The Yancey - Sir William Berkeley Connection
Where did the story come from?


As one sifts through the stories and legends of any family surname and its origins  trying to differentiate fact from fiction -  - one comes to learn that many of the stories turn out not be exactly as they are currently told - - - HOWEVER there does often seem to be some sort of original grain of truth in what has been told. Some times it takes quite a bit of analysis to understand how the story has twisted over time from its origins to its current form and what the grains of truth really are/were.


The stories of the origins of the Yancey family seem to be no different - - - in their current form there appear to be many probable errors and twisted truths (at least a lot of items that cant be backed up by documented fact)  – however one can some times find reasoning behind how at least some of it came to its current form.   

Sir William Berkeley


Virtually every branch of the Yancey family has passed down the story of various Yancey brothers from Wales coming to America with Sir William Berkeley in 1642.  Researchers for over a century have been befuddled by this story – because any evidence of it seems no where to be found – and the earliest documented Yancey is  Charles Yancey in 1704 (60 years later – with not one jot or title of Yancey info between) .   The very first RECORDED story the Yancey’s connection to Sir William Berkeley appears to be the biography of William Lowndes Yancey in 1892.   Contrary to many other biographies of the time – his biography  had very wide distribution. As genealogical research on the Yancey family began in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by various members of the family - - - they all seemed to find the biography of William Lowndes Yancey as they visited major research libraries – and included with their early family histories the account of the Yancey origin by William Lowndes Yancey’s biographer.  The truth is William Lowndes Yancey – had virtually no first hand knowledge of his family history – and virtually none coming from his father – who died when he was young.   Growing up he knew extremely little about his family origin.   It was only later in life that he searched out some of the history from distant new found  cousins he had established contact with.  His biographer also attempted to make contact with Yancey cousins – with some success.  The little that they were told about the Yancey origin was included in William Yanceys biography - - - but I don’t think anyone considered it a set of facts that had been authenticated by primary research – just what they had been told by people they contacted.   When anyone compiles a family story – almost without exception – the part of the story most likely to have errors or twisted truths is the story of family origin or its earliest recorded ancestors – which often isn’t backed up by any primary facts – just stories that have evolved over the generations.


William Lowndes Yancey, biographer John W. Dubose, and Charles Yancey


So who was it that William Lowndes Yancey and his biographer would have contacted and what would they have been told???    It turns out that one of the main contacts that were made by William Lowndes Yancey about Yancey family history was one Major Charles Yancey of Buckingham County Virginia. He was one of the most prominent and prosperous members of the Yancey family in Virginia and part of the State Legislature – which is probably how William Lowndes Yancey heard of him and made contact.   Charles Yancey was an educated son of a Anglican minister – who married into a wealthy family.  You would think HE of all people would have had knowledge of the family history and family background.   It turns out though – Charles Yancey was an aged man - - and various letters written by him - - tend to make one believe that he suffered some serious mental incapacities around the time that he would have been contacted by WLY.   One wonders if he may have had something to the effect of Alzheimer's. He surely must have had a lot of important history locked up in his mind - - -  just getting  it out straight was the challenge.   And there we begin to see a serious possibility of how the Yancey-Berkeley story may have been


old man


You see the mother of Major Charles Yancey was a  lady by name Crawford. Her immigrant ancestor had come from the British Isles.  Interestingly her ancestor David Crawford seemingly came to Virginia in the 1640’s.   He is known to have had associations with Sir William Berkeley. They both served in colonial politics. 


Its almost as if I can hear - - old Major Charles - - telling the story  from memory – from generations of stories that had been passed down for nearly 200 years prior to his new found cousin William Lowndes Yancey.   I can hear him proudly telling of his ancestors  who were known to have been associates of Governor Berkley – who it was commonly known came to Virginia in 1642. I can hear him tell of their family association– possibly filling in details and making assumptions when known facts didn't always cover the story known.


And I can so easily see how this story got recorded into the Yancey family origin story printed in the biography of WLY - -  and it wasn’t all that off - - just a little mix up on whether  it was his Crawford ancestors or his Yancey ancestors (and one could conjecture that he knew little, as most did, about the details behind the Yanceys – and figured they must have been very similar to the Crawfords.  Below you will find a three paragraph extract from a Crawford Historian – and you can see even further just how the story may have come to be.


indianswhen the Compact of 1785 was negotiated, the economies of Virginia and Maryland were both dependent on exporting tobacco by ships to Europe
"Indians and Stowaways"


Other stories that have been passed around over the decades include  claims that the early Yanceys were “killed by Indians”  or were “stow aways” on the boat that brought Berkeley.   If you ask me – these are 20th century stories generated by people trying to fill in the gaps.  Even today I come across people wondering – "maybe they were killed by Indians and that’s why we don’t have any record of 17th century Yanceys",   Or “maybe they were stow aways”  and that’s why we cant find any immigrant records.  Once the conjecture is put in print – it is virtually impossible to stamp out - - - and no one finds any hard facts to prove other wise  . . .  allowing the conjecture to live eternally - - - even if the reason for there being  no hard facts - -  is  possibly because the Yanceys were never here to begin with.  If we searched under every rock and cranny - - -we would never find anything because maybe there’s nothing there (in 17th century Virginia Yanceys to be found)  maybe – just maybe they were on the other side of the ocean under a different name. . . .



Another claim/conjecture  by many – is that the Yanceys were probably here in the 1600’s – just that most  of the official records of the period have been lost to current generations  ("the famous burned record counties of Virginia" ) .   It is indeed true that many things like probate records, marriage records, death records, census type records have been lost for a good portion of Colonial Virginia during that time.  BUT this should not be inferred to mean that somehow every paper record of the era was somehow swallowed up by a black hole .   There still are various records where by a citizen of colonial Virginia could be recorded on records that continue to this day.   In fact – think about it - - - if the Crawford family came here in the 1640’s - - - maybe they would be a good example of someone to contrast to the Yanceys.

And in fact if you read below - - you will see that contrary to what some may say - - there are indeed records to be found about the Crawfords and their associations with Lord Berkeley, as well as land records, legislative records and much more.  In my opinion the idea that somehow “all Yancey records of the 1600’s have been lost  - every single last "jot or tittle" on any record of any type  – but that the Yancey did once exist in 17th century Virginia with association to Sir William Berkeley  - - - just doesn't seem very probable.



Happy Yancey Hunting!!!!



Other links of interest:

Families associated with early Yancey

Common Errors in Yancey Publications

"Origin of the Yancey Family"

"Various Yancey origin theories"

Common Family Myths

History of Yancey Genealogical Publications



Records of the Crawford Family of Early Virginia
(very near the area where the Yanceys settled)
information from:


Our next encounter with our Crawfords in Virginia is with John's son <David> , born circa 1625 in Kilburney, Scotland when he purchased 86 acres on August 7, 1667 in the Parish of Martyns Hundred in James City County from Mrs. Anne Loveing. This land transaction was approved  by the Royal Governor, Sir William Berkeley. (Land Patents for James City County, VA, Book 6)

The grant of land that David acquired was made to him directly by Governor Berkeley in 1672, securing to him 1,000 acres in New Kent County "lying in yee branches of Mattedegun Creeke." David received this land for bringing twenty people to Virginia to settle and develop the land. It was at this time that David relocated to New Kent County. David's land acquisitions continued in 1676, the year of Bacon's Rebellion, with 1,350 acres, 375 acres,  1,300 acres, 277 acres, and 196 acres all in New Kent County.

Each of these land acquisitions were either purchases approved by the Royal Governor or direct grants made by the Governor.   What is interesting is that prior family researchers have not addressed the apparent  cooperation that David got from the Royal Governor while his ancient father was off fighting in open rebellion against the Governor's administration.

There are plausible explanations for  this, including but limited to John Crawford not having participated in Bacon's Rebellion, not holding a son accountable for the sins of his father, and wanting to keep David loyal to the Crown. On October 28, 1681 David Crawford purchased 1,300 acres from

Mr. William Taylor in St. Peter's Parish in New Kent County and he received another land grant from the government on November 4, 1685 for an unspecified acreage that appears to have adjoined his earlier purchase from Taylor. The government granted David the land for bringing six people into the Colony to settle. It was at this site that David built his final plantation that he named "Assiskins Run" (also known as "Assassquin"). In 1693 David deeded this land  over to his  grandson, William Meriwether. Also, on May 12, 1697 David deeded 200 acres to his  grandson, David Meriwether, with all appurtenances. This property was located in Kent County, which afterward became Hanover County.

Because of the widespread destruction of public records during the Civil War we will never know the full extent of David's landholding  or how much of it he gave to his family during and upon his death. We can safely assume, however, that for the time and place in which David lived that he was a major landowner.

As a Gentleman of means in Colonial Virginia David answered the call to public service. On  April 2, 1692 David was elected to the House of Burgesses as one of two representatives from New Kent County. The other representative was Captain John Lyddall. David took his seat in the House on Monday, April 4, 1692. The only piece of legislation that could be found that was introduced by David was an Act requiring that County Clerks maintain an office in their respective County Courthouse.

This Act passed. (H. R. McIlwaine, p 380) No doubt that David either introduced or sponsored other pieces of legislation during his two years of service in the House, but a thorough search of the Journals of the House of Burgesses was not  performed.