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In his will Francis Willis identifies his place of birth as St. Fawkes and St. Alsford Parish in the city of Oxford England. His parents are unknown, though some have identified his father as Francis, son of Francis. Others have identified his father as a Henry Willis. In no case has documentation showing the connection, been located. His will dated 1689 identifies several brothers and sisters, as well as a number of cousins, suggesting that there was a substantial Willis family in Oxford about 1612. Since he left a bequest to the city, even though he had long since left it, we can assume that he had considerable ties to that area, perhaps implying an extended family.
He married his wife Jane (some identify her without sources as "Jane Simmons"), at an unknown date. It seems likely that this marriage occurred in England. Francis and Jane apparently had no children since none are identified in his will written in 1689, though they could have predeceased him.
Francis left England for the Jamestown Colony as a young man. His name appears on Gloucester County Land records as early as 1642; it is plausible that he was there at an earlier date, as some have intimated. Here he established a substantial plantation known as White Hall (1) between Ware and Severn Rivers off Mobjack Bay.
Francis was active in civic governance, serving first as county Clerk, and later in the House of Burgesses. Later, his nephew and heir, Francis Willis (?-?), would continue this same tradition. In 1675 Francis and his wife returned to England, settleing in East Greenwich, Kent County. At his death he left a substantial estate, bequething a total of 4030 pounds sterling to various persons, including his wife Jane (1000 pounds) and his nephew Francis Willis (1000 pounds). These bequests, in addition to various property distributions, were the equivalent of something more than $1.5 million pounds in 2002 (1). In addition to monetary dispersions, Francis gave substantial property to two nephews. Nephew William received property on Craney Creek (possibly in Oxfordshire, or Kent County), while Fransis property in Virginia was given to Nephew Francis. Newphew Francis took possession of that property shortly after his uncles death, and lived out his life in America.
- (1) Photographs of the plantation are available at [White Hall. The current structure shown in these photographs dates from the early 1690's. There may be some significance to the name "Whitehall". Francis came to America in the early 1640's during the Civil War that eventually led to the Execution of Charles II in 1649. The name may be related in someway to the center of governance along Whitehall Street in London, and may suggest something about Francis political sentiments.
- (2) Based on data provided in O'Donoghue, 2004, comparing value of a pound Sterling in 1750, with its value in 2002. In the 60 years between Francis death and 1750, it seems likely that some inflation also occurred, though the rate of inflation is thought to have been modest. In any case, the estimate of 1.5 million pounds is conservative.
|DOB:||c1612||most researachers seem to accept c1612, but basis for this is unknown. Since Francis obtain land in Virginia by 1642 he was probably born no later than 1622. The 1612 DOB may be based on an assumption that he was 30 years of age when he came to Virginia.|
|POB:||Parish of St. Fowles als St. Algate, Oxford, England||stated in his will of 1689|
|DOD:||c1690||Will written 6 JUL 1689, probated 25 APR 1691 Waters, 1901|
|POD:||E. Greenwich, Kent, England||Based on Will|
|Spouse:||Jane||identified in will as "Jane"; some researchers believe her name may have been Jane Simmons, but a basis for that has not been determined.|
|DOM:||c1640||probably prior to arrival in Virginia|
|Father:||Unknown Willis (c1580-c1612)||various persons have been identified as his father, but justifications for any of them is wanting.|
The family relations of Francis Willis III are complex. While his will is a most useful document for untangling some of these relationships, some of the relationships are unclear, and there are many things we would like to know, obvious to him when he wrote it, but obscure to us today. This obscurity continues in successive generations, and creates considerable uncertainty about key relations, particularly in the American descendancy in this family. Examining that descendancy is sometimes frustrating as there is a repetition of certain family names (notably "Henry" and "Francis", and some genealogists have combined information about separate individuals bearing the same name. Normally, such confusions can be separated out (albeit often with difficulty) because we can go back to primary sources to show which persons married which spouses, and who had which children. We can do this for Francis Willis III, the subject of this article, in part because his will identifies many of his relations. We know, for example, from this source that the heir to the White Hall estate in Gloucester County was "Francis Willis" (whom we arbitrarily designate Francis IV) son of his brother "Henry Willis". Unfortunately, the identificaiton (or perhaps "confirmation" would be the better word choice) of the children of the s Francis IV is not so clear. Most people suggest he had two sons, (Francis V, and Henry, of course), but documentation for that has not yet been located at this early stage in the effort.
At any rate, the following diagram shows one version of the family relationships for Francis Willis III. Some of the relations shown here are quite certain, but others are as yet unproven. For these later instances additional documentation is needed for us to be comfortable with the overall scheme. I suspect that further work will show that some relations are misshown, and that other critical relationships do not appear here at all. With regard to the latter, I've seen some indications of a "John Willis" in the Gloucester County area at an early date, who is most likely related in some way to Francis III; we do not know, however, what the basis of that relationship might be. In addition, the will of Francis III indicates the existence of several cousins bearing the Willis surname. Most likely they are the children of Francis uncle John Willis but they could be the children of some other as yet unrecognized brother of Francis. There are others mentioned in Francis III's will whose relationships are so obscure that they can't be entered into this diagram.
One of the main purposes for presenting this diagram is that it provides a basis for exploring certain family problems. Even though the relationships shown are at the moment somewhat sketchy, and some may prove unsound, this diagram provides a way of organizing the information at hand, and can be used as a basis for further exploration. The principle problems being considered are related to results of recent YDNA studies that seem to indicate that certain descendants of the Gloucester County Willis' share the same YDNA with certain lines of Willis' whose ancestry is not known. The presumption is that these "unknown ancestry" Willis lines are in fact descended from someone in the Gloucester County Willis'. The study plan for these problems is two fold:
- 1. Validate the descendancy for the lines that currently claim descent from the Gloucester County Willis', and have YDNA matches for the Unknown Ancestry lines
- 2. Identify candidates for the ancestors of the Uknown Ancestry lines among the Gloucester County Willis'
This research plan will be detailed elsewhere.
Will identifies no children. Estate was divided between various relatives.
|Source:||Genealogical Gleanings in England by Henry F. Waters page 239 fide Virginia Keeper, 16 Feb 2005|
|Text:||Francis Willis of the Parish of Ware River, in the County of Gloucester, in Virginia, but now a resident in the Parish of East Greenwich in the County of Kent, Gentleman, 6 July, 1689, proved 25 April, 1691.|
|My body to be decently buried, my executor not exceeding one hundred pounds sterling at my funeral, in costs and charges.|
|To my loving sister, Grace Fielder one hundred and twenty pounds sterling to be paid in manner and form following; that is to say, fifteen pounds per annum during her life, or until the sum of one hundred and twenty pounds be fully paid, which first shall happen.|
|To Charles Fielder, the son of my sister Grace, aforesaid, one hundred pounds sterling, in payments of twenty pounds per annum until the sum of one hundred pounds be fully paid.|
|To my cousin, Elizabeth Butler, and her daughter, Elizabeth Willis, sisters to Hugh Willis, clerk, deceased, the sum of ten pounds sterling apiece.|
|To my cousins; Francis and Elizabeth Willis, sisters to Hugh Willis, clerk, deceased, the sum of ten pounds sterling apiece.|
|To Francis and Christopher Willis, the sons of the said Hugh Willis, the sum of ten pounds sterling apiece.
To the widow of Hugh Willis, ten pounds sterling.
|To Susannah Willis, the daughter of my brother, Henry Willis, ten pounds sterling|
|To my cousins; John and Joane Lipton, one hundred and thirty pounds sterling and to her two children; Henry and Mary, one hundred and thirty pounds sterling apiece.|
|To my cousin, Mary Herron, the daughter of my brother, Henry Willis, deceased, the sum of three hundred and fifty pounds sterling.|
|To Alice Willis, daughter of said brother, Henry Willis, three hundred and fifty pounds sterling.|
|To my loving cousin, Elizabeth Ironmonger, one hundred pounds sterling and to her two sons; Charles and Matthew Ironmonger, one hundred pounds sterling apiece.|
|To William Willis, the son of my brother, William Willis, deceased, one hundred and fifty pounds sterling.|
|To the poor of the Parish of St Fowles Als St Algate in the city of Oxford, the place of my birth, one hundred pounds sterling.|
|And all my legacies I desire may be paid within eighteen months after my decease.|
|To my dear and loving wife, Jane Willis, the sum of one thousand pounds sterling, to be paid her in the first place, within one year after my decease, and all the household vessels of plate, linen and bedding which she brought over with her from Virginia to England [ & all other personal estate].|
|I give unto the said William Willis, the son of my brother, William Willis,deceased, all that land and plantation which his father formerly lived upon and held of me, with the appurtances, situate on the South side of Crany Creek, containing one hundred acres or thereabouts, to him and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten or to be begotten, and for want of such heirs, then to the right heirs of me, the said Francis Willis.|
|I give and devise unto the said Francis Willis, the son of my brother, Henry Willis, all the rest and residue of all my other estate and estates, whatsoever in land, goods, moneye, cattle and Chattells that I now at this time stand seized or possessed of in Virginia and not herein already devised, also one thousand pounds, to be paid him within eighteen months after my decease.|
|I ordain and make William Willis, the son of my brother, Henry Willis, deceased, sole executor of this my will and testament.|
|I give unto Mr. Edward Polter, of the Parish of St Peters in the East in Oxford city, milliner, and Mr. George Richards of London, merchant, whom I desire and appoint to be overseers &c, the sum of ten pounds sterling apiece.|
|Wit; Richard Jones, Margaret Nicholson, Joseph Busfield.
The Willis's of Virginia Maud Porter, 1964 1964, Miller Printing Company; Ashville, North Carolina