The Curious Manner of Lazarus Tilly’s Will

A friend of mine asked me to look into the Tilly family of Rabun County, Georgia a few weeks ago. While doing so, I ran across the last will and testament of Lazarus Tilly, which was written November 30, 1839 and proven in court during the March Term, 1841, in Rabun County.1 In his will, Lazarus named his wife, Sarah, and children Alfred Tilly, Elizabeth Millender, Polly Calwell, Margaret Owens, Lewis Tilly, John Tilly, and Nancy Holcombe.

In and of itself the will does not seem strange, but further research into contemporary court records illuminates an oddity: two of the named children were deceased at the time Lazarus wrote his will.

Nancy Tilly married Joshua Holcomb on July 9, 1823 in Rabun Co., GA.2 In March 1830, “Lazrus Tilley” was appointed guardian of “John T. Halcom”, aged about eighteen months.3 After Lazarus’ death, Joshua was granted custody of both John and his brother, Thomas J. Holcomb.4 John, at least, appears to have lived with the Tillys from 1830 until about 1842. In the meantime, Joshua had remarried to Malinda Gooch, and had several children.5 By examining the birth dates of the children and the likely marriage date of Joshua and Malinda, it is possible to estimate the date of Nancy’s death as having occurred about 1827 or 1828.6

John McClure and Disa Tilly were granted letters of administration on July 7, 1834 for Lewis Tilly who died intestate.7 Thus far, the only Lewis Tilly known to have been in Rabun County from about 1820 to 1840 is this Lewis Tilly. Given that Lewis was born between 1790 and 1794, he is most likely the Lewis Tilly named as a child in Lazarus Tilly’s will.8

Why then did Lazarus in 1839 name two deceased children in his will rather than naming their heirs, as was more common? The reason may never be known, but this curiosity does reinforce the need for caution when searching for the whereabouts of the remaining children.

1. Wills, Inventories and Appraisements 1838 – 1859: 88-89; Probate Office, Clayton, Georgia.
2. Marriage 1820 – 50 Rabun County: 4; Probate Office, Clayton, Georgia. This book has been digitized and can be found online through Georgia Virtual Vault.
3. Minutes, 1826 – 1839, Rabun County: 22; Probate Office, Clayton, Georgia.
4. Wills, Inventories and Appraisements 1838 – 1859: 90, 133, 137; Probate Office, Clayton, Georgia.
5. Information on the further children of Joshua Holcomb is courtesy of Sandy Reid.
6. Barring a divorce or desertion, for which no evidence has been found to date.
7. Minutes, 1826 – 1839, Rabun County: 90; Probate Office, Clayton, Georgia.
8. The probable years of Lewis Tilly’s birth were found by comparing his age on the 1820 US Census, Haywood Co., NC (Lewes Tilley household, page 222, line 35) and the 1830 US Census, Rabun Co., GA (Lewis Tilly household, page 223, line 3). The connecting evidence that the men named in these two census records are indeed the same person is an 1829 deed found in Deed Book A, Macon Co., NC, in which Lewis Tilly “of Rabun Co., GA” sold land he “purchased [in] Oct. 1820 at [the] land sale in Waynesville”. (Source for deed information taken from page 23, Records of Old Macon County, N.C. 1829 – 1850 by Barbara Sears McRae, copyright 1991. Published by Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD.)

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