Casefile Clues

05 March 2012

My Own Little Version of WDYTYA--For RHL3

I bet NBC and Ancestry.com won't touch him with a ten-foot pole, but we'll do our own episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" on Rootdig. I've written before about Sarah Turberville of Orange County, Virginia. She's my ancestor--and also that of radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

The study of your genealogy brings us history lessons on a regular basis. Our ancestors often bring us face to face with realities we never expected and knock holes in our preconceptions of how our forebears lived. The history we learn in books, on television, in print, and on the radio was not the reality most of our ancestors lived. They didn't live in pages of a history book--they lived in their own reality show, sans script, and sans camera. Many today would have us believe our ancestors lived in black and white terms and that a return to the "Good Ol' Days" is what is needed, when people were married only once and children didn't know what "his, hers and ours" families were.  What life was actually like centuries ago is somewhat different than what some actually think it was.

Such is the case with Sarah Turberville who died in Orange County, Virginia, in the 1760s.

She had a "his, hers, and ours" family, having children with three husbands...some of whom had children of their own from previous marriages. Step-children and step-siblings were the norm in Sarah's family and hers was not unusual for that time and place. Colonial Virginia had many families structured in a similar fashion to Sarah's.

There were ways though in which Sarah was not typical.

Women in Colonial Virginia didn't often write wills--Sarah did. Women could not own or bequeath real property, but Sarah mentioned a variety of personal items in her will. The inventory of her estate includes a slave, several books, some cattle, and other items. The owning of a slave was not unusual for the time and location.

Sarah was literate--also probably atypical for a woman of her time. A woman who cannot read is unlikely to bequeath books to her children as Sarah did. Sarah made her mark on her will, but making a mark is not necessarily a sign of illiteracy--particularly for someone who may be ill or physically incapacitated.

Sarah survived four husbands--and had children with the first three. She frequently married before her deceased husband's estate had even been settled. A quick remarriage is not cause for judgment, but rather an opportunity for us to realize that Sarah was pragmatic, and with land to manage and children to raise, another husband was a necessity.

Sarah can't speak for herself. She's dead. I'm a genealogist and not a psychic, so I can't say whether she was a liberal, a feminist, or a radical conservative--and historians and politicians can't either. Those political terms in the modern meaning didn't even exist in Colonial Virginia and, like any attempts to define the past by the present, such classifications say more about the classifier than the person being classified.

 It would be well over a century before women could own and bequeath real property in their own name. It would be longer before it was easier (and not always easy) to raise children as a single widow. And it would not be until the early twentieth century before women had the right to vote. Sarah was living in mid-18th century Virginia and that is the time period in which we must analyze her. In some ways she was like her peers and in others she was significantly different.

Sarah has thousands of descendants--including me. She's been an interesting person to research.She's my 8th great-grandmother.

Sarah has a more well-known descendant than me--radio personality Rush Limbaugh. She's Mr. Limbaugh's 7th great-grandmother.


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Sarah's will and an estate inventory follow. Funny, there's not a radio listed.

From Orange County, Virginia, Will book 2, pages 310-311:
In the Name of God Amen I Sarah Turbervile of Orange County in the Colony of Virginia . . . do make & Ordain this my last Will . . .

I give to my Son John Willis one Shilling sterling . . . 
I give to my son William Willis Ten Shillings . . . 
I give to my son Henry Wood Two pounds . . . 
I give to my son David Hudson one Shilling sterling . . . 
I give to my son Joshua Hudson one Shilling Sterling 

I give to my Daughter Sarah Hawkins all my wearing cloths with a book Called William Beverage Sermons

I give to Rush Hudsons Daughter Mary one chest and his Daughter Elizabeth one Trunk

I give to son Rush Hudson one Negro Woman named Winny during his life & afterwards I give the said Winny & her increase to Rush Hudson Junr Except the first born I give to Elizabeth Hudson and the next to Mary Hudson. I give to my Son Rush all the rest of my goods . . . ordain my son Rush Hudson . . . Executor of this my last Will and Testament . . . this 18 day of June in the Year of our Lord God 1760

Sarah (x) Turberville 

Witnesses: Benjamin Hawkins Junr. 
Moses Harwood (signed with an "x") 
Kezia Roper (signed with her "x")

Sarah signed an addition to the will indicating that her estate not be appraised.
Sarah's will was proven in Orange County Court on 28 May 1761, presented by Rush Hudson and proved by the oaths of the three witnesses. Probate was granted to Hudson and his probate bond in the sum of twenty pounds lists Joshua Hudson and John Morton as securities. 


Sarah's inventory (p. 319, Will book 2) is relatively short. It includes the slave mentioned in her will, one bed and furniture, three head of cattle, one trunk and chest, one small table, one pair of [Stillards?], some old books, some old puter[sic], one cutting knife, some bottles, one stone cup, one Earthan pott, and one Small Chair. 
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