• David Joyce

How to Research the Scots-Irish of Hanover and Louisa County, Virginia

Updated: Jan 6


Some of the most challenging genealogical inquires involve the Scots-Irish of central Virginia. Originally arriving in Orange County in the early eighteenth-century, they migrated south to Hanover and Louisa County. Many of them were Presbyterians who avoided worshiping in the established Church of England, and preferred studying the bible in isolated reading houses. For modern descendants of these pioneers this provides a problem. From a genealogical perspective, this makes them harder to find; however, all is not lost. As an example on how one might research this topic, we will focus on tracking Alexander Joyce (1720-1778) and his brother, Thomas Joyce (1722-1780), and proving their Scots-Irish lineages.


The first reference to Alexander in colonial Virginia is on August 15, 1748 in a land transaction. Recorded as a neighbor to John Hackett, Garret Hackett, and the now famous, John Henry, Alexander is documented as a witness.1 This is the only instance of Alexander in Louisa County, leaving the mystery still unsolved. Nor is he documented as purchasing any land in the county. It isn’t until one examines the county court records that one of several questions is answered.


On July 28, 1747, Thomas Joyce, is recorded as “of this County [Louisa County, Virginia].”2 With a place of residence now established for Alexander Joyce and his brother, we are faced with the next logical questions. Where do we look next? Where they part of any Scots-Irish migrations? How can we prove it? The solution proves easier to solve than you might think.


We next find Alexander and Thomas Joyce in southern Virginia. On May 10, 1748, they both purchased land in Lunenburg County, Virginia on Ward’s Fork.3 Fortunately, upon further examination we see they came for several reasons. Having no future prospects in Louisa County, the land that Alexander and Thomas now owned in Lunenburg County offered them new economic opportunities. For the purposes of this article, though, it is important to note they also had joined the Scots-Irish neighborhood of Cub Creek. Established by a Presbyterian Elder named John Caldwell, the Joyce brothers preferred to worship alongside their own countrymen.


As the years progressed, Alexander and Thomas were documented under the tithable list of William Caldwell, son of John Caldwell. Starting in 1748 and 1750, Alexander is recorded. 4Three years later in 1753, both brothers are verified as paying tithes to Caldwell.5 With such a strong connection to the Scots-Irish community, a strong genealogical foundation is now established; however, there is still more evidence to consider.


Present as a Ruling Elder at the founding of the Presbytery of Hanover on December 3, 1755, Alexander Joyce’s identity as a Scots-Irish settler becomes more solid.6 He continued to serve as an elder at Cub Creek Church and later at Buffalo Creek Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia.7 It isn’t until the strongest piece of documentation is introduced that the Scots-Irish heritage of Alexander and Thomas can be confirmed.


The Y-DNA results of male descendants of the two brothers uncovers the truth behind their mysterious origins. The sons of Thomas Joyce (Joass) and Mary Blaikley of County Down, Ireland,8 their lineages holds a surprising truth. Descended from the Joss’s of Banff, Scotland, their grandfather, William Joass, was a Laird and Presbyterian minister.9 The reasons why the forefathers of Alexander and Thomas left their homelands is a tragic one, but it is this history that confirms their Scots-Irish ancestry.


The genealogical research of the Scots-Irish, although challenging, can be as equally rewarding. Arriving on the Virginia frontier with few to no prospects, they tolerated the repression of their faith. Because many of them refused to take part within the Established Church of England, they are not well documented. Nor is it possible to find many early Presbyterian records. But, by studying the migrations from central Virginia to Lunenburg County, and Y-DNA results, one might be able to now find their Scots-Irish ancestor.



Documentation and Suggested Readings:


1. Louisa County Virginia,” Louisa County, Virginia, Deed Book A and B, 1742-1759”, Part 2: p. 326, Thomas Hackett to George Clark entry, 15 August 1748; Library of Virginia microfilm 1.

2. Louisa County Virginia,” Louisa County, Virginia, Order Book 1, 1744-1748”, 235, Thomas Joyce Entry, July 28 1747; Library of Virginia, microfilm 29.

3. Lunenburg County, Virginia, “Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 1 & 2, 1746-1752,” pt.1 : P. 368-370, entry for Alexander Joyce, May 10 1748; Library of Virginia, microfilm 1; Lunenburg County, Virginia, “Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 1 & 2, 1746-1752,” pt.1 : P. 367-369, entry for Thomas Joyce, May 10 1748; Library of Virginia, microfilm 1.

4. Lunenburg County, Virginia, “Lunenburg County, Virginia, Tithable Lists, 1748-1756,” p.78, Alexander Joyce Entry, 1748; Library of Virginia, microfilm 411; Lunenburg County, Virginia, “Lunenburg County, Virginia, Tithable Lists, 1748-1756,” p.124, Alexander Joyce Entry, 1750; Library of Virginia, microfilm 411;

5. Lunenburg County, Virginia, “Lunenburg County, Virginia, Tithable Lists, 1748-1756,” p.188, Alexander Joyce and Thomas Joyce Entry, 1753; Library of Virginia, microfilm 411;

6. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.” Hanover Minutes 1755-1756,” Union Presbyterian Seminary, microfilm.

7. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.; Hanover Minutes 1755-1756.

8. Ros Davies, “Welcomes to People’s Names of Co. Down, Ireland,”Ros Davies’ Co. Down, Northern Ireland Family Research Site (http://www.rosdavies.com : accessed 26 November 2018), entry for Thomas Joyce and Mary Blaikley; citing Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church Registers; Ros Davies, “Welcomes to People’s Names of Co. Down, Ireland,”Ros Davies’ Co. Down, Northern Ireland Family Research Site (http://www.rosdavies.com : accessed 26 November 2018), entry for Alexander Joyce baptized January 1720; citing Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church Registers

Thomas Joass 1683 Baptism Record, Son of William Joass and Beatrix Fraser,” 1683; digital image, Descendants of Alexander and Thomas Joyce Families Association, Documentation (https://www.thomasandalexanderjoyceassociation.com/documentation : accessed 22 May 2019).

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