William Spilsby Gregory
Revolutionary War Veteran
from research published in
"Gregory Family Origins"
William Spilsby Gregory is known by many variations on his name. He is known by William Gregory, William S. Gregory, Spilsby Gregory, Spittsby Gregory, and several spelling variations from Spillsbee to Spilsbie to Spilsbury, and even “Speltby”. So many variations make him difficult to track in the historical records. He predominately went by the name Spilsby in the written communications of his later years, giving us reason to discount various random “William” Gregorys as being he.
Nonetheless, we encountered several instances of a William Gregory in the historical record that seemingly might be he. Further, in all the proven records we find of him, he is almost always known as Spilsby, Spillsby, Spittby or even Spillsbury, but rarely William. He was known by William in a few tax rolls and other records, but generally a random William Gregory in a Tax or Census record seems unlikely to be him.
We place his birth in the year 1751, which approximation is derived from a letter he wrote on April 2, 1831 in which he himself stated he was eighty years old. Based on one suggested theory of his origins, we consider a possible date as early as 1749. Ancestry family trees online credit his birth in a variety of years, up to 1759 and even 1761, without substantiation. The best substantiating document we have found is the 1831 letter although that is not absolute, as an 1832 court transcription muddies the water by stating his age as age 75, for a possible 1757 birth. This would place him one year younger than his wife, which seems less likely. We also have an 1831 letter from David Lewis Hampton1, Justice of the Peace of Clark County Ky, in which he stated that he and Spilsby were boys together in 1765 Fredericksburg, VA. We have another letter from Isaac Farrell who claims to have known him in 1775 in Virginia.
1 N.B. David Lewis Hampton was born July 29, 1810 in Clark County, Ky., son of George Hampton and Catherine Routt. His grandfather was from Virginia, coming to Kentucky in time for the birth of George in 1791. David served as Justice of the Peace in Clark County before moving to Missouri in the early 1830's, coincidently about the same time as others of our extended family did so.
From his military pension applications we have Spilsby entering military service in October 1778 at age 21 or 27 depending, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the company commanded by Captain Thomas Minor, (or Meinor) in the Virginia 2nd Regiment of Foot commanded by Colonel John Taylor, who later became the US Senator from Virginia. Taylor was a Jeffersonian Democrat, and was known as “John Taylor of Caroline”. Caroline County Virginia is very near to Fredericksburg.
Spilsby claimed to have been a Sergeant in his service under Captain Minor. Spilsby served until June 1782 or 1783, which year is unclear, when he was discharged in Bowling Green Virginia, which was only about 20 miles from Fredericksburg. He reportedly served almost four years, ending as a Sergeant in his unit. His reported discharge in 1782, before the war ended on Sept 3, 1783, was cited (See Item #35) as the reason for denying him a pension for his service. From all we can see, this seems most unfair and a pension was deserved. Further, the 1782 discharge is questionable even though he himself names the year, because in the same document he states he stayed until the War's end, suggesting 1782 might have been a misstatement. Another document (See items 6&7) names the year of his discharge as 1783, and further claims he was transferred after two years to the command of a Captain Buckney.
He further seems to appear in Hardesty's History and Biographical Encyclopedia, Copyright 1885, where on Page 377 a Speltby Gregory is mentioned as a pensioner along with Obediah, John, William Gregory, all appearing in a footnote to a discussion of John Munford Gregory, in which John and William are noted as being rather famous Revolutionary War officers. No actual information about “Speltby” is given beyond his mention as a pensioner.
Searching Fold3 for actual military records, we cannot find any record of Capt Thomas Minor commanding a Regiment under Col. John Taylor, nor anyone named Gregory who served as a Sergeant in ANY Revolutionary unit. Captain Minor served in the Continental Line, Second Regiment, and participated in the Siege of Yorktown, which William does not mention. Minor states in his own pension application that he was, in 1778, under the command of Col. George Gibson, and he stayed therein until the close of the war, and does not mention anyone named Taylor. He does state that he too came from Caroline, VA, which was again, not very far from Fredericksburg.
However, we also remember that when we researched Nathaniel Williams Ralls experience in the 2nd Virginia Regiment under Captain William Taylor, (as opposed to John Taylor) we find a William Gregory there, as a Private, who potentially could be our William Spilsby Gregory. Perhaps age and failing memory has confused the good Captain William Taylor, with the illustrious US Senator with the similar name in his later years, muddying the record of his service.
Perhaps the lack of correlation of actual service and his claims is merely due to the disarray of records of the era, but it does seem odd that he should be so completely obscured. In fact, this causes us to seriously question the veracity of the claims he himself made in these letters, which were written to appeal for a pension in his elder years. Perhaps his service was exaggerated. We continue searching various Revolutionary archives for substantiating information.
Spilsby Family Connections
The Spilsby name seems particularly significant. Uncommon names are genealogical gold, allowing for much easier search and identification. John Spilsby was born in England in the early 1600's and married Ann Clark. Their only known daughter, Ann Spilsby was born about 1659 in Essex Virginia. In 1678 she married Robert Coleman. They had seven children, and those children then intermarried with several colonial families, frequently propagating the Spilsby name as a middle or given name. In our analysis of the Coleman Family genealogy we cannot find any descendant of Ann Spilsby who was in the right place and time to contribute the name Spilsby to a Gregory child! That leaves a couple of possibilities. Perhaps he was named Spilsby because someone named Spilsby was a close friend, but not blood connection, or possibly Ann Spilsby had a sibling we are unaware of who provides a connection, or even perhaps another descendant of John Spilsby's family is at play. Regardless, we have not made a connection as yet between anyone named Spilsby and anyone named Gregory.
It obviously seems significant that Spilsby Stone, son of Josiah Stone and Mary Coleman, came to Kentucky and settled in Nelson County, just a few miles away from where William Spilsby Gregory was living in 1830. For all the significance of these names and interconnections, we cannot find any actual connection between the Spilsby name and the Gregory name, or even any connection between the Stone family and our Spilsby. That there must be one seems obvious, but we can't find it.
We did find a Spilsby Tribble in Caroline Va, born there in 1738. He was the son of Elizabeth Coleman and Shadrach Tribble, and grandson of Spilsby Coleman. It seems intuitively possible that Spilsby's family might have been connected to the Tribble family somehow, enough to namesake a child.
We know from the letters that William Spilsby Gregory was in Fredericksburg, VA between 1765 and 1778, placing him squarely among our Gregory ancestors. Yet we do not know where he was born. Many online trees list his birth as Caroline, yet there exists a degree of confusion. Some sources give his birthplace as Caroline, Virginia, and some as Caroline, North Carolina. None of the latter offer any source for this birthplace and we cannot substantiate it. We should also note that Colonel John Taylor, whom Spilsby claimed to have served under in the war was definitely from Caroline County, VA and if that is not confusing, consider that Spilsby's wife was also named Caroline.
We know from his pension claims that William Spilsby Gregory was discharged in 1782 or 83 in Bowling Green Virginia, a mere 20 miles or so from Fredericksburg, in Caroline County, VA.
He married Caroline Muse some five years after his Military discharge, a datum we substantiated when we found records of their marriage on December 27, 1787 in the Virginia Select Marriages2 index. We are still looking for an actual copy of the record itself.
2 Virginia Select Marriages, FHL Film Number 30826, Page 62
They are usually credited with a son named James Thomas Gregory, born about 1787 in Virginia, or Kentucky according to some, or possibly North Carolina. His often claimed middle name of Thomas however is rather suspect and probably is not correct, unless one postulates that perhaps Thomas Minor might have been a namesake, although that seems unlikely. We do find a James Gregory that matches the son but a solid connection to Spilsby is elusive, and the middle name of Thomas does not appear in any record.
We found online claims of an Elizabeth Gregory, born 1789 and who was listed as marrying William Hatfield on April 27, 1806. We found in a Nelson Co. Ky. deed book3, a record of an undivided 1000 acres tract entered by Battaile Muse, devised by Muse to Caroline Gregory and heirs, one of whom is Elizabeth Hatfield and husband, proving her as the child of William Spilsby Gregory and Caroline Muse.
3 Nelson County, Ky., Deed Book 8, Page 347, Aug 6 1812
The third child of William Spilsby Gregory and Caroline Muse was a son named Battaile Gregory, born in 1798 in Kentucky. He would seem to be a namesake of Battaile Muse, Caroline's brother. He left us very few tracks however, making proving his existence problematical.
This propagation of Caroline's brother's uncommon name highlights one troublesome point. Significantly, no children bearing the name Spilsby appear among any of their descendants. This seems a serious lack.
Between their marriage in Virginia in 1787 and their appearance in Kentucky in the 1790's, we cannot place them. This is the time window when they might have been in North Carolina, if we place any credence at all in those claims. Elizabeth was born in this window, and we cannot substantiate where she was born, so a North Carolina birth is entirely reasonable. It is quite likely they spent some time in North Carolina before moving on to Kentucky, although definite North Carolina tracks for them have not been found.
Other online trees credit Spilsby as born in 1742 in Chatham, NC and as dying in 1832. Many report his 1832 death as occurring in North Carolina, which seems unlikely given his advanced age in 1831 when he is clearly placed in Kentucky. We believe the North Carolina connections are a total red-herring and represent confusion with another William Gregory, but cannot completely discount all claims that place them in North Carolina, since it is likely that they came to Ky via the Wilderness Road.
The 1742 birth date seems to come from the date credited to a William Gregory who was born in Chatham North Carolina to James Thomas Gregory and Patience Godwin (of British Line #2), and who many seem to think was William Spilsby, despite a significant discrepancy on his birth date, and this linkage also explains the claimed but unsupported middle name of their son. Many of course link Spilsby to these parents in their family trees, but we simply do not find this linkage credible, as their William was born in 1736/1742 (varies by source) and died in 1822, married Sarah Moore in 1785, all in North Carolina. Yet our Spilsby's son was claimed to have been named James Thomas Gregory, according to most accounts, matching the North Carolina son, confounding and confusing our analysis. That said, the middle name of Thomas is completely unsupported, and he named a son William James, not James Thomas. Other trees link him to the William F. Gregory who was a son of Philemon Gregory, which also is not very credible.
We know Spilsby settled in what is now Spencer County Ky, as various letters and his military pension appeals place him in Taylorsville, Ky about 1830. This of course was Nelson County prior to 1824. We found a William Gregory that we believe was in fact him in the tax lists for Nelson County in 1800, and in the 1810 Census. He is NOT present in 1820 nor 1830 records despite the letters clearly stating he was living there in those years. Due to his age, he was probably living with a relative, likely his daughter Elizabeth and thus not named in the Census since they only listed heads of household then. There is an older male in the 1830 Hatfield household that could fit her father.
Spencer County was formed from Nelson in 1824. Taylorsville is very near the Nelson County home of Spilsby Stone, a fact we consider extremely significant. Spilsby Stone was a brother to Valentine Stone, of Bath County. Although we cannot find the link, our Spilsby must have been connected to some descendant of Ann Spilsby. Further, the closeness to the Stone family argues that he had connections into our Bath County ancestors. Recognizing these probabilities and yet being unable to identify the links is frustrating.
We do not know when Spilsby died. The last record we have is dated December 9, 1831. There was a huge cholera epidemic about June of 1833, and a great many people died quickly, too rapidly to bury properly, and there were many mass graves without proper death records. We suspected that he died in that time, but more recently a letter by Ralph Lancaster dated November 22, 1833 has been discovered wherein Mr. Lancaster is once again pleading his case. Based on this evidence, we believe he survived the year 1833, although he may have died soon thereafter.
In short, we have several letters he himself wrote, and which were written on his behalf, claiming a pension based on his war service. Yet we find no actual confirmed record of his service under any variation of his name. The only record that seems to be him simply names William Gregory, and cannot be definitely shown to be him.
We have two witnesses who claim to have known him as a young man in Virginia. Except for the 1787 marriage record in Caroline, VA, we find no record of him in Virginia. We find him living in Taylorsville, Kentucky. We have his letters of application for a pension, but no reliably confirmed military records nor much of his civilian life.
His parents are unknown, although again many online trees assign him variously as either a son of Philemon Gregory, or of a James Thomas Gregory and Patience Godwin, (descended from Roger Gregory and Margaret Thornton) or as a son of Napthalum Gregory of Augusta. None of these theories seem particularly credible although the Napthalum hypothesis matches the one questionable DNA sample in our study.
Napthalum definitely had a son named William who was born in 1749 and who was definitely a candidate to be William Spilsby Gregory, but Nap's son William quite certainly died in 1779 at age 30, believed to have been a casualty of Valley Forge. Whether he died at Valley Forge is less certain, but the fact of his 1779 death is well-proven with several supporting documents confirming the fact.
Spilsby may ultimately prove to be of Nap's line, but he is definitely not a son of Nap. DNA is our only tool with which to unravel the mystery. We may confirm his lineage, but not his parents, which are likely to remain unknown.