Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Family of John and Anne Fortune

After Jo’s visit to the National Archives, I wanted to learn more about William Fortune. What circumstances led him to die in England all alone? What do we know about this supposed cousin of Enoch FitzHenry?

Fortunately, I have been in contact with a very knowledgeable Fortune family researcher. The following report is posted with her permission and is public record at Fairfield County, South Carolina. The document contains information about the entire Fortune family. However, for brevity, the excerpts below focus on William Fortune.

The comments in italics are my own.

Background Information

John Fortune was born about 1725 in Ireland. He and his wife, Anne and their family of seven children arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on August 23, 1767 aboard the ship Britannia. Anne was born about 1726. Her maiden name has not been proven, but may have been Fitzhenry. The names and dates of birth of the children: Mary, born June 15, 1746; William, born December 30, 1748; John Jr., born February 20, 1752; Jane, born September 1, 1754; Mark, born June 23, 1756; Richard, born June 17, 1758; and Elizabeth, born December 23, 1759.

There is some confusion over where in Ireland the family departed. Janie Revill, in her book, Protestant Immigrants to South Carolina 1763-1773, pages 82-84, transcribed the South Carolina Council Journals, specifically Journal 33, pages 234-237 (meeting of September 1, 1767), which states the Britannia arrived from Newry. R. J. Dickson’s excellent book, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America 1718-1775, states the Britannia sailed from Belfast to Charleston in 1767, but sites the Revill book as its source.

Agents for the port of Newry were located in Belfast, and agents for Belfast were located in Newry, according to Dickson’s book. The overwhelming majority of Fortunes have been concentrated in Wexford County, Ireland since the 1600s, and the majority of Fortunes in Wexford since have been of the Roman Catholic faith.

Evidence contained in an 1815 letter written by William Fortune to his son, Joseph Fortune, proves he had relatives in Wexford. Whether they were Fortunes or members of his mother’s family is unknown, but I believe he was referring to his father’s family.

Revill’s book states the passengers aboard the Britannia were Protestant, but no proof has been found to determine the Fortune family’s religious denomination once they arrived in South Carolina. (It is likely the Fortunes were Protestant. Immigration to the Carolina’s exploded with the promise of free land to Protestants via the Bounty Act of 1761.)

Another letter written by William Fortune to his son Joseph in 1821 refers to an uncle, Owen Fortune, “the brother of my father, John Fortune”, and at least three of Owen’s children: Richard, John and an unnamed daughter who married and was living in London, England in 1821. At the time, Richard was visiting his sister and was enlisted with the 18th Hussars in France. His rank is not known. Richard’s brother John is also mentioned as being a soldier, but his company and rank are not given. This is as much as is currently known of Owen Fortune and his children.

The belief that Anne Fortune’s maiden name was possibly Fitzhenry also stems from a letter purportedly written by Enoch Fitzhenry to William Fortune. Enoch Fitzhenry allegedly wrote to William Fortune, in which he referred to William in the letter as a cousin. There is recorded evidence Enoch Fitzhenry was in New York during the early 1800s, but no connection to him or his descendants has been proven.

There is no evidence the Fortunes arrived in South Carolina as indentured servants. Written evidence proves they were literate. They also paid for the surveys of their bounty land very shortly after their arrival in Fairfield District. There is a seven month period between their arrival and the issuance of their grants in which the family’s whereabouts are undocumented, and it is assumed they spent the time traveling from Charleston to Fairfield District, possibly stopping from time to time to work and earn enough money to continue.

The Bounty Land

John Fortune, Sr. was granted 100 acres in Craven County on the head of Jackson’s Creek on March 2, 1768, which I believe is the same 100 acres surveyed for John Fortune, Jr. on October 1, 1767.

John Fortune, Sr. was granted 350 acres in Craven County on the head of Jackson’s Creek on March 8, 1768, being the 100 acres surveyed for John Fortune, Jr. who apparently died before the grant was finalized.

Mary Fortune was granted 100 acres in Craven County on the head of Jackson’s Creek on March 8, 1768, bounded on the Northwest by land laid out to her brother, William Fortune.

William Fortune was granted 100 acres in Craven County on the head of Jackson’s Creek on April 6, 1768.

The record shows that Richard Winn purchased William Fortune’s 100 acre grant from William and his wife, Mary on November 26, 1771. This 100 acre tract is the site upon which Winn would later establish the Town of Winnsborough.

John Fortune, Sr. died in Fairfield District in November, 1776. He is buried on the 350 acre plantation granted to him in 1768, although the exact location of his grave is unknown. Although several sources report that his Will is of record in the Office of the Probate Judge for Kershaw County, it is not. The estate file there contains a transcribed affidavit from his daughter Mary Fortune McCreary who testified in an 1815 civil action in Richland District that her father died in 1776 and that he had made a Will, which was in her possession for some years after his death. She testified the Will directed the bounty lands in his name be sold by her mother, Anne.

Robert McCreary and wife Mary Fortune McCreary conveyed Mary’s 100 acre grant to Joseph Owen on February 8, 1778.

Anne Fortune died in 1783 while living on Thorntree Creek near Camden, probably with the family of her daughter, Jane Fortune Robinson, wife of Judge Walter Robinson. Her Last Will and Testament is of record in Kershaw County in Will Book A1, page 157. In it, she states her husband’s Will was destroyed by their son, William Fortune and devises the 350 acre tract owned by her husband to her Executors, Walter Robinson and Thomas Mews. She contracted to sell the 350 acres under Bond for Title to John Milling in shortly thereafter, although the exact date is not revealed of record.

William Fortune fled South Carolina for England in 1783. By 1802, he was living in Hawkesbury, Canada. On February 8, 1802, claiming by right of primogeniture, as the oldest son, sold his father’s 350 acre tract and the 100 acre tract surveyed for John Fortune, Jr., to John Woodward, Sr., James Barkley and James Barber.

On May 10, 1813, in Columbia (Richland) District-Sarah Milling filed suit for partition against John Woodward, Sr., James Barber and James Barker to recover the land sold to them by William Fortune in 1802. The land was eventually ordered to be divided into lots and sold in Winnsborough at public auction on the first Monday in August, 1818. It is not known who purchased the property at the sale.

The suit was over the 350 acre tract only, and it appears Woodward, Barber and Barker retained possession of the 100 acre tract originally surveyed for John Fortune, Jr.

The Town of Winnsborough was later established on much of the 650 acres granted to the Fortune family, particularly the 100 acres granted to William Fortune.

Life of William Fortune

William Fortune was born December 30, 1748. He married Mary (last name unknown), probably Brown, in Fairfield District. At least two of his children, William Jr. and Joseph, said to be Cornwallis Joseph, were born there as well. William and Mary had six children. In addition to William and Joseph, they were: Thomas Patrick, Rawdon, Eliza and Louisa. Joseph, Eliza and Louisa all lived in Canada. Eliza married a Hoople. Letters written from William to his son, Joseph between 1817 and 1821 consistently state that Joseph was his only son, so the other boys must have died young.

Much of William Fortune’s life is revealed in the many letters he wrote to his son Joseph. He was a land surveyor and a soldier. Pay vouchers and affidavits from several Loyalist officers, including Lord Rawdon, Earl Cornwallis, Maj. Thomas Fraser, Col. Alexander Stuart and other officers and enlisted men in the Volunteers of Ireland prove he was a Loyalist for most of the War. He petitioned the Canadian government from Charleston and from Point Fortune for bounty lands, eventually amassing several thousand acres. There is also evidence William and his brother, Richard, served the American cause as members of Col. Thomas Taylor’s regiment, from which they deserted prior to 1783. Their names, along with brother-in-law John McWatty, appear on a list of 38 deserters from Col. Taylor’s regiment. William’s property was confiscated and he left South Carolina around 1783 for England. His numerous petitions for bounty lands in Canada state he was involved in the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill in 1781, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs, as well as the evacuation of Charleston.

William Fortune’s letters paint a portrait of a greedy, self-absorbed man who appeared to suffer from grandiose fantasies. To say that he was enamored of Lord Rawdon is an understatement. He claimed a close connection to him and several high ranking or titled men in England. He was a scoundrel and led a colorful life, and according to his letters, was estranged from his daughters for many years.

It is fact that he spent months incarcerated in debtor’s prison in Gloucester Castle, London, England between 1815 and 1817. It is also fact that he mostly lived apart from his family between 1789 and 1821. His letters during those years are franked from London, Bristol, Bath and Brighton. He relates in one that he was rescued from Gloucester Castle by a woman who paid him 15 lbs. sterling in exchange for the promise of marriage, although he never married her. He died after 1821 and is said to be buried at Point Fortune, Canada. (We now believe he is buried at Hurstpierpoint, England. Please refer to William Fortune -The National Archives, Kew.)

Thank you to Lynda and family for their years of research!
If you would like more information on the Fortune family, please contact us.

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