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The Swenys/Sweeneys/Swinneys

Part 3

The Historical Evidence for Swenys in Central Virginia and North Carolina

We recently uncovered two documents in Cumberland Co., Va. and one in Amelia Co., Va. that may be the first direct evidence that a Sweny from the Tidewater region migrated into an area of Virginia where the ancestors of our modern-day Sweeneys/Swinneys were first recorded. The first was a February 1762 court document establishing a guardianship for Frances Sweny, "infant orphan of Merritt Sweny, decd." In colonial Virginia, anyone under 21 years of age was legally an infant. Since Merritt Sweny's daughter, Frances, was born on June 21, 1744, she was a 17 year old infant in the eyes of the Cumberland County court in February 1762. Also in 1762 (Feb. 25 according to some sources), likely after the guardianship was approved, Frances Sweny married Charles Scott (see marriage record), the younger brother of her new guardian, John Scott, who stood surity on the bond for the marriage. Like Frances Sweny, Charles and John Scott were orphans. We do not know how Charles and Frances met, but it's likely that Frances Sweny did not live in Cumberland County and the guardianship was established for legal reasons (i.e., "for securing the young orphan's estate," as the court document stated). Abraham, Moses and John Swinney lived in nearby Amelia County, the same county in which John Scott's co-surity, also named John Scott, lived. We also found a damaged 1751 marriage document in Amelia County. The bride appears to be a Swinney widow; the groom is Daniel, whose last name is torn away; and the co-surity is Thomas Tabb, a name that would have been very familiar in York Co., Va. where the Swenys had lived. This could very well be the marriage record of Frances Sweny's mother, Mary Sweny, but too much information is missing to make it definitive. At the time, Frances would have been seven years old and Mary would have been a widow for six years. We're pretty confident that Moses and John Swinney later moved to Amherst Co., Va. and that Moses was the earliest known ancestor of Sweeney154 and Sweeney181 (see below). We may find a link between these three male Swinneys and Mary and Frances Sweny, but for now, we can only speculate. As a footnote, Charles Scott went on to have an illustrious career in the military and politics. Rather than have a guardian appointed for him when he was 16 years old, Charles Scott joined the Virginia militia. He fought in the French and Indian War before marrying Frances Sweny at the age of 23. In the Revolutionary war he served under Gen. George Washington in the Philadelphia Campaign, commanding Washington's light infantry. Later he served under General Benjamin Lincoln in the southern theater. After the war, he relocated to Kentucky, fought in the Indian Wars and achieved the rank of Major General commanding the 2nd Division of Kentucky militia. After Frances died in 1804, Charles Scott entered politics and in 1808 was elected the fourth Governor of Kentucky. Scott died in 1813 at the age of 73.

Edmund Sweny Family Tree Based on Haplogroup Branching
Edmund Sweny Family Tree Based on Haplogroup Branching

The above patrilineal tree is based on what we know so far about the Swenys in early colonial America. It assumes the Swenys of Elizabeth City Co., Va. were the progenitors of both the modern-day Sweeney/Swinneys and Whites who test positive for FT55898, as well as the modern-day Pruitts descended from Samuel Pruitt. As we'll see below, that assumption has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As far as we can determine based on wills and birth records, Edmund Sweny, Jr. had four sons and all must have been positive for FT55898. We can deduce this based on the fact that we've found six modern day Sweeney/Swinneys and Whites who are all positive for FT55898 and none share a more recent terminal SNP. On average, it takes two or three generations for a new SNP to emerge in a family line; therefore, it is likely that these Sweny descendants broke off from each other pretty soon after the generations shown on this tree. There are six distinct branches of Sweny males documented so far who likely made it to adulthood. There are likely several more branches that we've been unable to document. The Pruitt branch must have been a separate branch from Edmund Sweny, Jr. since they are not positive for FT55898. That means Samuel Pruitt could have been a son, grandson or great-grandson of Edmund Sweny, Sr., but it would be in a line distinct from Edmund Sweny, Jr. Given that Samuel was born 45 years after the Swenys arrived in the colonies, our bet would be that he was a grandson or great-grandson, given that Edmund Sweny, Sr. would have been quite old, if he was even alive, in 1699 when Samuel Prewtt was conceived. In any case, Edmund Sweny, Sr. must have had another son (or an immigrant brother) who has not shown up in historical records. That son (or his immigrant brother's son) could have been legitimate or illegitimate. Whatever the case, Samuel Pruitt was born in 1700 without the Sweny surname.

Just because Samuel Prewtt was born in Northumberland Co., Va. and there were no records of Swenys living in that county or nearby, doesn't preclude a Sweny as his father. A Samuel Swinney was identified in the early 1720s as the owner of a ship, the Sarah and Mary, a 30-ton sloop built in 1709 and registered in Virginia. It's apparent that the Swenys were involved in shipping. Given the Y-DNA evidence, is it possible that Edmund Sweny, Sr., a son or a grandson was the father of Samuel Prewtt who was born in 1700 in Northumberland Co., Va.? There were many ports of call in the Tidewater region and, in particular, the Northern Neck area where Rosamond had her son. If one of the Swenys was the father, he would have to have been born around 1680 or earlier. Given the extensive dealings the Swenys had with London, New York and other ports, it's likely they owned several ships and visited many ports of call in the Tidewater area. However, if the sons of Edmund Sweny, Jr. were the progenitors of every descendant of modern day Sweeneys, Swinneys, and Whites with the SNP FT55898, then the seafaring Sweny who fathered Samuel Prewtt would have to have been descended from a brother or an unknown son of Edmund Sweny, Sr.

The Tidewater Area of Virginia as the Starting Point for Further Research

Virginia Counties Around 1700
Virginia Counties Around 1700

Elizabeth City Co., Va. is just south of Gloucester County, the presumed base of operations for Col. Robert Abrahall. Gloucester County is just south of Northumberland County. The three locations are around 60 to 70 miles apart in total. It's not known whether any of these individuals, Col. Robert Abrahall, the Swenys or Rosamond Prewtt, knew each other. All of this needs to be researched in more depth to see if a more detailed family tree can be constructed and to see if any of our Swinneys/Sweeneys/Whites/Pruitts can be tied to the descendants of Edmund Sweny, Sr. Geography and Y-DNA testing provide the basis for the scenario that a descendant of Edmund Sweny, Sr. could have fathered Rosamond Prewtt's son. The fact that there are at least six identified male descendants in the second and third generations after Edmund Sweny, Jr. provides a basis for presuming that these children are in the lines of Swenys who carried on the single SNP (FT55898) in distinct paternal lines to our modern-day Sweeneys, Swinneys and Whites. These Sweny children would have had to migrate west and south of the Tidewater region to be the progenitors of each of our modern-day Sweeney lines. More work needs to be done to uncover the records necessary to prove relationships back to the early Swenys. We will need to work forward in time from Edmund Sweney, Sr. and his family and backwards in time from the earliest known ancestors of our Swinney/Sweeney/White testers. With that in mind, here is a graphic showing the earliest known ancestors of each of our testers.

White, Sweeney, Pruitt Family Trees
White, Sweeney, Pruitt Family Trees

Once opened, clicking on the right side of the above chart will cycle the reader through the three family groups - Whites, Sweeneys and Pruitts. None of our testers has identified ancestors who lived in the 1600s with any degree of confidence. Historical evidence confirms that the Whites split with the Sweeneys in the mid-1700s with the birth of Moses Swinney's children and their formal or informal adoption by their White stepfather. Historical, STR and SNP evidence strongly suggests that the Pruitts split from the Sweeneys with the birth of Samuel Pruitt in 1700 or a generation or two earlier. However it happened, at least one non-parental event (NPE) must have occurred. The Sweeney/Swinney descendancy is more problematic since no common ancestor has been confirmed through historical records (which is likely the reason that no new SNP has been identified beyond their shared FT55898/FT48931). The purpose of these patrilineal trees is to provide a starting point for our historical research into finding the most recent common ancestor of these families. We can begin first by looking at records in the counties immediately around the Tidewater region and then moving outward towards the location of their earliest proven ancestors.

The Many Moses Swinneys/Sweneys/Sweeneys

One thing that stands out in the above chart is how many Moses Swinneys/Sweneys/Sweeneys are claimed to be the most distant known ancestor of the various Sweeney and White lines. It's well documented that Moses Swinney of Granville, N.C. was the progenitor of the White-surnamed individuals in our FT55898 cohort. However, there are at least two other Moses Swinneys/Sweneys/Sweeneys who may play that role in our group. Here's an overview of what we know about each of our Moses Sweeneys:

In the next section, we'll delve more deeply into these Moses Sweeneys and a few other Sweeneys in southern and western Virginia and Lincoln and Casey counties in Kentucky in an attempt to flesh out the relationships of these individuals to our testers.

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