heading out to sea but also his family was with him. He had no intention of deserting his family because he planned to escape and take them with him. His plans failed because someone appraised Abram Jones of his plans and he was captured and brought back to the North Carolina coast.

James Rawlins made several statements claiming that he was not a Tory and that some of the statements that were made about him were untrue. On page 399 a note on James Rawlins states that he is of Martin County and was "fleeing from thence to Mattimuskeet, being there apprehended on a report that he had a hand in a conspiracy carried on against the State of North Carolina." James Rawlins claimed that he fled from his home in Martin County of 5th July. He stated that John Lewelling and John Carter had had a plan fearing the country was likely to be subject to popery. He further stated that Lewelling recommended that Whitmel Hill, Colonel Williams, Thomas Hunter, Nathan Mayo, Colonel Slater and one Taylor should be destroyed in behalf of the King. Rawlins claimed that he was against those proceedings and that for that reason he had fled. Another statement of James Rawlins is directed to the justices of New Bern. He mentioned the plot to kill Whitmel Hill and others and stated that he was against it. John Clifton testified against James Rawlins stating that Rawlins had desired to swear him to secrecy. Clifton claimed that James was in on the plans of Lewelling and others. During that meeting Clifton stated that Rawlins had brought a gun with him from home and three others had guns, too. According to Clifton the men planned to try and join the Kings forces and to give them support if they could. Thomas Best also made a deposition against James Rawlins, Lewelling and others. This statement was made 9th September 1777.

The Virginia Gazette, an early newspaper in Colonial Virginia (See original wanted notice in research notebook with words typed for easy reading on one of reverse sides). (GS film 029,723) The notice is from North Carolina Craven County and the complaint was made by John Bryam, issued 24 October 1777.

The notice reads as follows:

 James Rawlins for high treason, he is a noted villain, and one of the principals in the late conspiracy against the state, has lived for 2 years past in Martin County, and is a very famous in the art of Legerdemaen, about 40 years of age, of a very black complexion and had a cut on one of his cheeks, given under seal 9 Sep. 1777.

Notice was signed by Joseph Leech, others mentioned in the wanted notices were Michael Kelly and Mattias Farnan. Ten pounds was offered for Rawlins as a reward, and 5 pounds for the other two, each.

This wanted notice indicates that our James Rawlins had escaped his confinement and that hi is considered important enough to appear in a Virginia newspaper. The report was given from the County of Craven in North Carolina. At the time of the notice James had lived in Martin County for about 2 years or the years 1776 - 1777. His complexion was dark and he had a scar on one of his cheeks. The word legerdemain in the dictionary means light of hand, sleight of hand trickery of any sort, deceit. This would tend to indicate that he was considered as being very clever and hard to catch. From the previous account and statements we learned that he had a gun and knew, therefore, how to use it.

The other fact that thrilled me was an approximate age of him of about 40 - 1777. This would give an approximate birth date of 1737. This is only approximate as the wanted poster said but it does give us an approximate idea as to how old he was during this time.

In studying the book "The Loyalists in North Carolina During the Revolution" (See photocopies in research notebook 975.6F2D) I tried to find out more just what the Tories were really like and what type of people had a tendency to remain loyal to their King. On page 50 a statement is made as follows :"The Scotch as a race generally remained loyal to the King of England and were the most important single group in North Carolina to do so. By 1770 a large amount of the trade in North Carolina was handled by the Scots. The reason for their loyalty was due to many Scottish officers were given land by the crown in America. Also Scotch merchants and other merchants in North Carolina had a tendency to remain loyal to the King (pg 52)." Their trade directly with England made their ties to the mother country close. One of the most well known North Carolina Scottish merchants was Andrew Miller of Halifax County. Another important Tory Merchant in North Carolina was John Hamilton of Ablemarle section of North Carolina. As a result of the North Carolina confiscation act of 1779 68 persons lost their property as a result of loyalty to the King. Forty-five of those people were merchants and sought redress from England for their losses. North Carolina during the Revolution was about evenly divided between Tories and those who supported the Revolution. (pg 54) Many of the merchants of the Cape Fear Region (Hyde County would be included in that area) were leaders of the rebellion instead of supporters for the King. Joseph Blount was listed as active for the Revolution in that area.

The church of England, after the revolution to be known as Episcopalian, had many loyalist followers. The clergy was largely for the remaining of ties with the King and England. They sacrificed most of what they had for the cause and many died in poverty. Crown officials also remained loyal to the king. They didn't want to lose their jobs. William Brimmage, deputy attorney for the crown was a Tory leader. Counties where the Tories were particularly strong were Surry, Guilford, Orange, Rowan, Randolph, Chatham, Cumberland, Anson, Brunswick, and Montgomery.

In following through the history of Martin County to see if more clues could be found on the Tory activities there there was mention of Whitmel Hill being involved in uncovering a Tory plot to destroy some of the local leaders of the revolution. He was recorded in the book with credit in helping to stop the plot. He is reported to have married Winnefred Blount. This fact I found very interesting so I looked for an archive copy and there was one for her with her parents, Thomas Blount and Elizabeth Whitmel of Mulbery, Chowan , North Carolina. His wife died in Martin County after remarrying 2nd to George Pollack and 3rd to William Williams.

I read through all the early land patents in the new land patent books for North Carolina. I read through all the early tax digest for Blounts / Blunts and Rawlins / Rollens, ect. names to see where they were clustered and see if the area where Priscilla Blount and James Rawlins were might be pinned down.

The fact that Whitmel Hill and James Rawlins were both living in Martin County, North Carolina and were both married to ladies named Blount and were both about the same age generation wise really intrigued me. They would certainly had had to know each other especially with hill involved in bringing Rawlins to trial and stopping the plot uncovered to try and kill him and other patriot leaders. They must have known each other. Could they have been brothers-in-law? That is a possibility but no definite church record found yet to prove that. Still many coincidences tie their lives into close proximity of different sides of a war.

Who were the members of James Rawlins' family other than Charles the ancestor through whom you come. Some clues in the Nauvoo baptisms for the dead. Another clue was found of a film of court abstracts of original records for Warren County , Kentucky (GS film 34799 part 10). On that film with the original court abstracts was a film of an old letter written from Mrs. H. E. Rawlins, 4415 Dallas Avenue, Lancaster Texas, no date on it. In this letter the lady states that James Mason Rawlins married Priscilla Blount. He is reported to have been born and raised in England. Several children were listed in that letter but dates of birth were really spread out so I question their accuracy. Names and dates in the letter as follows:

  • Children:
  • 1. Charles Rawlins born about 1750 - died about 1800 married Anastacia Gregory of North Carolina
  • 2. Elizabeth Rawlins no dates given
  • 3. James Rawlins born about 1755 in Mass or North Carolina died 1845 in Illinois married Lydia Green of North Carolina
  • 4. Nancy Rawlins no further information given
  • 5. Roderick Rawlins born in Mass or Guilford Co. North Carolina in1776 died Lancaster Texas 1848, married: 1. Sarah King 2. Millie Park, she born 1793 in North Carolina.

The letter further states that James and Joseph Rawlins (children of Charles) traveled with their uncle, Roderick after their father died. Roderick went to Texas. Joseph went to Bedford County, Indiana. James went to Utah.

In the filming of that court abstract the inventory of Charles Rawlins estate is given May term 1800. Wife Anastacia Rawlins was listed in the appraisement in July court. Sometime after that and the time the children traveled with their uncle it is likely that the mother died, or for some reason let her children travel with her brother-in-law and didn't go with them.

In the 1800 tax list for Warren County, Kentucky we find a Thomas Rawlins / Rollins listed with James Rawlins. To appear of the tax list the man would have to have been either nearing majority age of 21 or at least 19 or older. Thomas may be another child, therefore of James and Priscilla. Evidence is not conclusive about this.

Coming from these same families I found in the History of Green County and Jersey Counties in Illinois (977.38H2G) some Rawlins history on page 1120. Some reference is made to a child of James Rawlins and Lydia Green, also named James who was born in Warren County Kentucky 12 April 1798. His parents were said to be of North Carolina. This fits into the picture of the Rawlins family from the family letter in the Warren County, Kentucky court film previously cited. In this History James, the son of James and Lydia, says that he lived in Kentucky until he was 12 years of age when his family moved to Bedford County, Tennessee for three years. After that the family moved to Orange County, Indiana for 5 years. By 1819 they moved to Illinois living first in Lawrence County until 1826. In 1826 they moved to Greene County. The family lived in Section 18, Township 12, range 11. James and Lydia Green Rawlins moved finally 1/2 mile north of Wilmington where they lived until they died.

Interestingly enough the article also refers to the paternal grandfather, not names and a statement is made that he was born and raised in London, England. This article in the county history is about a grandchild of James Rawlins and Priscilla Blount. James Rawlins, who married Lydia Green, according to the family letter from Warren County, Kentucky filming of court abstracts states that James and Priscilla had a son who married Lydia Green and this article from an Illinois county history helps to verify this. Where the information came from about the paternal grandfather's birth place is not known or stated in the article. Here again the family was aware of their grandfather though his name is not mentioned.

Document wise I have shown that there was a James Rawlin in Pitt County before the birth of his older children. From the court proceedings and wanted notice on him we find out that he had a dark complexion, a scar on his one cheek and was familiar with firearms. His enemies found him to be clever and hard to catch. He thought enough of his family to want to take whom with him when he made his escape attempt off the coast of Hyde County. He lived in Martin County about two years when the wanted poster was given of him and two others in the Virginia Gazette. Some descendants felt that he had been born in London or England generally.

With that clue I went into the International Genealogical Index of names for London County, England. According to the controlled extraction data that the Church has done over 95% of the parishes of London are in the computer. There were practically no James Rawlins's at all in the index. Since we had an approximate age on James from the wanted poster of about 1737 I kept this in mind in this search. Only two entries were anywhere near that age as follows:

James Rawlins christened 27 June 1739, son of John Rawlins and Elizabeth Parish St. Bololph Without Aldgate, London

James Rawlins Christened 14 January 1759, son of Isaac and Margaret Rawlins Parish St. Sepulcher, London

Pitt and Martin counties in North Carolina border each other on a map. Martin was formed as a county in 1774 from Halifax and Tyrrell counties. Pitt County was formed as a county in 1760 from Beaufort County. With this thought in mind I decided to check the parent counties to see what Rawlins families might be there that might be related to James and to see if any would be his parents of other relatives through court documents. All the available wills, deeds, histories and other records for those counties were checked. Pitt County had some records destruction from a battle fought there.

In the Revolutionary War pension list of 1840 for Pitt County, North Carolina a Charles Rollins was listed as age 87 - 1840 or born about 1753. This intrigued me because of the one family tradition stating that your James (the Tory) had a brother who served on the patriot side. All the Revolutionary War pension records filmed from the National Archives were searched by me for all possible spelling variations and for some reason his pension record is not on file officially. This was puzzling that he was on a pension list and yet not in the pension applications from the National Archives. Also I read all the Rawlins / Rallings, Rawlins pension applications to see if anyone applied from the area about Boston or Charleston township where the battle of Bunker Hill was fought and there were no vets listed from that area. It would appear, therefore to me with your James on a tax list in 1773 and in Martin County in 1777 that he was not near where the battle of Bunker Hill was fought and his wife when their son Roderick was born. In 1790 Charles Rawlins is still in Pitt County. Some of the previous searchers have assumed that this Charles is your James's son, Charles, but that is not so. Your Charles is in Rutherford County, North Carolina in 1790.

Your Charles Rollin (spelled that way in the 1790 census) had two males under 16. (975.6X2P) at that time (pg. 117). Two pages later Prudy (Priscilla) Rolens (their spelling) is listed with two males above 16, two males under 16, and two females in addition to her in her household. In tracking all the Rawlins / Rollins names in 1790 in North Carolina, South Carolina and other southern states I didn't find a James that fit your requirements. Since James tried to escape with his family and no court record indicates what happened to him after the wanted poster in the Virginia Gazette, yet his descendants were aware of his death, I feel it likely that he may have been captured and executed or met with an accident while avoiding being arrested again. With so many of his children naming their children after him it doesn't seem likely that they were angry with their father. You don't name a child after someone you don't like. The name James is repeated in all of his children's families that I have been able to trace thus far.

The descendants of the family who remained in Rutherford County and didn't move to Kentucky like your Charles had printed up some history in the Rutherford County, North Carolina Heritage book. A new son of James and Priscilla is mentioned in this history as George Rawlins / Rollins and his approximate birth is about 1772/3. This with the deed witnessing in Pitt county would tend to show that George was in Pitt County. These families didn't know who Priscilla's husband was just that name was Priscilla Rawlins / Rollins and that the son, Charles was with her in the 1790 census.

The deed records of Rutherford , North Carolina failed to indicate that James Senior was there although there was a North Carolina land grant in the 1790's for a James Rollins. This James was the son of James and Priscilla Blount Rollins / Rawlins. In the deeds Charles Rowlins (spelling in original record) received land from his father-in-law, Joseph Gergory. the deed was a gift in 1794. (GS film 019912, book J-L, pg. 268). Between 1794 and 1800 when Charles died and his family moved to Warren County Kentucky.

Again I reviewed all the Rawlins names in early land patents and where these people were in relation to where your James Rawlins was in the 1700's. With your James in Pitt County in 1772/3 I turned to the parent county Beaufort in the deeds to see what Rawlins's might be there before 1760 when Pitt would be a part of Beaufort County.

In deed book 3, pg 36/7 Beaufort deeds (GS film 416404) was a very interesting deed. For the original on film see the research noted, also a typed resume of what the main parts of the deed stated.

James Charlescroft of Beaufort County, North Carolina a barrell maker (cooper), for 40 pounds Virginia currency from John Rawlings, of Boston in New England, merchant sells to John a tract of land which includes a plantation where Samuel Tindel now lives South side of Tarr river, 100 acres. Beginning at a Spanish oak. Date of deed 2 March 1749/50.


James and Letitia Mary Charlescroft

With the family tradition that James was at one time near where the battle of Bunker Hill was fought the above John Rawlings of Boston, which is in the same county where Charleston and the battle of Bunker Hill was fought. There is a possibility that James was in Boston as a child, instead of one of his children having been born there. Additional checking in Boston records would be necessary to see if John, the merchant who bought land in North Carolina was in Boston for a time. Further if a clue could be found to tie John into early emigration records for Boston from England, and possibly London, we might at last have a substantial stack of evidence to prove James's further ancestry.

Another possibility if in Edgecomb County early court abstracts where many Blount families are listed and a will for a Benjamin Rawlings dated 10 December, 1738 is listed on pate 273, along with wills for (975.646S2WR) John G. Blount, Thomas Blount and Anna Harvey formerly Blount, sister of John Gray Blount. Benjamin's will does not name a son or grandson named James.

The quest for James Rawlins / Rollins has been a chance to seek new sources and documents and some have been found. An approximate date of birth has been found. We know more about his activities. The Boyd's marriage index for London through the 1750's has been searched for all Rawlins / Rollins / Blount names and the marriage was not there. There were some marriages for Jno. Ralings / Rawlings, Rollins, ect. in that index.

The search can continue as previously cited in Boston for John Rawlings / Rawlins. James can surely be more likely found now with these ideas.

Well, Bruce, it has been a lot of fun and a lot of time in searching out these materials for you but I kept in mind that you might enjoy knowing more about your interesting ancestor.

At the same time that you receive this material I will also be submitting some new temple work for you and you will be notified directly when the names clear. I have Gregory names for you as well as Rawlins / Rollins names.

This material is sent to you with my love and good wishes for lots of reading in the history itself and the documents which comprise this notebook which I have prepared for you.

The Blount problem can still be worked on many when you come again, you could continue that part of the work. With the Hill Trial and other clues I feel we are closer to making the connection.



Lola La Rae

Completed 1986 and typed September 17 and 18th, 1986