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The Swenys/Sweeneys/Swinneys

Part 2

Can We Identify a Common Ancestor of our Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites?

Thomas Purifoy Patent 1655
Thomas Purifoy Patent 1655

If Rosamond Prewtt was the mother of our Samuel Pruitt, it may be that Samuel's father or grandfather was a Sweeney/Swinney living in the Tidewater/Northern Neck region of Virginia at that time. At least one family living in that area can be considered a candidate for the dual role of starting the Pruitt line and the Sweeney/Swinney/White line. Edmund Sweny, Sr. was born in England or Ireland in the early 1600s. He immigrated to the Tidewater area of Virginia sometime before 1655. Thomas Purifoy's headright patent indicates that Edmund Sweny's wife Elizabeth, son Edmund, Jr. and daughters Elizabeth and Mary accompanied him to Virginia. Their presence on the patent would, of course, indicate the three children were born before 1655, possibly long before that date. Based on what we know about his children and grandchildren, Edmund Sweny, Sr. likely lived in Elizabeth City Co., Va. most of his life. We also know that Thomas Purifoy was a justice of Elizabeth City in 1652, making this the likely location where he obtained the patents for the Swenys. Some researchers indicate that after their arrival in Virginia, Edmund and Elizabeth had three other sons (Samuel, Merritt and Lazarus). However, we have found no contemporaneous records to support this. It may be that Edmund and Elizabeth had more children, we just can't confirm names or dates of birth based on the records we now have. As to where these three names came from, we'll explore that in the next paragraph.

Edmund Sweny Will 1697
Edmund Sweny Will 1697

A will written in 1696 and proved on May 10, 1697 in Elizabeth City Co., Va. has generally been linked to Edmund Sweny, Sr. by most researchers. However, we are quite certain this is actually the last will of Edmund Sweny, Jr. The will's author indicates that his eldest son Edmund was under the age of 21. The Edmund Sweny who accompanied his father to Virginia in 1655 or earlier would have been at least 43 years of age in 1697 and likely was much older than that. The wife of the author of this last will was named Martha Sweny. We're confident that Edmund Sweny, Jr. married Martha (Moore) Tabb, the widow of Thomas Tabb, around 1687 when she would have been around 40 years of age. William Tabb's 1721 will (mentioned below) seems to indicate that he was raised as a "brother" of Merritt, Samuel and Edmund Sweny [III], bolstering the idea that the Martha mentioned in Edmund Sweny [II]'s will was indeed Martha (Moore) Tabb. Another corroborating piece of evidence is this 1696 deed of land from Thomas Tabb to Edmond Swaney. In the deed, Thomas calls Edmond Swaney his "Father in Law" and Martha Swaney his mother. The term "father in law" was often used instead of "stepfather" in colonial documents. One of the two witnesses to this document was Augustine Moore. According to most sources, Martha was the daughter of Augustine Moore (b. around 1624 in Elizabeth City Co., Va.) and the sister of Augustine Moore (b. around 1650). In fact, Augustine More is called "my brother in law" by Edmund Sweny in his 1697 will. This would indicate that the Augustine More mentioned in Edmund Sweny's will was the brother of Martha (Moore) Tabb. As we'll see, the Tabbs, Moores and Swenys crossed paths many times in the coming years.

Four Generations of Swenys in the Tidewater Region of Virginia

With regard to the question of whether Edmund Sweny, Sr. had children other than those mentioned in the 1655 Purifoy patent, it can only be said that no others are mentioned in any records we've seen. With that in mind, here is what we know currently about Edmund Sweny, Sr. and his immediate family, based exclusively on the Thomas Purifoy 1655 patent. Edmund Sweny, Sr. must have been born before 1625 somewhere in the British Isles. Given that they were Protestants/Anglicans (based on their descendant's last wills and the fact that they lived in Virginia, a primarily Anglican colony) and the fact that their children/grandchildren did a lot of business with London merchants and bankers, it is more likely than not that they were born in England, Scotland or a part of Ireland that was heavily Protestant. Edmund Sweny, Sr.'s wife was named Elizabeth, but her last name is unknown to us.

Generation 1

Edmund Sweny, Sr. [I] married Elizabeth LNU in the British Isles prior to 1650. Edmund and Elizabeth Sweny had the following children:

Generation 2

It's clear that Edmund, Jr. was the father of sons named Edmund and Samuel based on Edward Day's last will, written on May 3, 1687, which mentions "Edmund Swinney and Samuel Swinney, sons of Edmund Swinney and Martha, his new wife." Edmund Sweny's 1697 will also indicates he had other children who had not yet "come of age." We suspect one of those minors was Merritt Sweny who was a witness to Elizabeth Tabb's 1717 will and another was Lazarus Sweny who was mentioned in a York County legal document in 1726. In his 1732 last will, Lazarus Sweny called Samuel Sweny "My Brother" and mentions two sons, Daniel and James. And, in William Tabb's 1721 will (see below), he essentially calls Merritt Sweny, Samuel Sweny and Edmund Sweny his brothers. We believe all this points to Edmund Sweny, Jr. being the father of the four sons usually attributed to Edmund Sweny, Sr.

Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II], son of Edmund Sweny, Sr. and Elizabeth, married an unknown first wife prior to 1678. Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and his wife had the following children (birth dates based on Edmund being the "eldest son" and not yet attaining "the age of twenty one years" according to his father's 1697 last will):

Generation 3

While Edmund Sweny, Jr. seems to have lived in Elizabeth City Co., Va. most of his life, his son Edmund [III] must have moved to nearby York Co., Va. sometime after his father died. Records in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. indicate that Edmund Sweny and his wife Frances had at least three children including Daniel born on July 28, 1709, Edmund born on Sept. 2, 1710 (Edmund died two weeks later on Sept. 16) and Martha born on March 4, 1712 (1711 according to the Julian Calendar used at that time). Edmund's wife was Frances Robinson according to most sources. Frances was born to Anthony and Mary Robinson on Jan. 5, 1690 (1689 according to the Julian calendar) in York Co., Va., making her age 19 when her first known child, Daniel, was born. Frances Sweny died on May 7, 1718 and it appears that Edmund [III] married Frances's sister Elizabeth Robinson shortly thereafter. In Elizabeth Sweeny's 1729 last will she names Mary (Robinson) Calthorpe, Anthony Robinson and John Robinson as her niece and nephews, John Robinson as her brother and executor of her will, and Merrit Sweeny as her son. In an addition to his mother's will, Merrit Sweeny also received "his father's [ne?] Sword and belt...." The will was prepared on May 17, 1729. Elizabeth's father Anthony Robinson had previously died on November 11, 1727. In his last will he named his granddaughter, Martha Sweny, and his grandson, Merritt Sweny. Not named in his will was his grandson, Daniel Sweny. Could this mean that Daniel had died at a young age like his brother Edmund? Elizabeth Sweny's husband Edmund Sweny [III] had died on May 9, 1728 with no will according to her sworn statement at court in York Co., Va. in May 1728. Elizabeth's Charles Parish death record indicates she died on May 29, 1729. It's apparent that Edmund and Elizabeth Sweny had at least one child, Merritt Sweny, in their nearly 10-year marriage. Elizabeth was likely in her early 30s when they married. For more about their son Merritt, see below.

Edmund Sweny [III], son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and wife unknown, married Frances Robinson around 1708 in York Co., Va. Edmund and Frances Sweny had the following children:

Edmund Sweny [III] married Elizabeth Robinson, his first wife's sister, in York Co., Va. around 1719. Edmund and Elizabeth Sweny had the following child:

In William Tabb's 1721 last will, he says his "two loving sons," William and Thomas Tabb, can receive their inheritance "when they come of age," indicating they were still minors in 1721. He mentions "my three brothers," Edward Tabb, John Sclater, and Merritt Sweny (likely the son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II]); Martha and Mary Sclater as "my two sisters"; Martha Sweney as "my brother Edmund Sweney's child"; and Charles, "son of my brother Samuel Sweney." William Tabb named "my beloved brother Merritt Sweney sole and lawful executor" of his last will and testament. All of this suggests that William Tabb was not only raised in the same household as Merritt Sweny, Edmund Sweny and Samuel Sweney, but that he also had three Sclaters in that household. It's possible that his mother, Martha (Tabb) Sweny, married again after Edmund Sweny, Jr. died in 1697 or just moved closer to Tabb and Sclater families in York County. It appears that Martha (Tabb) Sweny died in 1701 (see this Elizabeth City County probate record). Probation was granted to Thomas and John Tabb who were likely residents of York Co., Va. at that time. Both Edmund Sweny [III] and Samuel Sweny appear in York County records in the 1710s.

In Samuel Sweny's 1753 last will recorded in Norfolk Co., Va., he named his wife Ann, son Charles and left legacies to John and Lemuel Willoughby. Lemuel married a Martha Sweny in Norfolk Co., Va. in 1751 suggesting that Martha was the daughter of Samuel. This is confirmed by Samuel's wife's 1763 last will (recorded in 1767) in which she names Martha Willoughby as her "loving Daughter."

Samuel Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and wife unknown, married Ann LNU before 1720. Samuel and Ann Sweny had the following children:

The last will of Merritt Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and his first wife, was written in 1751 and recorded in Elizabeth City Co., Va. in 1752. The will names his son Roscow, daughters Priscilla Kirkpatrick, Ann Moore, Sarah Westwood, Martha Sweny, Mary Sweny, granddaughter Sarah Sweny, and his wife Jane Sweny. Jane Sweny's 1757 last will) adds unnamed children of Roscow Sweny, Elizabeth Cullington as her daughter, George Walker as her son-in-law, and granddaughter Jane Sweny.

Merritt Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and wife unknown, married Jane (Wilson) (Curle) Ricketts. Merritt and Jane Sweny had the following children:

Lazarus Sweny died in 1732 in Norfolk Co., Va. In his last will he named his wife, Elizabeth Sweny, and two sons, Daniel, likely the oldest, and James.

Lazarus Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] and wife unknown, married Elizabeth Wilson on Feb. 14, 1729 in Norfolk Co., Va. This was probably not Lazarus Sweny's first marriage. We suspect the children named in his will were not infants and were therefore not the children of Elizabeth Wilson. Lazarus Sweny had the following children:

Generation 4

We only have fragments of information about the 4th generation of Tidewater Swenys. If generations 3 and 4 were the progenitors of the four or fives lines of Sweeneys we find in central Virginia and North Carolina around mid-century and later, then there should be evidence of them moving out of the Tidewater region in the early to mid-1700s. We've found little evidence of that movement, however. In colonial America, fathers tended to leave most of their estates, particularly the land, to the oldest son. Many wills did not list other children, particularly younger sons and those that had moved away before the will was written. Birth records were scant for this period and are not always useful in tracing movements of individuals.

We were able to flesh out Merritt Sweney's line based on several birth records found in Norfolk Co., Va. We also found a record of an appraisal of the estate of Merritt Sweney, Jr., deceased, dated May 19, 1746, in York Co., Va. A Charles Parish, York Co., Va. death record indicates Merrit Sweny, "son of Edmund Sweny" died on Feb. 5, 1745. We're inclined to accept the Merritt Sweny who died in 1745 as the son of Edmund Sweny [III] based on the possibility that Merritt could have earned the Jr. after his name by being the younger of two Merritt Swenys in the area and not because he was the son of Merritt Sweny. This is reinforced by the mention of Merritt Sweeny as the son of Elizabeth Sweeny, widow, in her 1729 Last Will (see above for more about her will). Unfortunately, we have not found the actual will of Merritt Sweny, Jr. Some reseachers indicate Merritt Sweny, Jr. died intestate, which makes sense since he was so young when he died. Merritt Sweny and his wife Mary had a son (Daniel) and two daughters (Frances and Martha) in the early 1740s. Martha Sweny died less than a month after her birth.

Merritt Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny [III] and Elizabeth Robinson, married Mary LNU around 1740. Merritt and Mary Sweny had the following children:

Finding the 1762 Cumberland Co., Va. record of the marriage of Charles Scott and Frances Sweny, "orphan of Merritt Sweny," was an important breakthrough in our search for a common ancestor of our Sweeneys/Swinneys, Whites and Pruitts. For the first time, we had found a record of a Tidewater Sweny who had migrated to central Virginia. We'll delve more deeply into this marriage and its significance in Sweny, Part 3.

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