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Ira Vinson "Jack" Birdwhistell

The Birdwhistells of Anderson County

Ed: Jack's consolidated notes on the history of our line of Birdwhistells



            The background of the Birdwhistells of Anderson County, Kentucky, lies in England in the region of Lancashire. In the ‘old country’ the name is variously spelled Birtwistle(most common), Birtwhistle, Birdwistle, Birdwhistle, etc. The Birtwistles of England have been traced back at least a thousand years. The name refers to an ancient village located at a “bird-fork of a river[wistle].”

            On this side of the Atlantic, the best clue to the Birdwhistells of Anderson County is found in the 1850 census of Mercer County. During that accounting of the national population, Thomas Birdwhistle, age 69, of Mercer County advised the census taker that he had been born in Maryland.

            Sources in Maryland provide clues to Thomas’ background. A document exists listing a “Thomas Birdwhistle” [Thomas I] who was transported to Maryland in 1670. Throughout the 1700s, documents exist which describe the land dealings of a Thomas Birdwhistle [Thomas II?]. For example, in a 1783 document from Montgomery County, Maryland, called the “assessment,” two Thomas Birdwhistles [II and III] appear as involved in a parcel of land known as “Friend in Need,” along with a wife, Sarah. Thomas [III?] appears in the 1790 census of Montgomery County, MD., with a total household of eight persons (this probably includes slaves). The 1800 census for Montgomery County recorded a household of Thomas Birdwhistell (c. 1760-c.1802), which included three white males over age forty-five, one white female over forty-five, three white males under three, one white female under age ten, and nine slaves. Another Maryland record notes that on November 9, 1802, a certain Thomas Higdon served as a witness for “Thomas Birdwhistell’s will.”   That will was probated in February, 1803, and mentions Thomas’ wife, Susannah, and children Ann, wife of Benjamin Pelley, Thomas [IV], James, and William.

The next generation is about to take over. A Maryland record notes the marriage of Thomas Birdwhistle to Elizabeth Ni[u]ckles on January 2, 1806.   A daughter, Elizabeth Prissella, according to a copied note, was born November the 14th, 1806. A notation apparently copied from an old Birdwhistell Bible reads, “My first wife died August the 4th, 1807.”

            Now we move to Kentucky. The 1810 census for Campbell County, Kentucky, lists a household of Thomas Birdwhistle (Thomas IV, though reconciling Thomas IV with the census data of 1800 in MD is difficult), containing one white male between twenty-six and forty-five, one white female under forty-five, and one female child under age ten (Priscilla), along with three slaves. The census recorder also noted that Thomas had married Elizabeth Rust on April 5, 1810. A copied notation records that Mary Ann was born January 31, 1811; Thomas was born April 15, 1812; and Burton was born March 11, 1814. (I could find no further mention of Burton and Thomas (b. 1812) in the records.) Elizabeth’s death followed soon after on March 19. Campbell County, KY, records have the marriage of a Mary Ann Birdwhistle to William Frazier on February 12, 1835. This is probably Thomas' daughter by Elizabeth Rust.

James Birdwhistell (Thomas’ brother?) also shows up in a list of Campbell County marriages, marrying Judy Scott on November 8, 1807. This is probably the James Birdwhistle who appears in the Scott County Census of 1810.

Mercer County records [Deed Book 11, pp. 61-62] contain Thomas' purchase of 92.5 acres of land on the East side of Salt River from John and Polly Adams, September 12, 1818. Thomas is described as 'of the County of Woodford.' The Purchase price appears to be Twelve hundrd and fifty dollars. In 1829 he purchased more land in the area [Deed Book 16, p. 102].

            By 1830 [but not in 1820], Thomas Birdwhistle shows up in the census in Mercer County, Kentucky, with a household consisting of one male between forty and fifty [himself], one female between forty and fifty [this would be his third wife, Sarah (Sally) Scearce, whom he married in Woodford County, KY, November 26, 1815], one female between fifteen and twenty [Mary Ann or Priscilla?], two males between ten and fifteen [James S., born July 15, 1817, and William N., born March 24, 1819], one female between five and ten [Henrietta, born May 3, 1821], and one male under age five [John, born April 21, 1825].

            The Bible notations on the births of the slaves include the birth of “Sam” on October 13, 1824, along with the death of Rachel on October 27, nearly two weeks later. Rachel may have been Sam’s mother.

A similar household of seven persons was recorded for Thomas in the census of 1840, divided into one male between fifty and sixty (Thomas), his wife, between fifty and sixty, a male between fifteen and twenty (John) and a female between fifteen and nineteen (Henrietta). Two male slaves between ten and twenty-four and one female slave between twenty-four and thirty-six completed the household. In the 1840 Mercer County Census, James S. is shown married and living in a separate household with a male child, and William [N.] is shown living separately as a single.

The 1850 Mercer County census is most revealing. There Thomas appears at age 69, his wife, Sarah, is 64, son John is 23 and Johns’s wife, Ellen, is 20. By now four slaves are in the household: one female, 55; one male, 27; one male, 25; and one female; 13. Thomas’ real estate is valued at $9000 (which included the slaves), quite a sum for that day. William [N.] Birdwhistle is shown living nearby, age 30, with wife Mildred, 26, and children Sarah, 2, and William [Ezra], 1.   In the census of 1860, Thomas, 79, is shown living in the household of Ellen, 28. Clearly, Thomas’ wife [and son John?] has died by now. Ellen is listed as owning two male slaves, 35 [Sam?] and 13. Thomas is listed as owning a female slave, 70.

Thomas Birdwhistle died on September 6, 1864, according to his tombstone in the old Birdwhistell cemetery.