Can We Identify a Common Ancestor of our Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites?
If Rosamond Prewtt was the mother of our Samuel Pruitt, it is likely that Samuel's father was a Sweeney/Swinney living in, or passing through, the Tidewater/Northern Neck region of Virginia. One family living in the area at that time should be considered a prime candidate for being the progenitor of both our 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 indicated 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. probably lived in Elizabeth City Co., Va. (Hampton, Va. today). 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 records currently available to us. As to where these three names came from, we'll explore that next.
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 indicated that his eldest son Edmund was under the age of 21. The Edmund Sweny who accompanied his father to Virginia around 1655 would have been at least 43 years of age in 1697. 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 (see below) indicated that Merritt, Samuel and Edmund Sweny [III] were his "brothers," 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 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 (born around 1624 in Elizabeth City Co., Va.) and the sister of Augustine Moore (born 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 and several primary source records from the late 1600s and early 1700s. Edmund Sweny, Sr. must have been born before 1625 somewhere in the British Isles. Given that they were Protestants/Anglicans (based on their descendants' 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.
Edmund Sweny, Sr. [I] married Elizabeth LNU in the British Isles prior to 1650. Edmund and Elizabeth Sweny had the following children:
- Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II], b. bef. 1650, m1. unknown bef. 1678, m2. Martha (Moore) Tabb ~1687 in Elizabeth City Co., Va., d. bef. May 10, 1697 in Elizabeth City Co., Va.
- Elizabeth Sweny, b. bef. 1655.
- Mary Sweny, b. bef. 1655.
It's clear that Edmund Sweny, Jr. [II] was the father of sons named Edmund and Samuel based on Edward Day's last will, written on May 3, 1687, which mentioned "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 mentioned two sons, Daniel and James. And, in William Tabb's 1721 will (see below), he called 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):
- Edmund Sweny [III], b. ~1678 in Elizabeth City Co., Va., m1. Frances Robinson ~1708 in York Co., Va., m2. Elizabeth (Wade) Hayward ~1722 in York Co., Va., d. May 9, 1728, in York Co., Va.
- Samuel Sweny, b. ~1680 in Elizabeth City Co., Va., m. Ann LNU, d. bef. June 1753 in Norfolk Co., Va.
- Merritt Sweny, b. ~1682 in Elizabeth City Co., Va., m. Jane (Wilson) (Curle) Ricketts, d. bef. Oct. 5, 1752 in Elizabeth City Co., Va.
- Lazarus Sweny, b. ~1684 in Elizabeth City Co., Va., m. Elizabeth Wilson on Feb. 14, 1729 in Norfolk Co., Va., d. bef. Dec. 15, 1732 in Norfolk Co., Va.
While Edmund Sweny [II] seems to have lived in Elizabeth City Co., Va. most of his life, his son Edmund Sweny [III] moved to nearby York Co., Va. where he married Frances Robinson around 1708. Frances was born to Anthony and Mary (Starkey) Robinson on Jan. 5, 1690 (1689 according to the pre-Gregorian calendar) in York Co., Va. Records in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. indicate that Edmund and Frances Sweny had three children, Daniel, Edmund and Martha, born between 1709 and 1711. Frances Sweny died on May 7, 1718. While there is no record of any other births to Edmund and Frances Sweny in Charles Parish records, it appears they had a fourth child, Merritt Sweny. Most researchers indicate he was born in 1714; however, another view, based mostly on wills and other legal records, suggests Merritt's mother could have been Edmund's second wife Elizabeth (Wade) Hayward. Based on our analysis of those records, we have concluded that Marritt Sweeney was the son of Frances (Robinson) Sweny and likely was born between 1714 and the date of her death in 1718. For the complete analysis that went into determining the name of Edmund Sweny's second wife and the mother of Merritt Sweny, see The Search for Elizabeth Sweny.
Edmund Sweny [III], son of Edmund Sweny [II] and wife unknown, married Frances Robinson around 1708 in York Co., Va. Edmund and Frances Sweny had the following children:
- Daniel Sweny, b. July 28, 1709 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. (see birth record).
- Edmund Sweny [IV], b. Sept. 2, 1710 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. (see birth record), d. Sept. 16, 1710 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. (see death record).
- Martha Sweny, b. March 4, 1712 (1711 according to the pre-Gregorian calendar) in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. (see birth record).
- Merritt Sweny, b. ~1714 in York Co., Va., m. Mary Howard ~1740, d. Feb. 5, 1746 in York Co., Va.
Edmund Sweny [III] married Elizabeth (Wade) Hayward in York Co., Va. around 1722. Elizabeth was the daughter of Armiger and Elisabeth Wade and the widow of Henry Hayward who died on Nov. 18, 1720. Edmund and Elizabeth Sweny appear not to have had any children.
In William Tabb's 1721 last will, he said his "two loving sons," William and Thomas Tabb, could receive their inheritance "when they come of age," indicating they were still minors in 1721. He mentioned "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). Probate 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 and son Charles and left legacies to John and Lemuel Willoughby. Lemuel married 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 named 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:
- Charles Sweny, b. bef. 1717, d. bef. 1763.
- Martha Sweny, b. bef. 1733, m. Lemuel Willoughby on Sept. 18, 1751 in Norfolk Co., Va., d. aft. 1767.
- Anne Sweny, b. bef. 1736 in Elizabeth City Co., Va. (mentioned as "daughter of Mr. Samuel Sweny" in Moss Armistead's 1736 last will).
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:
- Ann Sweny, b. ~1727, m. Augustine Moore.
- Martha Sweny, b. ~1729, d. ~1757 in Elizabeth City Co., Va. (see last will).
- Roscow Sweny, b. ~1730, m. Sarah LNU.
- Priscilla Sweny, b. ~1732, m. James Kirkpatrick, d. bef. 1757.
- Sarah Sweny, m. William Westwood.
- Mary Sweny, b. ~1738, m. George Walker.
- Elizabeth Sweny, m. Cullington.
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 his children with Elizabeth Wilson based on Daniel's subsequent closeness to the Wilson family in both Virginia and North Carolina. Lazarus and Elizabeth Sweny had the following children:
- Daniel Sweny, b. ~1730 in Norfolk, Va., d. before Nov. 19, 1761 in Norfolk, Va.
- James Sweny, b. ~1732 in Norfolk, Va.
What's interesting to note about this generation of Swenys is the lack of information during the early 1700s. We know the most about Edumnd Sweny [III] because he moved to Charles Parish, York Co., Va. before 1708. The Charles Parish Registers of Births and Deaths have survived wars and natural disasters and provide early information about Edmund, his two wives and their children. During this early period, Edmund's three siblings continued living in Elizabeth City Co., Va. where fewer sources have survived. Regarding possible marriages and children after the age of majority, the gap for each brother is as follows: Edmund Sweny [III] - age 21 through age 30; Samuel Sweny - age 21 through age 37; Merritt Sweny - age 21 through age 45; Lazarus Sweny - age 21 through age 45. This lack of records means we are left with the impression that Edmund did not marry or have children while in his 20s, that Samuel did not marry or have children until he was 37, and that Merritt and Lazarus did not marry and have children until around age 45. We would expect probate, court and deed records to fill in some of these gaps, but so far, they have not. This dearth of information means we do not have the names of most of the children born to these men and their wives in the early 1700s which makes it difficult to connect Generation 3 to any of the Sweeneys/Swinneys who are documented ancestors of our five lines of Sweeney/Swinney/White descendants.
As discussed above, 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, Swinneys and Whites 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, largely due to not knowing their names if they were born during the "gap" years discussed above. In colonial America, fathers tended to leave most of their estates, particularly the land, to the oldest sons. 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 the surviving Charles Parish records in York 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, 1746 (1745 in the Julian Calendar). In the appraisal, Merritt Sweny likely 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. Some reseachers indicate Merritt Sweny died intestate, which makes sense since he was so young when he died.
Merritt Sweny married Mary Howard around 1740. Mary was born (as Mary Hayward) on Sept. 10, 1722 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. to Francis Hayward and his wife Martha (see birth record). Col. Francis Hayward seems to have changed his family name from Hayward to Howard in the late 1730s. In Charles Parish birth records there is a fairly clear demarcation between the two names starting in mid-1739. Based on the Charles Parish birth records, we have known that Merritt Sweny's wife was named Mary, but the discovery of probate records for Col. Francis Howard finally gave us her last name. His estate appraisal documents showed he was very prosperous. Although we have not found his will, the "Division of Slaves" made as part of the estate appraisal and accounting process shows that the slaves were divided between three of Francis's children, Henry Howard, Elizabeth Howard and Mary Sweney. Mary received more than a dozen slaves and we presume this happened because she was a sibling of Henry and Elizabeth.
Merritt Sweny, son of Edmund Sweny [III] and Elizabeth Robinson, married Mary Howard around 1740 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. Merritt and Mary Sweny had the following children:
- Martha, b. July 28, 1741 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va., d. Aug. 16, 1741 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va.
- Daniel, b. May 10, 1743 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va.
- Frances, b. June 21, 1744 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va., m. Charles Scott after April 26, 1762 in Cumberland Co., Va. (see marriage record), d. 1804 in Woodford Co., Ky.
Finding the 1762 Cumberland Co., Va. record of the marriage of Charles Scott and Frances Sweny is a potential 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. And this record led us to several other discoveries including the name of Mary (Howard) Sweny's second husband. We'll delve more deeply into these marriages and their significance in Sweny, Part 3.