Last Will and Testament of John Byrnside (1763-1816) 2nd white child born in Monroe County (West) Va.

I recently found the 1816 Last Will and Testament of John Byrnside, who lived at Willowbrook from 1770 through his death in 1816. He was the owner of the plantation itself, beginning in 1788, when it was deeded to him by his father, James Byrnside. John then took over running the plantation, as well as caring for his mother, Isabella, who also lived there, with her children and grandchildren, until she died. John was born on the property in 1763, months before the Shawnee under Cornstalk burnt the place later that year. That makes him likely the second white child born in the county.

An old Greenbrier Historical Society map of the Greenbrier Valley, showing “Byrnside’s Cabin – 1762, where John Byrnside said he was born in early 1763, making him likely the 2nd white child born in Monroe County (then Greenbrier County). He didn’t stay for long, since the cabin was burned later that same year by Cornstalk. He returned with his family about 5 years later, in 1770, when they built the existing fort structure.

The will, pictured below, reads as follows:

I John Byrnside of Monroe County and State of Virginia, do hereby make my last will and testament in ? and form following. That is to say….

John Byrnside’s Will – page 1

Item 1: It is my will that my wife Elizabeth do receive and hold during her natural life time the plantation and improvements wherein I now live, It being an inclusive survey of one thousand acres, except the part that is in this will left to my son James Byrnside.

Willowbrook Plantation, home of John Byrnside from 1770-1816.
Willowbrook Plantation, overlooking John Byrnside’s 1,000 acre plantation.

Item 2: It is my will that the plantation aforesaid of 1,000 acres whereon I now live to be divided into three parts between my three sons, and that my son, John Byrnside, have and hold the one hundred and ninety acres included in the above mentioned inclusive survey of 1,000 acres on the side lying next to Union Town. Which 190 acres was conveyed by James Alexander to me by deed of conveyance the 25th day of June, 1793, and was originally a part of a survey of 1,180 acres first granted by patent to James Byrnside Sr. the 3rd day of May, 1786, which 190 acres is to descend to him and his heirs and assigns forever after his mother’s death.

The 1786 survey for James Byrnside, then showing 1,180 acres. This was still 15 years before the Town of Union was created.

Item 3: It is my will that the remainder of the aforesaid 1,000 acres be divided between my son Isaac Byrnside, and my son James [M.] Byrnside by a line to begin at a hickory and two swamp oaks, formerly two Red Oaks, corner to the aforesaid 1,000 acres, and corner to the land whereon James Rolstin now lives, formerly John Cantley, thence to run through the aforesaid 1,000 acres to the best advantage for both parts so as to leave the new field entirely . . .

Drone view of Willowbrook, and the surrounding plantation fields. I’m not sure exactly what the 1,000 acre boundaries were, in relation to the ground today – since there are no current roads which existed at that time. For sure, the green fields in the foreground were a part of it, having remained with the house through its entire chain of title.
John [anchor symbol] Andrew Byrnside drawn into the wet chinking in between the logs in the upstairs West end room of Willowbrook. Below are some more we found:

. . . to the old or upper part, and thence to join on a Hickory, corner to said 1,000 acres and also corner to Davis Alderson.

Item 4: It is my will that the old or upper part descend to my son Isaac Byrnside and to his heirs and assigns forever after his mother’s death.

Item 5: It is my will that the new or lower part of the last aforesaid divide ascend to my son James Madison Byrnside and to his heirs and assigns forever so soon as he arrives to the age of twenty one years.

John Byrnside’s Will – page 2

Item 6: It is my will that all my other lands, slaves, money, bonds, and all the other property or estate of every description whatsoever that I am possessed of or due to me, and not specially mentioned in this will, is to be equally divided between my wife, Elizabeth and my six children. To wit: Isaac Byrnside, James Byrnside, Elizabeth Byrnside, Juliana Byrnside, John Byrnside and James Byrnside.

A 1798 Greenbrier County judgment order awarding John Byrnside Four Pounds and Fifteen Shillings, presumably as a result of a civil lawsuit, against one Thomas Lowe. Signed by John Stuart, whom I have posted about. This is an example of something which would be “due to me,” in John’s will.

NOTE: John’s son, James M. Byrnside, has an interesting history, and both paintings and photos exist of he and his wife, Eliza. Not only was he the grandson of the Union, WV area’s first settler, James Byrnside – his namesake – but he was also the grandson of the actual founder of Union, WV, James Alexander, who set up shop in 1774, and who donated 10 acres for a courthouse and town – which became Union. Or as John Byrnside refers to it in his will: “Union Town.” He was the grandson of James Alexander, because John Byrnside married Elizabeth Alexander (James’ daughter) in 1797. Not surprising, since they were neighbors, and settlement was limited at that time.

James M. and Eliza’s daughter, Jane, then married back into the Alexander family, marrying Andrew Alexander, thus becoming Jane Alexander. We found photos in Willowbrook of Jane Alexander standing in front of the Alexander family’s log cabin, within the town limits of Union, West Virginia. The cabin is now long gone. I’ll have to dig out the photos, but these are some others I found, as well:

Item 7: It is my will that John Hogshead, Isaac Estill, Isaac Byrnside & my wife Elizabeth do execute this my last will and testament.

NOTE: Isaac Byrnside received the half of the plantation with the plantation house on it, but he couldn’t do much with it due to the fact that his mother owned a life estate in it. He eventually sold it to George Beirne in 1827, subject of course, to Isaac’s mother still living in Willowbrook itself. So thereafter George Beirne, and later his estate, became the owner of the plantation. In 1830, I found where Isaac Byrnside had his vote for the year 1830 invalidated because he wasn’t a landowner of 50 acres, or more. When Isaac’s mother died in 1855, George Beirne’s son, Christopher, bought out his siblings, and moved into Willowbrook.

Drone view of Willowbrook, looking back towards Union. I believe the last boundaries with the house followed the treelike to the left, which was the old turnpike bed, then to the the distant treeline, and then running off to the right out of the pic. The town of Union is just beyond the trees in the middle, in the distance.

In witness whereof the said John Byrnside have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 29th day of September in the [year] of Christ one thousand eight hundred and sixteen [1816].

[signed] John Byrnside

[witnessed] John Hogshead, Isaac Estill, William Erskine, James Alexander, Margaret Erskine

NOTE: Isaac Estill, like John, grew up in a frontier blockhouse on Indian Creek, both built by their fathers, both inheriting the structures – both of which continue to stand today. Isaac’s brother went out to Kentucky and was famously killed by Wyandotte Indians there. James Alexander, another witness, was the founder of Union, West Virginia.

Isaac Estill was one of the witnesses to the will. This is his home, further down Indian Creek. I’ve posted about it before.

At a Court held for the County of Monroe at the court house the 15th day of Dec. 1816, the within Last Will and Testament of John Byrnside, deceased, was presented in Court by the Executors & proven by the oaths of William Erskine, Peggy Erskine & James Alexander, subscribing witnesses thereto, whereupon the same is ordered to be Recorded.

[signed] J. Hutchison, Clerk

I’ve concluded that many of these 18th century, and early 19th century wills, are written very close to the testator’s actual date of death. And it can’t be a coincidence. In those days, there were much fewer freak accidents, being that there were no car crashes back then. People probably died slowly, knowing that they were dying. This is undoubtedly the case here, being that the will was written in September of 1816, and the will was probated, meaning that the testator died, and the will was presented and to the court and approved, in December of 1816 – only two months later. So we know that he must have been “on his death bed” for at least two months before dying.

John Byrnside’s grave stone, located in Green Hill Cemetery, overlooking the town of Union.

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