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I do not like to admit it, but I was wrong—not wrong about everything but incorrect in one particular: the identification of my 2x great grandmother. I had (along with several other genealogists) said she was Elizabeth Williams. In fact, in a previous post I had spun a beautiful story of unfulfilled love that fit the data I had at the time, viz. Thomas Spenser Dew, my 2x great grandfather, was married to a woman named Elizabeth, born about 1816, in Georgia. (This is established fact, documented by the 1850 and 1860 US Population Censuses.) I erred in my mistaken hypothesis, however, because I accepted two misleading bits of evidence (1) the existence of a marriage bond made in Granville County, North Carolina.for Thomas “Due” and Elizabeth Williams signed in 1832 (when our Elizabeth of Burke County, Georgia would have been 16 years of age and three years before Thomas Spenser headed to Georgia in late 1835); and (2) the absence of any documentary evidence of an Elizabeth Atkinson, as our ancestor. Of course, Miss Atkinson had been rumored to be Thomas’ wife in family lore (viz. the recollections of my Mother Audrey and of Ruth Dew “Aunt Sister” Moates, my eldest maternal aunt. See figure 1). Then I laid my hands on the church record of the Little Buck Head Baptist Church (hereafter abbreviated LBHBC) via Interlibrary Loan from the archives at Mercer University. In the process, I re-confirmed the adage “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” much to my embarrassment.

From family Bible given to my Ma Bertia by my mother Audrey Moates Matteson in 1958.
 Figure 1—The notes of my Aunt Ruth called “Sister” and my mother Audrey that identify their grandmother as Elizabeth Adkinson
and Martha Atkinson, respectively.

What I saw in the image on the microfilm reader as I sat in the Nashville Public Library Special Collections excited my imagination. On the flyleaf of the minutes book was the signature of Thomas S. Dew among the other church clerks who had possession of the book during their tenure. My grandfather’s grandfather was indeed a man of import in the Burke County, Georgia church and was a literate, educated individual. Furthermore, in the early pages of the record that began on July 4, 1835 at the establishment of the congregation, I found that in the meeting of 12 Aug 1837 Thomas Dew joined LBHBC in the company of kinsmen Mills Peel and Mill’s son Levi Peel. These gentlemen were Thomas’ suspected Uncle and 1st Cousin, respectively, who had also relocated from Edgecombe County, North Carolina in late 1835-early 1836 as did Thomas.

Elizabeth Atkinson Found!

Then I saw a name that stunned me! The minutes of the 7 Oct 1837 meeting, not quite two months later, recorded the fact that two ladies joined the congregation: Elizabeth Atkinson and Harriet Atkinson.  I believe them to be sisters and the daughters of Sarah Atkinson, whom I have subsequently deduced to be the widow of Jeremiah John Atkinson. Moreover, Sarah was born a Brinson, sharing a surname with many in the congregation.  I had encountered Harriet earlier in my research. She married Levi Peel in July 1838. Is it possible that this is the Elizabeth, her sister, whom Thomas would marry on 28 February the same year as well?  If so, then Harriet would be both his cousin by marriage and his sister-in-law, as well. We also note that the girls’ mother Sarah Atkinson was a founding member #10 of the church.

It is a very real possibility. When Thomas prepared to leave the church to remove to Alabama, after he had been licensed and ordained, he requested a letter of dismissal (6 Dec 1847) for “Thos. Dew and his wife.” Thus, his wife “Elizabeth” was clearly also a member of the church. There is no specific mention of any marriage ceremony, nor the joining of a Mrs. Dew or any other Dew in the congregation. Thus, we must look to the membership list to find the most likely Elizabeth who had joined as a single adult under her maiden name. In the Baptist faith tradition, each individual may enter the covenantal family of the church by their statement of faith, or—following baptism by immersion as an adult—a letter of dismissal in good standing from their former congregation. See figure 2 for a facsimile and transcription of the first page of the membership list. Thomas S. Dew appears as number 41 in the company of Mills and Levi Peel, respectively his uncle and first cousin.  Two months later (according to the minutes of the church) Elizabeth Atkinson became member number 54 with her sister Harriet.


Portion of membership list (in chronological order) of Little Buck Head Baptist Church, Burke County Georgia (1835-1855) with a transcription in which Thomas S. Dew (member #41) and Elizabeth Atkinson (#54) are highlighted in red. The super/subscripts dist or dead or Excomm were added later to indicate the ultimate disposition of the member, namely (1) dismissed in good standing by “letter,” (2) died or was (3) excommunicated in church discipline, respectively. No notation suggests that he individual was still a member in 1855 when the minutes were closed.

A careful accounting of the membership by comparing the list with the minutes of each meeting that notes who “came forward” reveals that six women named Elizabeth joined Little Buck Head Baptist Church in this period. The “Elizabeths” of LBHBC are as follows:


Elizabeth Atkinson #53 joined 7 Oct 1837 dis’d       [as Mrs Dew?]
Elizabeth Wallace #76 joined 11 Aug 1838 [presumably a member until after 1855]
Elizabeth Williams #97 joined 11 Dec 1841             [Williams! But not our Elizabeth, joined after
Thomas married Elizabeth Atkinson 1838]
Elizabeth Brinson #30/#116 joined 11 Jun 1836/dis’d 9 Apr 1842 [rejoined post 1844]
Elizabeth Forehand #163 joined post 1844 [presumed wife of William C. Forehand #162]
Elizabeth Thorn #172 joined post 1844 [Unmarried in 1850, daughter of Middleton Thorn]

There is no Elizabeth, save Miss Atkinson, who joined before the date of Thomas S. Dew’s and Elizabeth’s marriage in February 1838 with the exception of Elizabeth Brinson, the later of whom was dismissed in 1842 under her maiden name and rejoined after 1844. Thus, it is highly likely that this Elizabeth Atkinson was the bride of the North Carolinian émigré.

Occam’s Razor to the Rescue

There is a principle of decision theory called Occam’s razor which holds that when choosing the preferred hypothesis between two theories that fit the data, the simpler of the pair is most often the closer to the truth. In my previous post I had attempted to account for Elizabeth of the 1850 and 1860 censuses being born in 1816 and claiming Georgia as her birth place and having the maiden name of Williams. Thus, I concocted what I now consider an elaborate fiction. The less convoluted narrative is that the “Thomas Due” and Elizabeth Williams of Granville County, North Carolina of the marriage bond were a different couple than Thomas S. Dew of Edgecombe County, North Carolina and Elizabeth Atkinson of Burke County, Georgia, who are, thus, my ancestors. I was duped by a case of mistaken identity. What is more, our Thomas Spenser Dew was very literate and was particular about the spelling of his name. Here are several examples of his signature from about the time in question. (See figure below).

Exemplars of the signature of Thomas Spenser Dew. The first from the fly leaf of the church records dated “1842 Dec the 10 [th] day” when he took possession of the book as church clerk. The next three are samples from the minutes that he habitually signed at the end of each entry. The final two are from his personal testimony, written in his own hand over several years.

The marriage bond made in 1832 between “Thomas (X) Due” and his bride Elizabeth Williams is signed only with “His mark.” Thus, the X in our designation of him. (See next figure.) This Thomas was most probably illiterate and could not write or spell his name. In a subsequent post I will attempt to identify this Thomas. In any case, he is NOT Thomas S. Dew, I now believe, not only because of the advanced state of Rev Dew’s literacy but also because of the awkward timeline of the matrimonies. It seems implausible that Thomas S. Dew would have married Elizabeth Williams in 1832 only to relocate to Georgia alone over 300 miles away three years later and marry another Elizabeth so soon. Indeed, Thomas S. was apparently single when he joined LBHBC in 1837 as there is no record of a “Sister Dew” at that time. It is more likely that Thomas (X) Due/Dew married an Elizabeth Williams (of unknown age). We will explore their potential identities in a subsequent post. In any case, it now seems much more likely that Thomas Spenser Dew did NOT marry Elizabeth Williams.

The signature of Thomas (x) Due/Dew on the marriage with Elizabeth Williams. Incidentally, note that Anderson Bailey, Penny Bailey Haswell Dew’s cousin was literate and could sign his name.

Therefore, I owe my mother and aunt an apology for my rather out-of-hand dismissal of their communications. The family story, however, is not without error. My 2x great grandmother’s name was indeed Elizabeth (not “Martha” as my mother reported) with a maiden name of Atkinson (not “Adkinson” as my aunt reported).

Moreover, I have deduced that the Elizabeth of Georgia was the child of Sarah Brinson Atkinson and Jeremiah John Atkinson of Burke County, based on a wide range of admittedly circumstantial evidence. For example, the Dews had an affinity for the families Atkinson and Brinson as is often the case among rural ancestral communities. Elizabeth also had other close relations in the church, if my deductions are accurate: for example, her aforementioned sister Harriet Drusilla Atkinson Peel; brothers Alexander W. Atkinson and John Atkinson, the latter of whom I believe sheltered the couple in 1840.

Thomas S and Elizabeth Dew May Have Lived with Brother John Atkinson in 1840

Interestingly, in the 1840 census no Dew family appears on the enumeration for Burke County, Georgia. Thomas reported in his witness that his house burned in January of that year and subsequently he worked for John Atkinson. An examination of the 1830 census reveals John Atkinson living alone, but in 1840 he shared his home, in addition to his wife “Mahuldah” aka Huldah (known from the membership list of LBHBC and the 1850 and subsequent censuses), with another man and woman of ages consistent with those of Thomas (b. 1808) and Elizabeth (b. 1816). In 1850 the guests (presumably the Dew family) had moved on, showing up in the census of Ozark, Dale County, Alabama, with three daughters: Sarah Ann and Ruth Ann, both born in Georgia, and Martha A., an infant born in Alabama the year before.

Recently, two documents have come to my attention that place Thomas S. Dew in Burke County, Georgia until the beginning of 1849, namely a survey order and a deed for about 100 acres near Millen on the Burke County-Screven County line adjacent to the land of Daniel Brinson, probably one of Elizabeth’s maternal cousins. Why the Dew family departed Georgia and moved southwest to Dale County, Alabama is unclear at this time. But in the census next year Thomas had real estate listed at a value of $500, presumably the parcel southeast of Millen, Georgia.

A More Straightforward Tale

While I confess by chagrin at having put forth what turns out to be an elaborate conspiracy theory, I acknowledge it that has been a way of life for me as a scientist over the decades of my professional career: propose a hypothesis that explains the data, one that is falsifiable and then proceed with it until it is OBE (Overtaken By Events), that is, until it is shown to be contrary to reality. Taking the new data into account and applying Occam’s razor we are led to the conclusion that the narrative in this part of Thomas Spenser Dew’s life is much more straightforward than I reported earlier.

In late 1835, after the death of his mother Sarah Peel Dew, Thomas, age 27 relocated with his Uncle and family to the rich farmer land of Burke County, Georgia. Soon after arriving Thomas met Elizabeth Atkinson, daughter of the family of the widow Sarah Atkinson, perhaps as a consequence of his employment by Elizabeth’s brother John in 1837.  Their attendance at the new church (Little Buck Head Baptist Church) without doubt gave them opportunity to see each other and to begin courting. At the same time Thomas’ cousin Levi Peel began courting Harriet, Elizabeth’s sister. In February 1838, after Thomas had secured a job as a clerk in a shop in town (possibly Millen) the couple was married, followed a few months later by Levi and Harriet’s nuptials. The Dews settled into married life in their own (rented) home until January 1840 when their house caught fire and burned all they had. With the support and care of family the two were able to weather the disaster, however, and rebuild their fortunes, adding daughters Sarah in 1842 and Ruth (my great grandmother) in 1846. Apparently, Thomas prospered as a farmer since he was able within a few years to homestead his own 100 acre place. At the same time his involvement in the affairs of the congregation on Little Buck Head Creek grew as did his skill as an orator. In 1842 he became the Clerk of the church, often called upon to represent the church with other brothers in the association meetings. Within five years he “heard the call” and was licensed to preach, and on 9 May 1847 he was ordained by the congregation a minister of the gospel. The church house remains from those days as a monument to the piety of the saints Thomas knew. (See contemporary photographs of the Buck Head Baptist Church meeting house and interior built in 1855 on the site of the previous church house.)

Exterior of Buck Head Baptist Church, Jenkins (ealier Burke) County, Georgia built 1855.
Recent photographs of the exterior and interior of the historic Buck Head Church in Jenkins (formerly Burke) County, Georgia. The building was constructed in 1855, after the Dews had departed the area. It was Thomas S. Dew who stood in meeting i1n the 1840s to propose that the church become incorporated.

I can imagine how that, in 1849, Thomas heard the “Macedonian Call: Come over and help us!” Perhaps the call came from an itinerant preacher who brought word of the need for preachers in the developing frontier of Alabama; perhaps it came as a letter from a friend. For example, the town of Newton had been founded less than five years earlier and lay just south of the settlement then known as “Woodshop” later renamed “Ozark.” In this spot the Dews planted their growing family, . This was an actual frontier of development, and opportunity, both in commerce and in evangelism. Whatever the precise details, it is clear that Thomas uprooted his family from the comfortable surroundings of Burke County where Elizabeth had grown up and transplanted them to Dale County just in time for Martha to be born an Alabamian.

There the Dew family labored in the vineyard of the Lord for a decade, leaving a legacy in the Ozark Baptist Church that is still remembered, until in 1860 they moved again to the fateful locale of Eucheeanna in Walton County, Florida. There my great grandparents (James Marion Moates and Ruth Ann Dew) would meet and later marry as I have detailed in a previous post.

A New Family Tree and New Cousins

Because I have been properly chastened by new-found information, I now offer humbly a revised identification of Elizabeth Atkinson as Thomas’ spouse. Subsequently, I constructed a more accurate family tree in Ancestry.com. As a consequence, scores of fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins have popped up among my DNA Matches, individuals who are related to me and my family via the ancestors of Sarah Brinson Atkinson and Jeremiah John Atkinson. I believe that we have—at last—solved the mystery of Thomas Spenser Dew’s wives. Thomas only had two mates: Elizabeth Atkinson (m 1838- d. about 1865) and Caroline Slay Dew (m. 1870-d. 1872). Penny Bailey Haswell Dew and Elizabeth “Betsie” Williams Dew were the wives of another Thomas Dew/Due whose identity I will explore in a subsequent post.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to view the original documents and capture a sense of Rev Dew, a man previously shrouded in the mists of vague family legend. Like a fresh breeze clears the fog, new information has permitted me to catch a clearer glimpse of who this man really was and to come to know him as a real person, not merely as an ephemeral collection of pixels in an heirloom on-line image. In the same way, I hope that you, dear reader, will see him. I believe that then it will have been worth the effort—despite my embarrassing missteps—to find him and my long unknown great great grandmother Elizabeth Atkinson Dew. She was herself also a person of remarkable resilience and courage, who followed her peripatetic husband like the patriarch Abraham’s wife Sarah, moving always to the unknown frontier from her comfortable and familiar circle of home and kin.

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