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Who Was James, Son of John of Carnashannagh?

Jill Ewing Spitler (+1 304.645.5332, JEwingSpit at aol dot com)

David N. Ewing gave a very informative talk about the Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project at the Clan Ewing Gathering in Winchester, Virginia, in September. As he was answering a question about the John Ewing of Carnashannagh line (Group 4 in the project), he commented that the distinctive value at YCA-Iib, which he called a branch marker for the descendants of Pocahontas James, could as easily be used to argue that Pocahontas James was not the son of John Ewing of Carnashannagh. I got chills and the wildest thought came in my mind. My cousins and I have been looking at the John of Carnashannagh line for many years, since long before the Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project was started, trying to fit our ancestor, James Ewing (born ca. 1720/25) into it. Maybe, just maybe, it was not Pocahontas James who was the son of John Ewing of Carnashannagh, but rather our James. Our James is the progenitor of Group 7 in the Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project.

In the fifth paragraph of Chapter One of her book on Pocahontas James,[1] Nancy Hanks Ewing states that it is not known where Pocahontas James came from or where he was born. The first record of Pocahontas James places him in what is now Bath County, Virginia, in 1746. By 1750 or 1751, he was in what is now the adjacent Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Of course at that time, neither the state of West Virginia nor either of these modern-day counties existed. Both were in what was then Augusta County, Virginia, in an area that is a little over a hundred miles southwest of Winchester, Virginia, where John of Carnashannagh's sons William and Samuel and his daughter Elizabeth settled. Many have made guesses about Pocahontas James' origins and kinship, but there is no proof that he belongs in the John of Carnashannagh line or anywhere else. As Nancy Hanks Ewing says: "No one knows the answers to those questions."

The source of the idea that Pocahontas James is the youngest son of John Ewing of Carnashannagh seems to be:

An old geneological (sic) record of the Ewing Tribe as it was told verbally by Elizabeth Ewing Jamison, daughter of Samuel and Margaret McMichael Ewing, to one Robert Ewing, July 12, 1820, a year before she died, and written off and sent by him in a letter to Aunt Sally Jamison, dated August 26, 1827, seven years after he got it from Elizabeth Ewing Jamison.

as transcribed by Euline Benbow and sent to Ono Ruth Klemann, who forwarded it to Margaret Ewing Fife some time before May 1983.[2] As near as we can tell, no one has been able to contact Ms. Benbow[3] or get an actual copy of the original letter, which in any case seems to have been written several years after Robert Ewing heard the story. John of Carnashannagh was in his mid-seventies when both of these James were born, which might be used as an argument that John of Carnashannagh was not really the father of either of them, except that he was only four years younger when his son Samuel was born.

This letter, or at least Ms. Benbow's transcription of it, also contains some mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, it has Pocahontas James marrying a second time to Sarah Edwards and lists five children they are supposed to have had together. It is fairly plain, though, that Pocahontas James died before his first wife, Sarah Mays (or Mayes) died. Margaret Fife herself makes the argument that this James could not have been the husband of Sarah Edwards.[4][5] One can imagine that this might mean there was a third James in the area who is a candidate for being the son of John of Carnashannagh.

Our ancestor James settled in Pennsylvania, where he obtained a land warranty in Lebanon Township, Lancaster County, in 1752.[6] Just as with Pocahontas James, my cousins and I do not know his actual place or date of birth or the names of his parents, but at least we know that he married Maria Sebina Shellenberger in Heidelberg, Lebanon County (an offshoot of Lancaster County), Virginia. This area is about 125 miles northeast of Winchester, Virginia. We have estimated his date of birth to be about 1720-1725 based on the date of this land warranty. James died in 1776 and left sons William and John. William inherited the land and John received money. John married Anna Maria 'Mary' Heichold. After John and Anna's son, John (II), was born in 1786 in Lebanon County, they moved to Conocheague Hundred, Washington County, Maryland, where they had the following children: George born 1789, Mary born 1792, William born 1793, Catherine born 1794, Sarah born 1796, Jacob born 1797 and Betsy born 1799. Then the family moved to Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where they had James born 1801 and Rosa born 1805. John (II) is our ancestor as well as the ancestor of Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project participants WC,[7] SC and DC; Jacob the ancestor of Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project participant DL2; and James is the ancestor of Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project participant PA2.

One of the sons of John Ewing of Carnashannagh buried at the Ewing Family Cemetery in Stephens City, Virginia, was Samuel Ewing (born c1718, married Margaret McMichael ).[8] Their daughter, Margaret Ewing (1750-1815), married John Carr.[9] We have thought for many years that the John Carr connection was a hint linking our James to the John of Carnashannagh line. Our John Ewing signed a power-of-attorney to Jacob Stoler (who was his son-in-law or his son-in-law's father, who was also named Jacob), to sell his land in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and went to Wayne County, Ohio, to buy land from a John Carr. We have no evidence connecting this John Carr in Ohio with the John Carr who was married to Margaret Ewing, but we can not help wondering if this might be a hint of a family connection because we know that family groups often migrated together.

Where do we go from here? We -- my cousins and I -- need to find genealogical data as proof and need help from anyone who might know anything which can help us. It is ironic that the first genealogical data we had was from the White family -- descendants of Samuel who married Margaret McMichael, son of John of Carnashannagh -- given to my brother at an antique show in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in 1981. We have thought for a long time that we may be missing something, an important clue that could be right under our noses. Can anyone help us?

Author's note: I would like to thank David N. Ewing for his help in developing this article.


[1] James Ewing, Pioneer by Nancy Hanks Ewing, available in the Clan Ewing web site's Reading Room, at:

[2] Fife, p. 54

[3] As we were discussing this, David N. Ewing tried to locate her and learned that she had died in November last year. He has written a letter to the Brazos County, Texas, Genealogical Society to see if they can help locate her papers.

[4] Fife, p. 85

[5] Jean McClure has researched this issue. Her conclusions are reflected in the John ' of Carnashannagh Genealogy developed by James R. McMichael and included in the Ewing Genealogy at:

[6] Fife, p. 328

[7] WC is my brother, William Charles Ewing.

[8] Fife, p. 76

[9] Fife, p. 78