Saturday, May 3, 2014

Exploring further Holleman History in Old Virginia, Part 12

by Glenn N. Holliman

Note in previous articles, I have written of Josiah Holleman and his sons, Joel and Wilson who lived in 19th Century Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  In this posting, Allen Holleman of North Carolina writes of Jesse Holleman, the father and grandfather of the before noted Hollemans.  Allen's lineage is profiled in our October 4, 2012 article in the Archives of this blog. Take a look at Allen's blue convertible! GNH

Jesse Holleman, a Man Among Men 
by descendant Allen Holleman (photograph below)
Jesse Holleman (1735 ca - 1825) is a great grandson of Christopher Holyman (1618-1691), the patriarch of most of the Hollyman (various spellings) clans in America.  Christopher, Sr. arrived in Jamestown in 1650, and fathered Christopher, Jr. who parented John Holleman, the father of Jesse Holleman of this article.  All lived in Isle of Wight County, VA and had extensive land holdings in this Tidewater area of southeast Virginia. 

We don't know much about Jesse's early life other than he was born about 1735-37. His mother was named Elizabeth but we know less about her except that she was named as heir and executrix of John's will dated and applied in 1751 when John died. 

Below a Google photograph of the Holleman Farm at Mill Swamp today.  Approximately 100 acres remain of the original 1,020 acres Christopher Holyman, Sr. patented in 1684.  The Mill Swamp Cemetery land and possibly the land for the Mill Swamp Baptist Church, adjacent to the Cemetery, were donated by the Holleman family.  The Holleman House and remaining farm are located on the left center of this picture on Highway 621.

Jesse inherited 200 acres beside the Mill Swamp as a teenager, and it is safe to say he began farming the land as he grew into manhood.  He was educated well enough to read and write as he signed his name, not using an 'X'.  Also in his later professions of surveyor and land appraiser, many documents and other written works were necessary.  Even later, as a Baptist minister he needed not only to read and quote the Bible but to deal with the records and documents required.

Jesse acquired other properties and expanded his farming, mainly tobacco which leeches the soils so badly that land could be used only for a few seasons.  He, and later his sons, must have worked the farms themselves as census records show him having only one slave.  Although the slave population grew rapidly in Virginia in the 1700s, Jesse probably could not afford bonded servants in his early years.  Tobacco demands skill to raise, cure and transport, and he may have been able to hire some help among the numerous free blacks in Isle of Wight County.

What was Jesse like, what sort of man was he?  Farming demands dedication and hard work so he would have been self-directed and even driven.  By learning a new profession, he showed determination to succeed and proposer. He surely had high standards for himself and expected no less for his children.  

And they did not disappoint. A son, Josiah, became a member of the House of Delegates and a long time commissioner of Isle of Wight County.  A grandson, Joel Holleman, became a U.S. Congressman and Speaker of the House of Delegates.

The Holleman family was reasonably prosperous and prominent in the area among such neighbors as the Wombles, Gwaltneys, Burwells, Wrenns and Cofers.  And in marrying Charity Cofer (m. ca 1766), Jesse did very well indeed.  He was held in such regard that he was co-executor of her father's will along with her brother and was trusted to value the land and divide it according to the senior Thomas Cofer's wishes.

There are records of Jesse's father, John, being a land appraiser, and one wonders if John might also have been a surveyor.  Jesse had probably learned much from John, even at a young age, as children grew up quite early in colonial times.  Jesse became a highly-regarded surveyor, an exacting science even in that more "primitive" time.  Land appraisal is more of an art, but requires trust in one whose judgement and experience can be relied upon for sale or inheritance purposes.  There was little circulating money, so property and the cash crop tobacco were the basis for wealth.

Jesse and Charity had three daughters: Mary "Polly", Sarah and another whose name is lost to history.  I have read that they had twelve sons but we can only identify seven.  All the boys names started with 'J': John, Josiah, Jesse (Jr.), Jordan and Jonathan we know quite well and some about Jeremiah but nothing about Jeptha.  He might have died at a young age - as possibly others?

And none named James. It was written by early genealogists that  James Grantson Holliman (1750-1836) of North Carolina was a son of Jesse, but Joseph Parker, Maxine Wright, Jeanette Holiman Stewart and Glenn N. Holliman have demonstrated otherwise earlier at this blog site.  Charity would have been only 10-12 years old if she had birthed James Grantson, and she never lived in North Carolina as did he.

Charity was in the 1810 census and died before 1816 when Jesse married a prominent widow, Frances Dews Stringfield, when he was about 70 years old. 

And no, there were no more children, but Jesse took up another profession, that of minister of the oldest Baptist church in Virginia - Mill Swamp Baptist that is still a thriving congregation today.  There was a previous congregation that met at Burleigh Plantation, but this group never had a building per se.  MSBC grew from this first Virginia attempt at organized Baptist worship. When he was in his 80's, Jesse again served the church as minister.  Below, Mill Swamp Baptist Church as it looks in the 21st Century.

And what might seem strange today....Jesse was also a distiller of spirits.  It was common practice to have a toddy before dinner, and Jesse, who evidently had no use for temperance, made apple brandy, his favorite.  It probably helped him live longer and surely made the journey more enjoyable.  My how the Baptists have changed!

Many researchers have stated that Jesse was a patriot in the American Revolution (true) - as a soldier in the army. That part is not accurate.  He would have been about 40 and too old for field service - except maybe as a senior officer and the records would exist for that. 

No, he had a large farm and family to look after as well as his other professions. As all able-bodied men were expected to serve in the local militia, Jesse might have served there, probably along with his teen-aged sons.

 Alas, when the British officer, Banister "Bloody" Tarleton, burned the Isle of Wight courthouse, many of the militia records were lost along with many other documents. (This is why we have lost so much information on our antecedents.)

Jesse did something equally important as being a soldier.  In 1779 he was appointed Surveyor of Roads for Isle of Wight county, building and maintaining roads used by the citizens, militia and army. Unfortunately the area roads were utilized by the British as well, who made excursions into the region burning, pillaging and thieving, before being driven back to their ships by the militia. 

This service is the important basis for a number of DAR and SAR applications - including my own.  Jesse Holleman was truly ‘A Man Among Men’.

Jesse died in December of 1824, and his will was proved with an inventory on January 3, 1825.  It has long been written that he was buried in the Mill Swamp Baptist church cemetery, but that land was not given until later.  It is almost certain that Jesse was laid to rest in the existing cemetery on the Holleman farm, possibly with John, and Christophers Sr. and Jr.  Wooden markers of the time did not last long, and Wilson's is the earliest carved in stone. - Allen Holleman of North Carolina

  I am grateful to Allen for this article, and encourage all who have an ancestral story to send it along so we may share it with others. GNH

Next posting...back to our English Roots, some new research....

Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

Join your many cousins at and view an expanded Holliman family tree and many files on the history of the family.  Just write to for an invitation. Or go to the HOLLYMAN GENEALOGY MyFamily site at Then click on "Request to Join" in upper righthand corner!

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