Name: Magdalena Woods
Birth: 1710 in Dunshauglin Castle,Meath,Ireland
Dear Cousin Tom;
The source of the data on Magdalena’s parents is a combination: Michael Woods will of 1761 (no Magdalena listed also she was in Augusta County and he and his will were in Albemarle); the will of James Campbell, 3rd Baron Auchinbreck in which he lists daughters: Elizabeth Woods and Mary Woods married to two brothers. Third: land records for Borden plantation: William Woods and father Samuel Woods were living next to Magdalena Woods and her husband John McDowell. Just beyond them were (adjacent) Gilbert Campbell and Peter Wallace (and his wife Martha Woods). These were all clustered around Lexington, VA, and north toward Staunton all in Augusta County at the time. Naming tradtion: The first born son of Magdalena Woods McDowell was Samuel Ephraim McDowell. Ephraim was the name of John McDowell’s father. Samuel was Magdalena’s father’s name. Samuel Woods, father of William, et al, died soon after arriving in Augusta County. He may have been killed by the Iroquois when John McDowell sold them liquor at his tavern.home to keep them from raiding his homestead and instead of going on their way to raid the Cherokee, they decided to raid the locals anyway. John McDowell and the militia were called up to go after them (which is how and why he died at Balcony Falls) after they killed several civilians according to Preston’s records. The indications were they were all neighbors and relatives of John and Magdalena. Also Magdalena is listed on a few Augusta records as having the full name of Mary Magdalena Woods. Magdalena and Martha were the two sisters closest in age to one another and Samuel McDowell refers to Martha as his aunt in at least two Augusta County records. The wills of Capt. Adam Wallace, and Capt. Andrew Wallace (his brother) also lay out some relationships. Additionally, Lancaster County and Chester County, PA as well as Cecil County Maryland also have some Woods and Wallace family records and in the earliest records, Samuel Woods, a grown man in the 1720’s is living next to the same families who moved and lived together in Augusta County, on the Borden Grant. His oldest surviving son was Richard Woods. Peter Wallace married Martha Woods in 1739 in Lancaster County, but they were previously in Cecil County Maryland, and Chester County, PA (arrived in Chester County—and almost immediately went to Cecil County for several years).
The Michael and Mary Woods error has been around for about 100 years. It almost all goes back to the Woods-McAfee Memorial and the inadequate research done by Woods family members at that time. They never went through their own county courthouses, and never checked the Irish and Scottish records. At least three later books used the earlier book as a reference and kept repeating the same errors. Bear in mind that 100 years ago, family history was “vanity history” for the most part and not done by professional researchers. Also, historical research was not the science it became around WWII.
You’ll also find some Woods and McDowell information in Kentucky, where the McDowell children and grandchildren of Magdalena settled. Descendants still live near Utica, Kentucky. Some of the Kentucky Woods line records also make it clear there were several brothers, among which was a Samuel and a Michael, and a John, who all arrived within a few years of each other and were living first in 3 counties in Virginia, and all had children. It has not been easy to sort them out and the naming tradition is a vital clue. I do believe they realized it would be at the time. I ended up sorting out some lines by looking at literally dozens of documents across three generations linking names of brothers and sisters and husbands and wives. In a few instances, I had to work backward with dated and documented lines from Missouri and Tennessee and place the ancestors, accordingly.
I had a lot of help from several people also who did go back and find the original records: notably Mildred Clark Bailey of Missouri, and Ruth Lamar Petracek of Santa Ana, CA, and John Lapsley Mills of Missouri. (My family was in Missouri for about 100 years and that’s how I became acquainted with John and Mildred, and a couple of other persons). I also was in contact for a few years ago with a McDowell who was a direct descendant of Samuel McDowell, in Kentucky, and the son of George Selden Wallace (who did the Woods-Wallace book, which also has the same error). The son told me that his father later found out he’d been wrong to trust the Woods McAfee Memorial and had “some notes in one of many boxes that showed Peter’s and Martha’s parents to be different than what he (George Selden Wallace Sr.) put in his 1923 book.” He was meaning to do a revised and updated version when he died. His son hadn’t decided if he wanted to continue the project or just give all the boxes of notes to a library. This was about 20 years ago.
I hope this helps.
Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker
John's wife, Magdalena Woods was the wealthiest woman on the frontier. She was a woman known for her decided force of character. She was described as tall and straight, handsome with dazzling white skin, big blue eyes, long yellow hair, a witty tongue, and great charm. An old letter tells of her riding a famous black stallion in a hunter's green riding coat with gold buttons and a bonnet of many plumes. She was married three times: 1) to Captain John McDowell, 2) to Benjamin Borden, Jr. and 3) to Captain John Bowyer. She was 20 years older than Capt. John Bowyer when she married him, and drew up a marriage contract to protect her children's inheritance. John Bowyer grasped the document out of her hand and threw it into the fireplace. Land issues between the descendants of Capt. John Mc Dowell continued for several years afterward. Magdalena lived to the old age of 98 years.
Magdalena was one of the three women who placed their names on the call for the pastoral services of the Rev. John Brown to the Timber Ridge and New Providence Churches. The other two women were the widow McClung and Agnes Martin. When the Rev. John Blair, "set in church order" the people of the Timber Grove Meeting House in 1746, Magdalena Borden placed her name on the roster; Benjamin Borden, Jr., being a Quaker as was his father before him, never became a member. Her signature to the call for the Rev. Mr. Brown indicates that she was recognized as one of the mainstays of the congregation.
MAGDALENE(A) WOODS MC DOWELL BORDEN BOWYER
Magdalene Woods, c1715-c.1796, was the daughter of Michael Woods and Mary Campbell Woods. (Incorrect) She married: 1. John McDowell, 2. Benjamin Borden, Jr., 3. Judge John Bowyer. Magdalene was born in Ulster, Northern Ireland and it was here that she married John McDowell and gave birth to their first child, Samuel. In 1737, at the age of 22, she, John and little Samuel, immigrated to America and settled on the Borden Tract at Timber Ridge.
Magdalene was "a famous beauty". Mary McDowell Greenlee described Magdalene's arrival in the Valley: "With her family she rode a white stallion wearing a green velvet riding habit that fell to the ground, and with a hat with twelve ostrich plumes." In the space of the next two years, the McDowell's built a log home, cleared and planted crops of hemp, rye and wheat and had two more children. James and Sarah. As more people arrived and the settlement grew, Magdalene's home became the center of the community as well as the sales office for the Borden Grant. Her husband, John, was the land agent representing the Borden interests. One of the visitors received by Magdalene in early 1742, was Benjamin Borden, Jr. who was viewed with coldness and suspicion by Magdalene and a the other settlers. In December, the newly appointed Captain John McDowell assembled his militia company in front of the house and marched off to fight the Indians, and it is here that his bloody body was returned and Magdalene prepared it for burial.
Magdalene was not completely alone in the wilderness. Samuel was seven and able to help with his three siblings, she had three servants and there were McDowells, Greenlees, Woods and Wallaces living all around her. Never the less, it was not easy being alone and when Benjamin Borden, Jr. arrived to take over the land business, after his father's death, the temptation was great to change her poor feelings about him. They were married at Timber Grove Meeting House in 1744 and Ben Jr. moved into the homestead. She had two more children by Ben, Martha and Hannah, before he and Hannah died from the smallpox epidemic in 1753.
She was now executor of two estates and probably the wealthiest, if not the most eligible widow on the Borden tract. A young schoolteacher named John Boyer won her affections and in 1754 they were married, making Bowyer "independent". The family moved to "Thorn Hill", a property he inherited from his father. Bowyer went on to become one of the first Justices of Rockbridge County along with his stepson, Samuel McDowell, and remained a judge for 32 years and a State Delegate for 49. Magdalene lived to be 81 years old and witnessed the founding of Lexington and Rockbridge, the birth of our nation, and the birth of many, many grandchildren. Submitted by: Barclay Walsh and Prepared by:Alex Taylor p. 391,Rockbridge County Heritage Book 1778-1997.
Sources (1.) Morton p.21 .(2.) McClung p.9 (3.) W.H. Barclay papers p.61. (4.) Morton, p.28. (5)Waddell, pp. 46 and 47. (Greenlee p. 225.
Magdelene sells herself into servitude. She signs a contract as an indentured servant. Historians speculate that this is a mere technicality as her husband died without a will and time was needed to settle the estate. I do not know the details as I am not an expert on Colonial Virginia law of 1743. However, one can not rule out the possibility that Magdelene was destitute, which was the normal reason for a person becoming an indentured servant.
Let us leave Magdelene with all of her troubles and return to Benjamin Borden and see how he is doing with his troubles. He gets his famous land grant in 1737, stays on the land for 2 years ,“or more,” and got his “requisite” 100 settlers. (or families? Apparently, this time on the land and number of settlers was a legal requirement to secure his grant.) I am not good at math, but I can count to 100. If 34 riflemen fought at Balcony Falls, and they composed the entire settlement of the grant, Rockbridge County, if you deduct the very old and the very young and unmarried, that leaves just enough men to have families to make up the 100 required settlers, just barely.
This information is an accurate appraisable of the Borden Grant at the time as the story come from Captain McDowel’s own son, told more than 50 years after the battle.
Borden then leaves the land around 1734, and gives the job of running the place to Captain John McDowell. He sends his son, Benjamin Borden Jr., to help administer in his steed. The son lives with John and Magdelene. He then returns to New Jersey where the Borden family lives.
Captain John McDowell is then slain by the Indians in 1742, leaving the tract without an able administrator. A year later, Benjamin Borden himself dies. Benjamin Borden Jr. returns to take over the grant. The McDowell’s know Benjamin Boren Jr. quite well and are singularly, and collectively, unimpressed.
Magdelene considers him “quite illiterate.” Then she marries him.
Perhaps Benjamin Borden Jr. could not converse easily on the classics like Amos “Bud” Hanks, but he was no fool. He would build the grant into a mighty empire, which would make Magdelene extremely wealthy. The day would come when Magdelene would be the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The son realizes that he has cornered the market. The grant lies on the extreme frontier of a little bit of civilization. Either you buy your land from him or you go on to the “unknown wilderness” with all of its potential troubles.
The wealth generated by this land would make the McDowells a rich, powerful and influential family in American history for generations to come. Strangely, more is known about their descendants then those who started it all. We know that Captain John McDowell died at a young age. Yet, of Magdelene, her second husband, and third to soon come, little is known about their empire and even less about their personal lives.
Even the phonetic way of spelling in those days adds confusion as to the exact spelling of her name. Throughout history it is found to be Magdalena, Magdaline, and Magdalene. She signs her name at Timber Ridge Church as Magdalen with the “e” left off at the end. I see it commonly “Magdelene” and that is what I use. Take your pick.
Neander Woods book is a masterpiece of research. Yet, at times his logic requires a second look. He has Magdelene born in 1706, with a question mark. Then he has her dying in 1810 at the age of 104. He estimates her first marriage to be at the age of 28, second marriage at age of 42, after 6 or 7 years as a widow. Ruth Petracek does her own calculations and has her marrying at a younger age and living a normal life span. I agree with Ruth. However, I come to my conclusions by a different route. I use simple logic. Being a great beauty, she could have any man she wanted. She would not have waited to the age of 28 to marry. More realistically she would have been 20-24. Split the difference at 22. (I really think 18 to be close to the mark.) When I graduated from high school in 1958, If a girl did not get married after graduation then there was something wrong wither her. We are talking of a woman in the early 1700s. A widow on the frontier would not wait 6-7 years to remarry. Her survival and that of her children depended upon getting another husband, and fast. That was the way of the frontier.
For researchers trying to understand this family it is like Winston Churchill’s explanation of trying to understand Russian. “...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a enigma.”
Fortunately, there are some things known about this enigmatic family. Unfortunately, since publication in 1905, almost all have accepted Neander Woods facts as facts, and theories as facts.
Neander Woods, along with other historians, has Magdelene immigrating to the colonies some 13 years later, in 1737. There is good reason for this date. To get his free land, John McDowell must give an oath providing evidence as to his qualifying under the law.
“On the 28th of Feb. 1739...that he imported himself, Magdaline, his wife, and Samuel McDowell, his son, and John Rutter, his servant, at his own charge from Great Britain in the year 1737, to dwell in this colony, and that this is the first time of proving their right in order to obtain land pursuant to the royal instructions.”
In John McDowell’s own words, their year of immigration is 1737. Yet, family tradition is very strong that Magdelene was on the ship of 1724. Ruth Petracek believes she has uncovered their marriage records in Pennsylvania for the year 1734.
What does one make of this contradicting evidence? If we could transport ourselves back in time some 250 years the answers might be easier to obtain. My theory: The bottom line was free land. For technical reason we do not know of today, is it possible that John McDowell simply lied on his affidavit to establish his claim to free land? Lying was a mere technicality when it came to dealing with the British anyway as evidenced by our people lying to take the oath to the Church of England, and etc...
Who comes to the Borden Grant to settle and make Magdelene so wealthy? You remember the ladder of immigrants from the slaves at the bottom to the disinherited aristocrats at the top? Forget that pecking order. These immigrants were true for the rest of Virginia but not our gran
The son brings in the Irish. (According to the terminology of the times, Irish meant the Scotch-Irish. I will refresh your memory on this important distinction from time to time.) The land was originally known as the Borden Grant, or the Borden tract. Now it is simply called the Irish tract. The Irish come from Pennsylvania, elsewhere, and the sea. It is the clan system all over again.
We know that the people who settled the Borden Grant were Irish. We know they were Presbyterians. There was something else. There were only a few churches in America at that time. However...it was the nature of the Christian churches in America to divide. By divide, I do not mean that they grew and prospered to such an extent that they needed to expand. They divided, split apart, over interpretation of scripture. They would divide into two separate churches, which would divide into separate churches. The divisions could be bitter as we are talking of the difference between going to heaven or hell. Among the Presbyterians, the habit of dividing was even more acute. ( I had a friend who told me that he knew of a non-denominational church which split into two churches over the difference of doctrine.)
I have a personal experience: Some 30 years ago I had a friend who was born to Presbyterian missionary parents in Korea. He took me to his church on the East Coast of the US. I was surprised to see the church was so small, both the building, and the size of the congregation. My friend told me that they were trying to reunited with another church that had split off some 100 years before "...over something that was silly." Looking back 100 years, most causes of these divisions are usually over something that was "silly." At the time it was deadly serious business. From the beginning of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, the divisions in the old country were even worse. “...they fight one another.”
Thus were formed unique community denominations, or sects. These sects would immigrate into the Borden grant as whole communities and reestablish themselves as whole communities. Thus, many times, you could tell a region of the grant by the sect.
The Catholics did not divide. The Catholics were not in America.
Benjamin Borden Jr. sells the land for three pence (three cents) an acre. Three pence an acre makes a lot of people wealthy: Magdelene; her husbands; their children and children’s children, and side relatives, down through the generations; and the lawyers.
When Benjamin Borden, the father, dies, he leaves a will, but does not leave everything to the Junior. There are other children. There are problems in the family as the wealth starts to come in. The lawyers find loopholes. The lawyers always find loopholes. It is their job. There are problems with Magdelene’s different marriages and other relatives by these marriages. I do not know the details, who sued who, or why, but the lawsuits would stay in court for one hundred years.
Magdalene’s grandson, James McDowell, was highly educated at Washington College, Yale, and Princeton. All expected from him an illustrious career as a lawyer. Perhaps this experience just stated caused him to say, “Other men may be but I do not know how I can be an honest man, and a lawyer.” He gives up his pursuit of law...and becomes governor of Virginia.
Tradition vs. Proven
In 1738, Peter Wallace, Jr., is married in Cecil County, Pennsylvania to Martha Woods. (Again, she is Magdelene’s sister.) They are first cousins. Peter was my 6th great grandfather. He was born in 1716 to Peter Wallace, Sr., who died in Ulster shortly before the migration of 1724.
Peter's wife, Martha, was the daughter of Michael Woods, of Blair Park, and his wife Lady Mary Campbell.
Peter Wallace, Jr., is my proven ancestor. True genealogists only accept family trees where there is a written record; land transactions, marriage records, bible records, newspaper, or periodical reports, official records, etc. If not written (documented) somewhere, then it is not a proven pedigree.
The stories I have told of our Woods and Wallace ancestors have been handed down through the generations, and are tradition. These stories, traditions, have been carefully recorded, sometimes in great detail, by eminent historians and genealogists from a long time ago.
Some of the details may have been wrong, but it is clear from what records exist, and family tradition, that our people were strongly intermarried.
There is some tradition mixed with speculation. At the commencement of the Revolutionary War it became unpatriotic to trace, or keep records of your ancestry, which meant crossing the sea back to the native countries you were now fighting. You can see the problems for historians and genealogists today.
"Hence it is that…only two families (of Virginia) that show proof of direct an ancient lines of descent, i. e .Peyton and Wallace."
To me, family tradition is a valuable source for my stories. There is always a good reason for these traditions. Let us take for example the Reverend Neander Woods. Born into our family in 1844. As a young man he would hear stories from relatives as much a 90 years old. They would tell their experiences and relate stories and experiences of relatives they knew who were 90 years old. It is not only Neander Woods who gathers these stories but also other historians who lived, researched and were published long ago.
Some genealogists, the traditional genealogists, can get very upset if others, like me, use the terms “approximately” or “about” (ca), when referring to dates. They want to dot ever “i’ and cross every “t.” They want proof, proof, proof. Most are not interested in the story, but who begot whom and when. They provide an invaluable service. I use their hard work to find my story, story, story.
Magdelene has at least 2 more children by her marriage to Borden. Her first husband did not live long. Her second husband did not live long. Tragically, in 1754, both her husband and one of their daughters would die of smallpox. The death of her daughter would leave her heartbroken. The death of her second husband would...
leave her non-destitute ...in the extreme.
Now back to Magdelene’s sister and her husband, Peter Wallace, Jr. My 6th great grandfather…"Peter, like most men of that time, occupied himself with buying and selling property; farming and raising a family of nine children." He had land deals in Augusta, Albemarle, and surrounding counties. His earliest Virginia land records start in the year 1738, the same year of his marriage.
Our people are now in Lancaster County, Pennsylvannia, Albemarle and Rockbridge Counties, in Virginia. They flow over into surrounding counties. We are undoubtedly in Ulster, and, we know, still in Scotland. There is travel back and forth in the colonies and most assuredly between American, Ireland and Scotland.
Next comes riding into this vast land grant a young man who is at least 20 years younger than Madelene, John Bowyer. He brings with him his life’s sole possessions: the horse beneath and the clothes above. He does have one advantage, the talent of being educated and a school teacher.
John Bowyer becomes Magdelene’s third husband. It was not a good match. Historians say, “It was not a happy marriage.” There was friction from the beginning. Many on our side said that he was a pretender to the throne, that he married Magdelene for her money. Their side said that he saved the business by bringing coherence and stability to a land business that was in a mess. He was charged with being extravagant and irresponsible in running the tract, and by manipulation gaining control of Magdelene’s property. Our side tries to regain the property, and fails. There is a vague family story that Magdelene had a prenuptial agreement with John Bowyer, but he destroyed it.
According to the custom of the time, his elevated social status would one day bring him the military rank of Captain, then Colonel.
He would outlive Magdelene, marry again, and leave a fortune to his nieces and nephews when he died. Magdelene's descendants would also receive vast fortunes.
Formula for being a successful land speculator in Colonial Virginia:
3 cents an acre x 600,000 widget acres = a lot of money!
The different ways of spelling Magdelene’s name was not unusual for the times.
“As to the proper names, it is well to remember that there is no arbitrary rule for their spelling. Originally proper names were written as they sounded, and the spelling has changed with the change of sound.” – Horace Haden, Virginia Genealogies, 1890
In 1799, John McDowell (another generation) started a nail manufacturing company, mainly because Mr. Jefferson needed nails for building Monticello.”
Footnote: The historians of today believe Magdelene was indeed very wealthy, but not the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains as stated by the historian of old, Neander Woods. However, Neander Woods was born in 1844, and lived in our lands. He was one of our people and I believe he was just stating what the family believed to have been true.
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Father: Samuel Woods b: 1682 in Dunshanglin Castle, County Meath, Ireland
Mother: Elizabeth Campbell b: 1676 in Argylshire,Scotland
John McDowell b: 1714 in County Tyrone,Donegal,Ireland
in Donegal,Lancaster County,Pennsylvania
- Sarah Martha McDowell b: 16 OCT 1741