Fact or Fiction? | Gilliams of Virginia

Gilliam Fact or Fiction?
Updated March 25, 2020

Many families have cherished traditions about their families; however, these traditions often interfere with the research process. This page attempts to sift GILLIAM tradition from GILLIAM fact.

Three Brothers
Dr. R. A. Brock in the Richmond Standard, April 16, 1881, states that "the GILLIAM family is of Norman descent, and the original form of the name was Gillaume. About the year 1680, three brothers, John,
William and Robert, emigrated to Virginia. John settled at Puddledock in Prince George County."

Worth S. Ray also suggests that William and John GILLIAM were brothers.

John, the father of John of "Puddle Dock," was living in Virginia prior to 1680: In December 1659 he sued the estate of Anthony Tall for 1,100 pounds of tobacco. In 1660, he served on the Grand Jury and witnessed the will of Thomas Lowe. Four years later, John Gilliam was sued by William Hunt, attorney for the Anthony Tall estate, for illegal detention of a servant belonging to Tall. The suit was dismissed in August of 1664 when Gilliam surrendered the servant. On 21 Jul 1664 John Gilham bought 1300 acres from Edward Hill. This land had been patented to Hill on 28 Mar 1664 had formerly belonged to Francis Osborne, decd.

John, the father of John of "Puddle Dock", did not have brothers
William and Robert.

The "brothers" that Dr. Brock may have been referring to appear to have been John, Thomas, and William Guilham/Gillam whom arrived respectively in Virginia in August and October 1635. It has not been determined whether John and Thomas were brothers, or whether William was even related to John or Thomas. It appears that since John and Thomas sailed from Gravesend and William from Ilfracombe which are on opposite sides of the Isle that they are in most likelihood not related.

Norman Descent and the Huguenots
It has been assumed that the GILLIAM name is of Norman descent due to both spelling and pronunciation.

The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, which contains a brief outline of the GILLIAM family, proposes Norman descent.

The GILLIAMs of Virginia were of “French descent and Protestant faith and descended from some Norman family surnamed Guillaume. About the time of the St. Bartholomew Massacres his family fled to England whence this descendant and his brother, William GILLIAM, came to the Colony of Virginia circa 1635 to 1680. John GILLIAM settled on the south side of the river Appomattox at Monte Alto and William GILLIAM on the James.
["This paragraph contains the essentials of the family tradition as related to Charles Edgar GILLIAM by Richard Davenport GILLIAM, 1855-1935. Also as appears from undated manuscript of Robert GILLIAM, 1796-1884 owned by Charles Edgar GILLIAM, believed to have been written circa 1880," from Genealogical Data on the Ancestors of Richard Davenport GILLIAM, 1855-1935 by Charles Edgar GILLIAM, unpublished manuscript 1938.]

Mr. John Cabell Wilkinson, Secretary of the Huguenot Society of Washington (1936) stated that in his opinion "the family name was in all probability derived from the French surname Guillaume."

Though, it does not appear that the earliest GILLIAMs were Huguenots, the Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia includes among their registered lineages: John Guilliaum.

Royal Surveyors
Three GILLIAM brothers came under Royal Commission to "survey the Dominion of Virginia."

I have not come across any evidence to date to support this claim.

The GILLIAMs and the Devereaux
The surname Devereaux has been attributed to William and Thomas above.

No evidence has been found that William ever used the name William Devereaux GILLIAM, nor Thomas the name Thomas Devereaux GILLIAM. It appears that Worth S. Ray is the originator of the Devereaux tradition also. He states in his Mecklenburg Signers that "after much and prolonged research the writer has concluded there were two parent stems of the GILLIAM family in early colonial Virginia, headed by William Devereaux GILLIAM and a John GILLIAM, branded by tradition only as brothers."

The Devereaux name became associated with the GILLIAM name after William GILLIAM married Mary Jarratt, the daughter of Devereaux Jarratt. Mary was from New Kent and likely married William around the mid 1740’s.

William Gilliam and Elizabeth Ellis.
William Gilliam, Jr., married Elizabeth Ellis and fathered the Scott County Gilliams including Richard Gilliam of Copper Creek.

It appears William Gilliam married Elizabeth Ellis. William's brother, Devereaux, married Edith Ellis per Will of Edith's mother Susannah Harding who married Charles Ellis and secondly John Beckley. It has been argued since Susannah's Will does not mention a daughter Elizabeth that there was no Elizabeth Ellis. However, it appears that both William Gilliam, Jr., Elizabeth Ellis, his wife, predeceased Susannah.

William leaves his entire estate to his brothers and sisters including Devereaux Gilliam. The witnesses include a Charles Ellis. Since there is no provision for a wife, it has been assumed that Elizabeth predeceased William. Since there is no provision for children, nor guardianships it is assumed that William and Elizabeth were childless.

It is likely that Richard Gilliam of Copper Creek and David Gilliam are related to another William Gilliam. This William was closely related to Epaphroditus Gilliam of Buckingham.

John Gilliam married Lucy Henry, daughter of Rev. Patrick Henry
John Gilliam married Lucy Henry of "Surry County," the daughter of Rev. Patrick Henry. John and Lucy were the parents of William Gilliam "of Bristol Parish, Washington County, who married Mary Jarratt.

Though Ray states "after much and prolonged research . . . " he has come to his conclusions, many of his "conclusions" are incorrect. According to the Will of the Rev. Patrick Henry, John Gilliam married Jane Henry, not Lucy. In fact, Jane appears to be the Rev. Patrick Henry's only child.

No one by the surname Henry is found in the Register of Albemarle Parish, Surry County, VA, 1738-1778.

From the Will of John GILLIAM, the husband of Jane Henry, we know that John did not have a son named William. Also, it is chronologically impossible for John Gilliam to be the father of William Gilliam who married Mary Jarratt.

Gilliams of "Bristol Parish, Washington County"
William Gilliam who married Mary Jarratt are of Bristol Parish, Washington County.

Various Gilliams have been attributed to "Bristol Parish, Washington County, VA." No Gilliam is of "Bristol Parish, Washington County" for such a place does not exist. Bristol Parish in Prince George County along the James River has been confused by researchers with the City of Bristol, Washington County, in southwestern Virginia which lies along the Virginia/Tennessee border. Washington County is the first locality in the United States known to have been named for George Washington.  It was formed from Fincastle County in 1776. The General Assembly granted a charter to the City of Bristol on February 12, 1890. The area of Bristol City has a history dating back to 1749, when it was called Sapling Grove.

The Gilliams and Sally Hemings' son Tom.

It has been said in
A President in the Family by Bryron W. Woodson, Sr., that the slaves of Drury Woodson: Hannah and her daughters Fanny and Jemima, went West with Charles Gilliam and his wife, Elizabeth Woodson and Peyton Riddle and his wife, Martha Woodson, the daughters of Drury Woodson. It has also been said that slave Jemima became the wife of Tom Woodson, the son of Sally Hemings.

Drury Woodson's Will, Cumberland County, dated 7 May 1788 does mention slaves, Hannah, Fanny, and Mima among others and does leave to daughters, Elizabeth and Martha, respectively Fanny and Mima. First, it has not been show as Byron Woodson states that Charles Gilliam and Elizabeth and Peyton Riddle and Martha go West. Second, if they venture West they do not permanently settled. Third there is no record that Charles or Peyton freed any of their slaves. Byron Woodson claims that Fanny was manumitted in Greenbriar County in 1803 and Hannah was manumitted there in 1805. This seems unlikely as Charles Gilliam and Peyton Riddle were in Cumberland in 18 July 1804 when Charles and Elizabeth sell to Peyton a certain tract of land. (Cumberland Deed Book 9, Page 453.)