James Jordan settled on Sinking Creek near what is now Williamsburg in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, sometime around the year 1770. An earlier wave of settlers had been forced to abandon their homes in the Greenbrier after a number of Indian attacks, but the prolonged peace of the late 1760s/early 1770s tempted men such as Andrew Hughart, Edmund and James Cain, William McCoy and James Jordan to try again to settle the Greenbrier Valley. Many who made their homes around Williamsburg at this time are said to have travelled west from the area of Brock’s Gap in the mountains of present day Rockingham County; and there’s reason to believe that James Jordan was among their number.[1]

No record of James Jordan‘s origins and early life has been passed down to the present day, but a study of 19th century tax lists and results from Y-DNA tests made on his living descendants indicate that James may have been born around the year 1746 in County Down, Ulster, the northernmost of the four provinces of Ireland. County Down was the home of a number of Jordans who emigrated to Virginia around the middle of the 18th century, many of whom were known to have settled on the western frontier.[2]

Greenbrier County

Within a few years of James Jordan‘s arrival in the Greenbrier, hostilities with the Indians again flared up as the British allied themselves with the natives against the colonists during the Revolution. In response to this threat, the Continental Congress ordered Brigadier General (Edward) Hand to Fort Pitt in 1777 to take charge of the Western District headquarters of the Continental Army.

Troops and supplies were gathered at Fort Pitt for the defense of the new nation’s western frontier…[3]

All that is known about James’ family at this time is what can be inferred from much later documentation. In 1777 the family probably consisted of James (aged around 30); his wife (probably Sarah); three sons, James (9 years old), William (about 5), John (2); and possibly an infant daughter, Margaret.

In May of 1778 two military scouts rode from Point Pleasant on the Ohio River to warn of an impending attack against the Greenbrier settlements by a band of about 200 Indians. James Jordan and his family were among some twenty families that managed to take shelter in Fort Donnally shortly before the attack began. The settlers defended the fort (actually two buildings–a cabin and a kitchen that made up the home of Andrew Donnally–inside a log stockade) until troops arrived from Lewisburg and the Indians withdrew (a detailed description of this gruesome battle can be found at the website of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History). There must have been some question as to the conduct of the commander of Fort Donnally (Andrew Donnally) during the attack, because the next year, on April 24, 1779, a number of the men who were present (including James Jordan) found it necessary to take out an ad in the Virginia Gazette testifying as to Col. Donnally’s actions and character.[4]

On September 19, 1781, James Jordan joined others from Greenbrier County in signing a petition to the Governor and Council of Virginia urging them to provide troops for a fort being built by the settlers on the mouth of the Elk River (present-day Charleston) to help defend the settlements in the area. This document offers a tantalizing hint that after settling on Sinking Creek, James may have moved further westward for a while, only to return when the area became too dangerous. The reason for the new fort on the Elk River was to replace Fort Randolph (on the mouth of the Kanawha River) which had provided security for the area until its troops were withdrawn:

…under these difficulties and hardships have we lain for these three years past [since 1778], hoping that a Peace might come, by which we would be permitted to return to our Habitations with safety…

It’s unknown whether James was signing the petition in solidarity with other settlers or whether he, indeed, was one of those who had been forced to abandon a “plantation on the Great Kanawha.” The coincidence of the two dates (when the settlers moved back and when James took shelter in Fort Donnally) suggests that he may have lived in the area of Kanawha County in the 1770s before moving back to Sinking Creek.[5]

From 1782 to 1789, James appeared frequently in Greenbrier county court records, beginning with an entry on March 20, 1781, instructing him along with John Gilkison and James McCoy to “view a road” from William McCoy‘s property to Andrew Donally‘s.[6] The court of March 22, 1783 dismissed a suit brought by James against John Williams for an unspecified debt, as did a court of August 19, 1783 in a suit against Benj. Strother.[7]

It should be noted here that in the 1780s, two James Jordans were living in Greenbrier County, one in the area of Sinking Creek southwest of Williamsburg and one on the Great Levels of the Greenbrier River. While it may be difficult to tie some entries in the court record to a particular James Jordan, others can be connected by references to location. For instance, in the above paragraph, it’s fairly easy to see that the James Jordan who was directed to view a road was most probably the one living near Sinking Creek; yet it’s difficult to determine which one(s) was/were involved in the two lawsuits. A thorough study of state and county land, tax, and court records yields enough information, however, to state with confidence that our James Jordan, the focus of this website, was the one who settled on Sinking Creek.

On August 20, 1783, James Jordan was selected to serve on a jury to decide a case between Jas. Byrnside and Christ. Bryan; and he was appointed to sit on a grand jury on November 18, 1783. On May 22, 1784, he was awarded damages in two lawsuits, one against John Williams for £4, and the second against Ambros Williams for £5. He was also assigned to a jury in a case brought by John Anderson against Jacob Lockhart, and again in a trespass case brought by Peter Ellembough against Martin Dawson on November 14, 1784.

A court on March 17, 1785 appointed James Jordan as constable in Capt. McCoy‘s company to take the place of William Fullerton, who was then discharged.

On April 20, 1785 James Jordan was reimbursed 20 shillings for 20 pounds of bacon which he had “furnished for the use of the scouts on the frontiers of this country.” This, together with a court entry for March 1787 stating “James Jordan allowed 5 pounds 12 shillings for cloth impresses from him in 1777 for Gen. Hands expedition” was the documentation accepted by the Daughters of the American Revolution in designating James a Patriot.

Jordan 20 lbs bacon-2
Entry in the Greenbrier Court Order Book (page ) allowing James 20 shillings for providing bacon to support the troops.

An entry in the court record of August 17, 1785, was not as positive a reference to his character when the court…

…ordered that James Jordon pay to Jane Huggart the sum of ten pounds to be paid quarterly for the first year and five pounds for the two next years annually for the support of a base born child begotten by the said James on the said Jane until she can be bound to some proper person. Samuel Huggart base born child of Jane Huggart bound to Col. James Henderson.

In the Greenbrier clerk’s warrant directing the Sheriff to arrest James and put him in jail if he didn’t appear before the court, James was further identified as a shoemaker (shumaker). This reference may indicate that the James Jordan mentioned in the paternity suit is actually the weaver, a tradesman who lived in the Great Levels area of the Greenbrier River, and not our James Jordan, who was most probably a farmer and who lived on Sinking Creek.

On November 22, 1786, a grand jury cited James Jordan as one of the people who had not given a list of their taxable property for the year. This entry is consistent with the Personal Property Tax listing of 1786 in which two James Jordans were listed, the first (on Mr. Renick‘s list composed of settlers living around Sinking Creek) showing one tithe, five horses and eleven cattle, and the other James Jordan (on Col. Donnally‘s list) showing blanks beside the name.

In December 1790 the court appointed James Jordan, along with William H. Cavendish, Hugh Ballantine and James McCoy, to appraise the estate of James Hugard; and the next December James was ordered, along with William H. Cavendish, William Huggart and James Huggart, to appraise the estate of William Ballentine. On April 30, 1794, James was noted as one of the appraisers, together with John Williams and James McCoy Jr., of the estate of Wm. Cavendish.

In April 1796 the court appointed James Jourdain to be surveyor of a road from Cornelias Vanosdal‘s mill to Readers; and in April 1798 the court relieved him as overseer and appointed Cornelius Vanosdal in his place.

The final reference to James Jordan in the Greenbrier Court minutes was made on March 26, 1799: “The Commonwealth against James Jourdain on presentment for not keeping an index at the forks of the road dismissed.” Also dismissed was a charge against him for “profane swearing.” These cases may have been dropped because James no longer lived in Greenbrier County at this time.

Greenbrier Property

During his time in Greenbrier County, James took possession of at least four plots of land totalling over 2500 acres. A 1783 listing of land holders in Greenbrier County contained references to two James Jordans, one who owned 280 acres, and a weaver who owned 400 acres. The original source of this information was not given, so it’s unclear which of these gentlemen was the James Jordan who is the focus of this web site. Our James Jordan lived on a 345-acre piece of land (the “home farm”) south-southwest of the present-day town of Cornstalk on one of the branches that feeds into Sinking Creek. He had obtained this land

…by virtue of a certificate in right of settlement given by the commissioners for adjusting the titles to use protected lands in the District of Augusta, Botetourt and Greenbrier, and in consideration of the ancient composition of one pound fifteen shillings sterling (£1/15/-) paid by James Jordon into the Treasury of this Commonwealth.[8]

We know this land was in his possession in August of 1786, when the survey was made. He held the land until August of 1805 when he and his wife Sarah, now living in Kanawha County, sold it to (Robert) Boyd Wallace of Greenbrier County for one dollar. Some have interpreted the token payment to mean he and Sarah were giving this land to a daughter and her husband, but no evidence exists to support that conclusion.

The other three pieces of land we know that James owned in Greenbrier County were

  • A 25-acre parcel just northwest of his home farm. This plot was surveyed in 1803 (after James had moved to Kanawha County), probably to correct an inaccurate survey of the original 345-acre plot. James received title to this land in November 1806, and sold it to Boyd Wallace for one dollar in 1808.
  • A 220-acre parcel just to the west on Hughart Creek. James had this land surveyed for him in 1794, and he sold it in 1802 (again, for one dollar) to David Cutlip.
  • One-half interest in a 2085-acre plot near Buffalo Mountain, to the north of his other holdings. James and William H. Cavendish, his partner in this venture, had the land surveyed in 1796 and received title signed by James Monroe, the Governor of Virginia, in 1800. Nothing appears to have been done with the land, and James may not have remembered (or realized) he owned it, until after Cavendish’s death probably in 1818. Then, in March 1820, in one of their last recorded actions, James and Sarah signed their half of this “moiety” over to Cavendish’s son-in-law and heir, James Knight for one dollar.

Kanawha County [9]

James Jordan was probably in his early 50s when he moved from Greenbrier to Kanawha County. Three documents suggest that this happened in the spring (March or April) of 1798. Firstly, James reported his taxable assets (two tithables, four horses) on March 21st of that year to the Greenbrier authorities, indicating that Greenbrier was still his county of residence. One month later, in April 1798, a Greenbrier court replaced James as overseer of the road he had been assigned to survey in 1796. Finally, on April 13, 1798, James was appointed by a Kanawha Court to be constable in the “neighbourhood of Elk.” The court minutes from April 13th stated that James had been present in the court for his appointment.

While James Jordan‘s departure from Greenbrier can be determined with some reliability to be in the spring of 1798, it’s not as clear whether he moved directly to the Mud River area, or if he lived for a while at some intermediate location before continuing on. The Elk River where James had constabulary duties, for instance, was some 35 to 40 miles east of the Mud.

By late 1800, however it appears that James had taken up residence along the Mud River. In July of 1800, he resigned his appointment as constable in the Elk region; and on October 14 he and his son William were put in charge of “viewing a way” from “Joseph Climers in Teazes Valey” (Teays Valley) to Rock Camp on Mud River. Then on November 11, 1800, James was appointed to be surveyer for that road. On April 13, 1801, Samuel Cabble was directed to survey a road from “James Jurdin Senr on Mud River” to Jeremiah Ward‘s on Guyandotte, thereby firmly establishing James’ residence as being on the Mud in the spring of 1801.

On September 15, 1802, James Jordan joined with Thomas Ward and Martha Sanders in guaranteeing a £3000 bond for a certificate to be granted to allow her (Martha) to obtain letters of administration of the estate of her late husband, William Sanders. On the following day, James Jordan, W.H. Commsick, Nehemiah Wood, and Joseph Ruffner entered into a bond of £1000 for the Kanawha court to appoint Martha Sanders the guardian of Sampson Sanders, “orphan of William Sanders, dec’d.”

On April 13, 1803, James was again directed to oversee a road, this one “from Big Hurricane to the place on Mud river formerly owned by Samuel Cabell.” Several other Kanawha Court records briefly refer to James either in law suits or turning in wolf scalps for money.

Kanawha Property

In February of 1802 James bought 500 acres on the Mud River from the estate of John Pierce DuVal for the princely sum of £337/10/- (337 pounds, ten shillings). James was already living on this land when he purchased it, and he probably continued living there until his death sometime after 1820. This 500 acres made up the bulk of his holdings on the Mud River, but he did manage to take advantage of the land-patent system[10] to gain another 120 acres, probably contiguous to the 500-acre parcel, in 1804 (made official in 1806).

Cabell County

By the time of the formation of Cabell County in 1809, James Jordan was a respected member of the community. On February 2, 1811 he was appointed one of the commissioners by the Virginia General Assembly to help set up the new county government. On March 27, 1811, he, along with commissioners William Fullerton and John Hannan marked off two acres, presumably in Guyandotte, for building the new Cabell County courthouse.[11]

James Jordan continued to live on his land on the Mud River at least through March 1813, when he gave acreage to four of his sons, James Junior (125 acres), John (150 acres), Andrew (100 acres) and Jonathan (150 acres). As these four transactions, plus the sale of 100 acres to William Saxton/Sexton at the same time, amounted to most of the land that James owned, some researchers have inferred that James was getting on in years and had decided to pass on his worldly goods to his children. While this is a reasonable assumption and is consistent with Cabell County PPT (tax) records that show he sold all of his taxable animals (horses) around 1812, it isn’t completely consistent with what we know about him and begs other questions. James had five sons–why did he only give land to four of them? Why did he continue buying land (he bought 100 acres in 1814)? Why, if he thought he was near death’s door, did he wait another four years before giving his daughter, Jane Morris, the land that she was living on? Another explanation for the 1813 land transfers could be that James had given the land to his sons earlier and may simply have been transferring the papers to them at this time. At least two of his sons, Andrew and Jonathan, had already built homes and were living on the land.

Although James sold his taxable property around 1811/1812, he continued to be listed in Cabell County tax records until 1816. In 1817 he and his wife Sarah gave their daughter Jane and her husband John Morris the 150-acre tract of land that they (the Morrises) were living on. In April 1820, James and Sarah gave away their share of a large (2085-acre) property in Greenbrier County that James had acquired by patent in 1796 in partnership with William H. Cavendish. This April 1820 land transaction was the last dated record of James and Sarah Jordan, although they also appeared in the 1820 census, which was not completed (and displayed for public view as was then required by law) until April 1821. We can only speculate how long they lived after 1820, since James had already been taken off the tax rolls. In land and money, the record suggests that James was fairly well off in his prime, but he left no recorded will; and there is no evidence of any transfer of land to his children in Cabell land or court records after 1817. James and Sarah are said to be buried in the old Jordan Graveyard in Cabell County, though there is no stone to mark their graves.

Land Records

  • 1783 – Listed as landholders in Greenbrier County: James Jordon (weaver), 400 acres; and James Jordon, 280 acres.
  • August 26, 1786 – Survey for James Jordon of 345 acres in Greenbrier County on Sinking Creek, joining the land of Sarah McCoy including two old surveys… by virtue of a certificate in right of settlement given by the commissioners for adjusting the titles to use protected lands in the District of Augusta, Botetourt and Greenbrier, and in consideration of the ancient composition of one pound fifteen shillings sterling (£1/15/-) paid by James Jordon into the Treasury of this Commonwealth. Patent signed by Beverley Randolph, Governor of Virginia, on July 1, 1791.
  • November 22, 1794 – Survey for James Jordon Senior of 220 acres in Greenbrier County on the waters of Hugarts Creek adjoining the lands of Henry Banks and Robert Young. Warrant #13971 signed August 26, 1782. Patent signed by James Monroe, Governor of Virginia, on October 10, 1800, and executed and delivered Oct 17, 1800 to Mr. Rogers.
  • April 20, 1796 – Survey for Wm. H. Cavendish and James Jordon of 2085 acres in Greenbrier County on the waters of Little Clear Creek and Laurell Run including the forks of said creek and run and alonge buffaloe lick and joining the land of Henry Banks and William Jordon. Warrants: 446 acres, part of #556, issued December 11, 1793; 830 acres, part of #1021, issued December 25, 1794; and 809 acres, part of exchanged warrant #158, issued January 24, 1783. Patent signed by James Monroe, Governor of Virginia, on January 26, 1800, and delived to Col. “Jn.” White on April 30, 1800.
  • February 12, 1802Samuel Jordan Cabell, atty for John P. DuVall of Mason County, Kentucky, sells for £337/10/- (337 pounds, 10 shillings) to James Jordan Senr. of Kanawha County 500 acres of land (part of a tract of 1000 acres), lying on the Mud River.
  • November 22, 1802James Jordan of Kanawha Co sells for $1 to David Cutlip 220 acres in Greenbrier County on Hugart Ck adj Henry Banks, Robert Young, patented 10 Oct 1800.
  • August 20, 1803 – Survey for James Jordon of 25 acres in Greenbrier County on the waters of Sinking Creek joining the land of James McCoy, formerly James Jordon and Robert Cockburn‘s land. Warrant: #2404 issued January 29, 1798. Patent signed by John Page, Governor of Virginia, on October 31, 1804, and delivered to Andw (Andrew) Cavendish on November 11, 1806.
  • February 8, 1804 – Survey for James Jordan Senr of 120 acres in Kanawha County on or near Mud River between the land of Samuel Pleasants and John P. DuVal‘s heirs. Patent based on two exchanged treasury warrants issued in 1797 and 1801; patent signed by William H. Cabell, Governor of Virginia, on May 19, 1806.
  • August 13, 1805James Jordan and Sarah his wife sell for $1 to Boyd Wallace 345 acres by patent bearing date 1 July 1791 in Greenbrier County on Sinking Creek adjoining Sarah McCoy‘s land and including two old surveys.
  • April 13, 1808James Jordon and wife Sarah Jordon of Kanawha County sell for $1 to Boyd Willis (Wallace) 25 acres in Greenbrier County on Sinking Creek adj Corburne, James McCoy (formerly James Jordon and Robert Cockburner‘s land).
  • March 2, 1813James Jordan Senr. sells for $1 to Jonathon Jordan 150 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River adjoining the survey of John Morris Senr. and where Jonathon Jordan lives.
  • March 4, 1813James Jordan Senr. sells for $1 to James Jordan 125 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River above and adjoining the Widow Sanders‘ land.
  • March 4, 1813James Jordan Senr. sells for $50 to William Saxton 100 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River.
  • March 4, 1813James Jordan Senr. sells for $1 to Andrew Jordan 100 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River adjoining John Jorden‘s survey where Andrew Jordan lives and adjoining Thomas Kilgore and John Morris on the upper side.
  • March 4, 1813James Jordan Senr. sells for $1 to John Jordan 150 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River adjoining a survey of Mrs. Sanders and adjoining Andrew Jordan on the upper side.
  • April 10, 1814Nehemiah Wood and Eva his wife of Gallia County, Ohio, sell for $125 to James Jordan 100 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River between land sold to Jordan by Samuel Cabell, atty for John P. DuVall, and the land sold by DuVall Legatees of John P. DuVall to Martha Sanders. Nehemiah had purchased the land from Marion DuVall. Nehemiah further agrees to refund the money with interest from June 12, 1805, to James Jordan if he’s evicted from this land.
  • December 10, 1817James Jorden Senr. and Sarah his wife sell for $1 to John Morris Junr 150 acres in Cabell County on the Mud River.
  • March 27, 1820James Jordan Senr. and Sarah his wife sell for $1 to James Knight of Greenbrier County their interest (one equal moiety) in 2085 acres in Greenbrier County by the Laurel Run and Buckey Garden on little Clear Creek, patented to Wm. H. Cavendish and James Jorden Senr. In an attached affadavit dated March 27, 1820, William Fullerton and William Brumfield, Cabell County Justices of the Peace, swear that Sarah Jordan personally appeared before them and being examined by us (privately) and apart from her husband and having the deed aforesaid fully explained to her… she declared that she had willingly signed sealed and delivered the [deed] and that she wished not to retract it.

Census in which James Jordan appeared

  • 1820 Cabell County, Virginia – James Jordon Senr.
    1 white male 16-26
    1 white male 45 and above (James Jordan)
    1 white female 45 and above (probably Sarah Jordan)
    2 engaged in agriculture

Personal Property Tax Lists in which James Jordan appeared

Children of James and Sarah Jordan

  1. James Jordan Jr. (1768-1846) married to (1) Mary and (2) Peninah Lee
  2. William Jordan (c1772-1845) married to Blanche Fullerton
  3. John Jordan (c1775-bef1860) married to (1) Elizabeth Newman and (2) Sinah Brumfield
  4. Margaret Jordan (c1777-aft1860) married to Isaac Blake
  5. Sarah Jordan (c1780/1-1845) married to Leroy Newman Jr.
  6. Andrew Jordan (1784/5-1872) married to Mary “Polly” Chapman
  7. Jane Jordan (?-?) married to John Morris Jr.
  8. Jonathan Jordan (c1789-aft1850) married to Rachel McCray

and possibly two more daughters:


Sources and Notes:

1 Otis Rice, A History of Greenbrier County, 1986; and Joan Cain, “Descendants of Edmund Cain“, 2005. Harry E. Handley, “Customers of Mathews Trading Post,” (Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society, vol 1, #1, August 1963) states that James Jurden bought one cask of butter from the Mathews brothers sometime between April 8, 1771, and January 26, 1773.
2 Y-DNA test results connect James to Jordans who originated in County Down.  His year of birth is inferred from Cabell County tax records of 1817, in which James ceased to be listed as a taxpayer, possibly due to his having reached the age of 70.
NB: Some family researchers mistake James for a James Jordan who was living in Goochland County, Virginia, at about the same time. For more information see Greenbrier vs Goochland.
3 Fort Pitt Museum: A History of the Point.
4 “Attack on Fort Donnally, West Virginia Daily News, March 3, 1969, as provided by the West Virginia Archives and History; and “Green Brier County, February 18, 1779,” Virginia Gazette, April 24, 1779.
5 A Petition of Pioneer Settlers of Greenbrier County, “Calendar of Virginia State Papers” Volume II, Pages 468 and 169.
6 This may refer to the present Raders Valley Road (county road 60-28) running from Williamsburg to its junction with Fort Donally Road (county road 17-2).
7 Shuck, Larry G., Greenbrier County Virginia Early Court Records 1780-1835 (Atlanta: Iberian Publishing Company, 1988).
8 Land patent issued to James Jordan by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
9 Kanawha County court records: Family History Library, Kanawha Co. West Virginia births, marriages, deaths, land court and probate records, 1750-1931, Microfilm number 464951.
10 Land patents were first-title deeds establishing the beginning of private ownership of the land. Those pertaining to West Virginia were included in the Northern Neck Land Proprietary, which after 1786, was under the control of the Commonwealth of Virginia. A prospective land owner would buy a warrant from the treasury, which would specify the location and amount of land desired. The warrant would be given to a surveyor, who would lay out the specific plot of land. After all documents were returned–if the title was clear–the commonwealth would issue a land patent. Each patent listed the name(s) of the patentee and any assignees, and contained a description of the survey (in metes and bounds); it also gave the dates of any warrants and noted when the patent was granted. All patents were signed by the Governor of Virginia.
Since warrants could be sold and exchanged at any time after issuance, and since the surveyed land could be sold (or assigned) to someone else before a patent was issued, the best time to tie a particular individual (in this case James Jordan) to a particular piece of land was on the date of the survey itself, which James would have ordered to be done. For that reason I’ve used the date of survey to identify each of the parcels of land he obtained by patent.
11 Cabell County Deed Book I, page 145.