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The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia

Controversies in Lanham Genealogy

By Dr. Howard G. Lanham

Topic One:

Who was the father of Edward Lanham, who died 1766 in Prince George’s Co., Maryland?


Dr. William Joseph Lanham of Seneca, South Carolina wrote an article titled “The Lanham Family’s Seventeenth-Century Origin from Maryland’s Eastern Shore” that appeared in the Spring 1986 Maryland Historical Magazine. In the article Dr. Lanham made a claim that Edward Lanham, who died in 1766 in Prince George’s Co., Maryland was the son of Josias Lanham of Kent Co., Maryland. This claim was been widely accepted as true by many genealogists.

However, there is a major problem with the claim. Dr. W. J. Lanham did not indicate a source or reference for the claim. His article merely states, “Edward Lanham, son of Josias and Barbara Ringgold, migrated from the Eastern Shore on the early 1700s and settled in Prince George’s County, Maryland.” Dr. Lanham’s article does contain 18 endnotes, but this statement, which might be called the center piece of the article, goes unreferenced and unexplained. I did write to Dr. Lanham following the appearance of the article and asked his source. He was kind enough to reply but did not provide an answer to my question in his letter.

Several explorations into early Lanham genealogy predate Dr. Lanham’s article. All of these are incomplete and exist in manuscript form. I think most genealogists would agree that the most knowledgeable person regarding Lanham genealogy was Colonel Paul Trueman Lanham (1919-2006) of Lanham, Maryland. Paul never chose to publish. In part I believe that he recognized that there are still too many unanswered questions and loose ends. In fairness to W. J. Lanham, I should mention that Paul accepted the claim from W. J. Lanham’s article, but he did not have any data to support or refute it. There is a manuscript lineage chart prepared by professional genealogist Frederick Dohrman that outlines the first several generations of Lanhams and places Edward as a son of John Lanham of Prince Georges Co.(1) This chart was the result of research for a client at the Maryland Archives and like most charts it is unreferenced. Most of its data I have independently corroborated. However, it is not known what logic Dohrman followed to place Edward as a son of John. There is also a compilation of Lanham records in manuscript form titled “Early Maryland Records of the Lanham Family” by Lillian Prewitt Goodknight (1965). Mrs. Goodknight was aware of the existence of Josias Lanham of Kent County, John Lanham of Prince George’s and Edward Lanham. She did not include any kind of statement as to the parentage of Edward. My point is that prior to 1986 no one suspected that Edward might be Josias’ son or at least if they did it never got into print. I believe most of us assumed without any real genealogical proof that all the Lanhams in Prince George’s descended from the immigrant John Lanham, who originally settled in the Prince George’s County area.

What is genealogical proof? This question is not trivial. Organizations that required members to document lineages, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, have standards to prove these lineages. It is generally acknowledged that no record can be considered absolutely true and beyond any possible doubt. As Noel C. Stevenson states, “It is impossible to “prove” ancestry to absolute certainty.” (2) However, what we do want are written records that establish likely truth. If a will, deed, family bible record states that one person is the son of another that is good evidence. The problem with most lineage charts is that they do not allow for documentation or a discussion of doubt that might exist about relationships. In the end it is up to each individual genealogist to decide that is proven and what is not. Relationships mentioned in primary source period documents can be given more credence than unreferenced statements written hundreds of years after the fact.

It is likely that Edward Lanham descended from one of two immigrants, Josias of Kent Co. or John Lanham of Prince George’s Co, Maryland. These two men appear in multiple early Maryland records, were married and had issue. To date we have not identified other Lanhams who established families at the time Edward Lanham would have been born (about 1700).

Josias Lanham is first mentioned as having been transported to the colonies in 1668. (3) In 1681 the names Josias and Barbara Lanham (his wife) appear as witnesses to an agreement by Samuel Povy to pay a sum to James Ringgold. (4) In 1686 Barbara is mentioned in her father’s will as “Barbara Lanham.” (5) Josias Lanham died intestate, but estate records exist for him from the year 1694-5. (6) James Ringgold, his father-in-law, was a large landowner and Barbara received a considerable inheritance. The 1695 estate records establish that Barbara Ringgold Lanham remarried Edward Blay. (7)

A second Josias Lanham appears in Kent County Records. On June 26, 1694 Thomas Ringgold, stating that he was the nearest of kin to the orphans, Josias and Barbary (Barbara) Lanham, orphans of the late Josias and Barbary Lanham, deceased, requested the court to order that Edward Blay surrender the estate of Josias and Barbary Lanham. (8) It appears that Barbara Ringgold Lanham died prior to this date and Blay maintained control of his stepchildren and their estate. Might there have been other children who were not minors? Certainly, in 1694 there would have been only these two minor children. If there was an older brother who was of age would Thomas Ringgold have been in a position to say he was the nearest of kin to the orphans?

This second Josias Lanham also died intestate in 1728 leaving a widow named Susanna. (9) The younger Josias Lanham may not have had surviving male children. The evidence pointing to this conclusion is a warrant dated March 27, 1735. This warrant was issued to resurvey and settle boundary issues having to do with a large tract of land named “Huntingfield” in Kent County Maryland. (10) This land had been subdivided among various Ringgold heirs. Among them are Susannah Lanham, an orphan represented by her guardian Robert Lusby and Barbara Lanham, wife of James Smith. It is also mentioned that Susannah and Barbara were daughters and co-heirs of Josias Lanham, son of Barbara Ringgold. Once again there is no known listing of all his heirs. Aside from the two daughters mentioned in the 1735 warrant no other Lanham is mentioned as an heir. The ever astute Lillian Prewitt Goodknight having read the extensive 1728 inventory of Josias Lanham’s estate made this observation, “A study of the inventory seems to indicate that James (sic) Lanham [she intended to say Josias whom she was discussing] had only females in his family.” She follows with a discussion of the various items in the inventory which points to her interpretation. (11) I agree with her. Susannah Lanham was a minor in 1735 and had as a guardian an individual named Lusby not Lanham. The various persons signing as witnesses to the estate documents were Ringgold’s not Lanhams and its does not appear that any male Lanham was a party to the land received from Barbara Lanham’s sizable inheritance with one possible exception that I will discuss. However, I feel fairly certain that Josias Lanham, son of Josias, did not leave any male heirs.

That leaves us with the question whether or not the older Josias Lanham had male heirs other than the younger Josias. That issue is still unsettled. I can say that the name Edward Lanham does not appear in any estate records or in the land records of Kent County, Maryland under any of the common spelling variations of the Lanham name. In fact, there are no Lanham deeds appearing in the index for Kent County during the years in question. Since wealth in these days was principally in land and any son of Barbara Lanham must have received some from her estate and one would think that land would need to be disposed of prior to migrating out of Kent County. The record is clear no such deed exists in the recorded deeds of Kent County.

Other than records of the two Josias Lanhams, I can find only one other mention of a male Lanham. This record is intriguing and does not fit with my theory that the Kent County male line became extinct with the death of the younger Josias Lanham about 1728. The colony of Maryland was a proprietary colony. That basically means that it was a franchise given to the Calvert family (Lord Baltimore) by the English crown. To collect revenue from the venture certain fees were collected from property owners within the colony. These fees were recorded in books called Rent Rolls and Debt Books. Unfortunately, most of these records have been lost. It is also clear that those responsible for keeping these records often recopied prior lists rather than putting their “boots on the ground” and assuring the records were up to date and current. The name James Lanham appears as holding parts of “Hunting Field” and Ringgold’s Chance” in the years 1735-1742. This is part of the same large tract mentioned in the 1735 Warrant and was originally part of a 1200 acre tract patented by Thomas Ringgold in 1659. Other than this source the name James Lanham is unknown in period Maryland records and no other individual named Lanham appears to be living in Kent County during the colonial period. My theory, which I freely admit is very shaky, is that this is a copy error and should have read “heirs of Josias Lanham.” Even if there truly was a James Lanham, it does not have any bearing on the question of Edward Lanham’s parentage. Additional research may provide a clear answer.

In the final analysis the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is a possibility that William Joseph Lanham was correct and that he had some hard evidence known only to himself that Edward Lanham was Josias Lanham’s son. Dr. Lanham was an educated man holding a Ph. D. and certainly was familiar with documenting sources of information. Why did he fail to do so in this instance? Unfortunately he is now deceased and we will never be able to answer the question. I have spent hours at the Maryland Archives trying to find a record that might have been his source or at least provide evidence for his conclusion. To date I have failed to find it and am not aware of any other researcher who has.

The second possibility is that Edward Lanham may have been a son of John Lanham. John Lanham was born about 1660. (12) He immigrated in 1678. (13) By 1694 when he patented the tract “Oxmontown” he was living in what was then Charles County. (14) This area became Prince George’s County with the division of Charles and establishment of Prince George’s in 1695. John Lanham is mentioned multiple times in Charles and Prince George’s records and last appears in a deed dated January 19, 1744. (15) In the deed he gives part of “Oxmontown” to Richard Lanham out of love and affection for his son. At the same time he reserved 45 acres for son William Lanham. The document is signed with a mark characteristic of John Lanham, the immigrant. There is no mention of a living wife giving up dower rights.

John Lanham's Mark

Characteristic Mark of John Lanham, the Immigrant

John died intestate and there is no period record giving a comprehensive list of his children. However, there are several records that establish who some of them were. In the year 1697 John Lanham appeared before the Prince George’s County Court to record his cattle and hog mark. In these days animals were grazed on open land and it was important to mark them. With John were three individuals named as his sons: John, Richard, and Thomas. (16) One can assume that John Lanham had additional sons born after this appearance before the Prince George’s County Court. Edward and Ralph Lanham were of an age they might have been his sons, but no documents establish just who their father was. Both Edward and Ralph are mentioned in records alongside of known sons of John Lanham. (17)

Edward Lanham first appears in the record with the baptism of his son John, born December 30, 1722. (18) He patented the tract “Lannum’s Delight” along with William Lanham. (19) William Lanham was born about 1699. (20) He married Alice Tolburt on January 15, 1720. (21) William is mentioned as a son of John Lanham in that 1744 deed. (22) It is quite possible that William and Edward were brothers and both children of John, but one cannot rule out the possibility that they were cousins and Edward a son of Josias of Kent. They are not only associated in land records, but also records of their children's births are admixed in the church records mentioned below (see comment under note 18).

The final much ignored record that has a bearing on this question is the 1751 estate records of a John Lannum (Lanham) appearing among the records of Charles Co., Maryland, which borders Prince George’s County. (23) It is a problem that John Lanham lived so long and that he was named John, the most common given name in English in the 17th Century. This creates a situation in which it is possible to confuse the original John Lanham with several generations of descendants who might also be named John. It is probable that almost every Lanham family had its John.

We know that John Lanham, the immigrant was living in 1744 when his deed was recorded. This is the last clearly identifiable mention of him. He had been transferring various tracts of land to his sons and likely because of his advanced age was unable to work and manage them himself and wished to settle his sons with viable plantations. Also notable in this 1744 document is that no wife surrenders her dower rights to the land. This suggests John’s wife, Dorothy died prior to the execution of the deed and that John was a widower.

The 1744 deed might be the end of the line and last document mentioning John except for these Charles Co., Maryland estate records. The Charles County records mention an Elizabeth Lanham as the administratrix. Usually, it would be a widow serving in that capacity. I am aware of no other period records mentioning a John with wife Elizabeth. Since we have evidence that John was a widower in 1744 it is possible that he took another wife in his old age. Other names appearing on the inventory of the estate are Edward (hisXmark) Lanham-son, Zach Lanham-creditor and Jonas Lanham-kin.

This raises the question if the John of this document is John, the immigrant. There are no estate records for John Lanham in Prince George’s County were most of his records appear. The Piscataway area of Prince George’s Co. were most of the Lanham were concentrated is near Charles County, so it is no surprise that the occasional Lanham appears in Charles. Is the Edward Lanham mentioned in this document the same Edward Lanham that W. J. Lanham claimed as a son of Josias? At this point in time I have not accounted for any other Edward Lanham, who was son of a John Lanham. Zach Lanham may be Zachariah Lanham, who was the son of Ralph Lanham. (24) This may be evidence that Ralph was John’s son and Zachariah his grandson but the inventory only mentions Zach as a creditor. The name Jonas Lanham does not appear elsewhere, but it is possible that this is a misreading of “Josias” when the document was recorded. Edward Lanham did have a son Josias, who was born in 1728. (25) If Edward was present it is possible that he was accompanied by his son, Josias.

The weakness of this document is that it lacks any irrefutable marker that this John Lanham is the same John Lanham who lived for so many years in Prince George’s Co. However, it could be that this is some other John Lanham who happened to have a son named Edward. On the other hand we know that John Lanham was still living in 1744 and does not have any estate records in Prince George’s Co., Maryland. It is not too much of a stretch to have him remarry and set up a household in Charles during his last years? If so, here is a clear statement that Edward Lanham was the son of John. We only need more certainty that this is the same John and the same Edward.

I am a skeptical person. I do not have an emotional stake in another researcher's act of accepting or rejecting my own interpretations of the evidence. It is a free country and you can decide what you accept or reject in the way of your own lineage. What I do not like to see is the blind acceptance of genealogical relationships without consideration of their original sources (or lack of them). If Edward Lanham was the son of Josias Lanham of Kent Co., Maryland where is the genealogical documentation and proof?

End Notes:

  1. Manuscript Lanham Family Genealogical Chart Prepared by Frederick Dohrman, copied by Maurine Harrison from original of Marguerite Kirschman 1963.
  2. Stevenson, Noel C. “The Rules of Evidence: A Standard for Proving Pedigrees” Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources (Washington, DC: The American Society of Genealogists, 1980).
  3. Head Right Claim of Samuel Withers, Maryland Patents Anne Arundel Co. Liber: 18 Folio: 71.
  4. Testamentary Proceedings, Liber: 13 Folio: 81
  5. Will of James Ringgold Kent Co., Maryland, Liber: 4 Folio: 232, Made May 18, 1668 Probated September 28, 1668.
  6. Kent County Accounts, Box 1 Folder 14
  7. Inventories and Accounts of Prerogative Court July 16, 1695 Barbara Blay, wife of Edward Blay, administratix of Josias Lanham.
  8. Kent Co., Maryland Court Proceedings June 6, 1694
  9. Kent Co., Maryland Inventories Liber: 6 Folio: 59 and Liber: 7 Folio: 73, 1728.
  10. Land Office Warrants EE:500 March 27, 1735
  11. Goodknight, Lillian Prewitt, Early Maryland Records of the Lanham Family 1965 (MS Maryland Historical Society), page 4.
  12. Land Records of Prince George’s Co. Liber: I Folio: 647 Deposition of John Lanham June 8, 1725 stating his age as 65. Most researchers believe that this John Lanham is the same that was baptized in Wortham, England on May 18, 1661. (Based on research by Richard Fremon using an English Records Agent).
  13. Head Right Claim of Benjamin Rorer, Maryland Patents Anne Arundel Co. Liber: 16 Folio: 71.
  14. Patent 438 Charles Co., Maryland Liber BB3 Folio 168.
  15. Prince George’s Co. Land Records, Liber BB1 Folio 231 Made January 19, 1744 Recorded January 26, 1744.
  16. Joseph H. Smith and Philip A. Crowl, Court Records of Prince George’s County, Maryland 1696-1699 (Washington, DC The American Historical Association, 1964) {Note: I have looked at the original document and find it nearly impossible to read the handwriting.]
  17. For example, Thomas Lanham, Jr., grandson of John, appears as a creditor of Ralph’s and Edward appears as “nearest kin” on his estate inventory. Richard Lanham and John Lanham, III were guardians to Ralph’s children.
  18. Records of King George’s Parish (also known as St. John’s) Piscataway, Maryland, p.257. [Note: This record reads very oddly. It lists and mixes children of both William and Edward Lanham. I have never seen anything exactly like it before. A daughter Sarah is listed twice with the same birth date (May 9, 1735) first as a child of William and later of Edward. You need to wonder if the priest had been in his cups.]
  19. Prince George’s Co., Maryland Patent, Liber: P.L.6 Folio: 245.
  20. Prince George’s Co., Maryland Land Records Liber: TT Folio: 314 1764 Deposition of William Lanham age 65.
  21. Records of King George’s Parish (also known as St. John’s) Piscataway, Maryland, p. 257.
  22. Prince George’s Co. Land Records, Liber: BB1 Folio: 231 Made January 19, 1744 Recorded January 26, 1744.
  23. Charles Co., Maryland Inventories, John Lannum, Liber:48 Folio: 32 November 21, 1751.
  24. Prince George's Co., Maryland Guardian Bonds, p.135 (1744)
  25. Records of King George’s Parish (also known as St. John’s) Piscataway, Maryland, p.257.

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