Most US Stilwells are able to trace their lineage back to Nicholas Stilwell. The history of Nicholas, after he came to Virginia, has been very well researched in the US, and I do not intend adding anything to that. However, who Nicholas was and exactly where he came from, is still a mystery. There were a number of theories and books published about Nicholas’ line, and most of this research placed him as being descended from the Dorking Stilwells. But all the birth, marriage and burial records of members of the Dorking Stilwells survive and are available in the public domain and there are no “gaps” in the families that point us to the Nicholas who settled in Virginia.
So who is he? Let’s consider the facts and evidence.
Excellent research by Greg Stilwell from PA has established many details about Nicholas that stand up to any investigation:
- He would have been born before 1617
- He was in Virginia by 1634, with some evidence pointing to as early as 1622
- There is no record of his purchasing a passage from England to Virginia and so it is believed he worked his passage or travelled as a servant for a wealthy family
- He was established as a tobacco viewer by 1639
- On 8th Oct 1642, he was issued “200 acres on the north side of the Charles River beginning at a small creek that issueth northernmost branch of Leverne called Fosbury Creek” (actual size was 202 acres). This issue was as reward for the sponsorship of 4 immigrants from England (names unknown) under the Headright scheme.
- He is likely to have been married by 1642, and maybe as early as 1635
- By 1645 he had a house and plantation “to the easter side of West Creeke”. He was recording his name by this time with the title “Lieft” (Lieutenant).
- By the end of 1646 he was in New Amsterdam following the well-documented Claiborne incident.
To add to the above, a number of suppositions have been made:
- As a Lieutenant (a term used locally for both a militia Sergeant and an estate manager) he would need to have been handy with a musket
- He would have learnt his tobacco skills in the period between arriving and becoming a viewer
- He sounded like a strong person – both physically and mentally
- Any wealth he had, he made in Virginia
Now we have some facts and some good suppositions, let us try and establish where he came from.
A DNA exercise a few years ago comparing the DNA of a few Stilwells in England with that from a few Stilwells in USA indicated that the two families were NOT connected. This DNA research was taken up by a retired scientist Stilwell in USA and a much more rigid and deeper DNA signature project took place with samples from US Stilwells and UK Stilwells. These immediately showed that there is NO link between the two families and so the only conclusion can be that Nicholas Stilwell is not a “Stilwell” and took the name, for reasons unknown, before sailing to Virginia. This family’s DNA signature is R-M269. But the DNA project threw up another previously unknown fact: a few of the US Stilwells who volunteered their DNA to the project DO match, exactly, the UK Stilwell DNA signature (more correctly called a haplogroup). These US Stilwells had always been unable to trace their family back to Nicholas of Virginia, and typically could only get back to the 1750s, and so proved that there are TWO US Stilwell lines. The UK Stilwell DNA signature is I-M253.
The DNA project continues with the aim of:
1) R-M269 Stilwells: Establishing a very detailed DNA signature for the descendants of Nicholas and using that to match against publically-available DNA samples for anyone in Britain. This will, hopefully, give a clue to Nicholas’s real surname. Once we have that, and the likely place he was born (from information provided by the DNA volunteers in UK) we can try and find his family in the UK. The circumstantial evidence so far points him to being from the Protestant area of East Anglia in England.
2) I-M253: Tracing the first immigrant to the USA of the ‘other’ US Stilwell line. He will have been born a Stilwell. The US descendants are trying to get their family trees back to the source, a man who probably sailed to America in the first half of the 1700s. Once we have that name I would expect to be able to trace his birth. He is expected to come from Surrey, Sussex or Hampshire.
The search goes on.
To look for US relatives you can go to the Stillwell website on genforum “http://genforum.genealogy.com/stillwell/”
If you have any serious contributions to the history of the US Stilwells, in particular about Nicholas and his descendants, or about the history of early settlers in Virginia in general, contact Greg Stilwell – “Gregs125@aol.com“
For more on the I-M253 Stilwells contact me <enquiries>.