Sunday, October 4, 2015

Connecting the Signature Marks: Will the Correct John Hawkins Please Raise his hand?

After a visit to the Maryland State Archives this summer, I finally have captured a digital image of the central piece of evidence linking the John Hawkins who died in Abbeville District, SC in 1799 to his father in Maryland.  

Information passed down in the family indicates he was born in Maryland to a father named John Hawkins, birth year estimated as 1730 (see my discussion of Mary Pruitt Thompson’s family history in Who Was the Father of John Hawkins (d. 1799)?).  Thanks to the Hawkins Worldwide DNA project, we now have confirmation of his genetic affiliation with a specific Maryland family.  His descendants are grouped with others descending from the immigrant John Hawkins who signed his will in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1670.  Parish records document that only two of this immigrant’s great-grandsons named John were born close to 1730.  The February 14, 1736 birth of John Hawkins, son of John and Mary (Simkins) Hawkins, was registered in St. Thomas Parish Records, Baltimore County, MD[i].  The May 12, 1726 birth of a son named John Hawkins to John and Rebecca (Emson/Empson/Emison/Emerson) Hawkins was recorded in the St. George Parish Records, Baltimore County, MD[ii].  No subsequent mention of John Hawkins, born 1736, has been located in Maryland records.  His older 2nd cousin (born 1726), also named John Hawkins, appears in one later Maryland record.  It is that record that anchors him to his parents in Baltimore County and subsequently allows us to connect that son to the man who died in Abbeville District, SC.  

The documentary evidence quoted below was discussed by Edith Hawkins Griffin in her 2010 GenForum post, “JOHN HAWKINS OF ABBEVILLE, SC”.  I am amending her identification of the generations to reflect my reconstruction of this line of descent (in brief):

John Hawkins [1], immigrant Quaker, who died by 1677 (wife Mary)
John Hawkins [2], who inherited Great Bonnerston and Bolealmonack, died by 1733
John Hawkins [3], son of John Hawkins (2) and an unknown mother, died by July of 1751
John Hawkins [4], born 1726 to John and Rebecca (Emson) Hawkins
Quoting Edith’s GenForum post:

By the 22nd of July 1751, John [3] had died and his inventory was taken on this date. The inventory was signed by his wife Rebecca and his son John [4].  This gives us a signature by mark for John [4].

On 25th of March 1799, John [4] died in Abbeville.  His will was signed by his mark which is the same as his mark on his father’s inventory. This mark is different than the ordinary mark made by other Hawkins men. It has two marks one a vertical line crossed at the top, center, and bottom by a horizontal line and then an “H“. For some reason the first mark is used by people with the name John.[iii]

Personal signature marks were frequently employed by residents of Colonial Maryland, providing an expression of identity for those without literacy or bearing only rudimentary writing skills.  When the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society published abstracts of 17th and early 18th century land records, a draftsman was enlisted to accurately render the signature marks for publication exactly as they were copied into early records or as they appear on original documents[iv].  Another example of is found in the website of Historic St. Mary’s City in Calvert County, Maryland, which offers learning activities about 17th century life on a Maryland tobacco plantation intended for present day 4th & 5th grade students[v].  The curriculum materials include a list of examples of signature marks[vi].  As a point of information, the Historic St. Mary’s City website is worthy of exploration as it offers a wealth of information about Colonial Maryland. 

We are fortunate to be able to examine digital images of the actual signature mark, making the connection clear.  The images below reproduce the original documents, not a clerk’s recorded version thereof.   In the document on the left, John Hawkins (4) of Baltimore County, Maryland, great-grandson of the immigrant John Hawkins, made his mark in 1751.  On the right is the signature mark of John Hawkins (4) of Abbeville District, South Carolina, approving his Will in 1797.

As widow and son to the deceased, Rebecca (Em(p)son or Emerson) Hawkins and her son, John Hawkins, made their marks on this original document acknowledging approval of the appraisement of John Hawkins’ 1751 estate. [Baltimore County, Maryland, REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories, Original) 1676-1788, Date:  1749-1752;  MSA Collection C342-17;  MdHR Number: 8893-17-43/86;  Box 12, folder 79; Hawkins, John.  Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, MD 21401.  Photographed 2015 by K.R.L. Brauer.]

This close view of John Hawkins’ signature mark on his original 1797 Will is less steady than the 1751 version, but shows the same features.  This document was filed in Abbeville District, SC, during the 1799 probate of his estate.  ["South Carolina Probate Records, Files and Loose Papers, 1732-1964," images, FamilySearch( : accessed 2 October 2015), Abbeville > Probate Court, Probate records > 1782-1958 > Box 107, Packages 2794-2899 > image 271 of 283; county courthouses, South Carolina, and South Carolina Department of Archives and   History, Columbia.]

The stylized signature mark links the John Hawkins who signed his will in Abbeville District, SC to the parents John and Rebecca (Em(p)son) Hawkins of Baltimore County, MD and also clearly marks a difference from the John Hawkins who resided in Orange County, NC.   Use of even a stylized signature mark indicates that the individual was not fully literate.

Those able to express their identity by executing a cursive signature would have done so.   And in North Carolina land records we find precisely that cursive form when John Hawkins, Sheriff of Orange County, NC, signed a Deed in 1786 (it was not recorded until 1803).  Sheriff John Hawkins’ descendant, Robert N. Hawkins, shared a copy of this deed, which his ancestor signed with a full, cursive signature followed by a clerk’s rendering of “L.S.” in a circle.  These initials represent the Latin term Locus sigilli which means “place of the seal,” indicating that on the original document the signature was authenticated with a wax seal[vii].  Finding confirming evidence that John Hawkins of Orange County, NC was fully literate is to be expected for an 18th century man who held various public offices[viii]. It is also consistent with his presumptive father’s own practice, as demonstrated by the signature John Hawkins, then of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, upon his Last Will in 1790.  What is of interest here is that John Hawkins who died in 1786 in Orange County, NC, was literate, just as was his father.

John Hawkins, Sheriff, signed this Deed in August, 1786, just four months before his accidental death.  The Deed was recorded 17 years later.  [copy courtesy of Robert N. Hawkins; Orange County Deeds, 1800-1803, Volume 10, p. 203.  Photocopy of microfilmed record provided to Robert N. Hawkins by the North Carolina State Archives]

The Will of John Hawkins, resident of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, was signed June 20, 1790.  
"Maryland   Register of Wills Records, 1629-1999," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 September 2015), Anne Arundel > Wills 1788-1797 vol 36 > image 86 of 328; Hall of Records, Annapolis.

And so, comparison of the 1751 "hand" of John Hawkins of Baltimore co., MD with the 1799 "hand" of John Hawkins of Abbeville, SC confirms the identification of John Hawkins (b. 1726, Baltimore County, MD; d. 1799, Abbeville District, SC) as the son of John Hawkins and Rebecca (Em(p)son) Hawkins of Baltimore County, Maryland.  The difference in literacy between that John Hawkins and his 2nd cousin confirms that John Hawkins (b. 1736, Baltimore County, MD; d. 1786, Orange County, NC) is not the son of John Hawkins and Rebecca (Em(p)son) Hawkins of Baltimore County, MD.  By Y-DNA association and the inferential evidence above, he is most likely the son of John Hawkins and Mary (Simkins) Hawkins of Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties, Maryland.

K.R.L. Brauer
White Hat Descendant


[i] [No Author], St. Thomas Parish Baptisms:  Owings Mills, Maryland 1732-1995 (Westminster, MD:  Family Line Publications, 1996), p. 93.
[ii] Bill Reamy and Martha Reamy, St. George’s Parish Reigsters, 1689-1793 (Silver Spring, MD:  Family Line Publications, 1988), p. 
[iii] Edith Griffin, “JOHN HAWKINS OF ABBEVILLE, SC,” Hawkins Family Genealogy Forum, February 27, 2010 at 12:52:03.  (( : accessed 04 October 2015).
[iv] Historic St. Mary’s City, “Learning Activities:  Meet John Half-Head,” Historic St. Mary’s City, 2013 ( : accessed 04 October 2015).
[v] Historic St. Mary’s City, “Signature Marks, 1675-1677” Learning Activities:  Meet John Half-Head,” Historic St. Mary’s City, 2013 ( : accessed 04 October 2015).
[vi] Rosemary B. Dodd and Patricia M. Bausell, editors, Abstracts of Land Records:  Anne Arundel County, Maryland [multiple volumes] (Pasadena, MD:  The Anne Arundel Genealogical Society, 1991-).  I learned of the extra effort to accurately render the marks during a 2014 conversation with the Librarian of the Society’s Keuthe Library.
[vii] Wikipedia contributors, Seal (contract law), Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Last revision 19 August 2015. ( : accessed 04 October 2015)
[viii] Alma Cheek Redden, [compiler], “Abstracts of Minutes of the Inferior court of pleas and Quarter Sessions of Orange County 1777-1788” (1966), reproduced as linked webpage ( : accessed 04 October 2015) within Robert N. Hawkins, JOHN HAWKINS' FAMILY OF ORANGE, ROWAN, AND RANDOLPH COUNTIES, NORTH CAROLINA” ( :  accessed 04 October 2015).