The promise of land ownership for the cost of sweat to clear and plant it drove eager settlers from the initial colony at Jamestown inland in all directions. Land grants that started as a few acres, enough to sustain one family, gradually increased to fifty acres and more. Shares of tobacco and corn grown on the allotted land were collected as taxes for the privilege of ownership. These early Virginia settlers moved into lands already occupied by indigenous Americans that had wellestablished villages on both sides of the Potomac River when Captain John Smith explored and mapped the region in 1608. Unlike their Piscataway neighbors on the Maryland shore who lived peaceably with the Europeans, the Moyumpse tribe repeatedly fought off attempts to settle along the Virginia side. When years of friction escalated into war in 1675, the Moyumpse sided with the fierce Susquehannocks of Anne Arundel County in Maryland. The Moyumpse left Virginia and retreated with the Susquehannocks when they were driven from the Maryland side of the Potomac.
Settlers were quick to take over cultivated areas that had been abandoned by the Indians. For the next fi fteen years, remnants of these two tribes roamed through Virginia’s Piedmont region and Southern Maryland, raiding frontier settlements and terrorizing both Indians and Europeans in Virginia’s interior. The sporadic conflicts and raids were not resolved until the 1690s. Robert Mills was born in this time of expansion and settlement of the region that was to become known as Fairfax County.
Fairfax County, Home of Robert Mills
In 1649, King Charles II gave all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers to seven of his loyal supporters as proprietary. Lord Culpeper was one of those loyal seven. His portion was a vast region of 5,282,000 acres in Virginia’s Northern Neck. His grandson, Thomas, 6th Lord of Fairfax, inherited the proprietary. Prior to 1653, the vast area of Fairfax County was in Northumberland County; then, it became part of Westmoreland County. It was divided to create Stafford County in 1664, and again in 1731 when Prince William County was formed.
In 1742, the powerful Fairfax family was successful in establishing the county from the northern portion of Prince William County, and named it “ Fairfax County.” The county included all the area south and west of the Potomac River, north of the Occoquan River and Bull Run, and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The original Fairfax County courthouse was relocated from its site near Alexandria to Providence, a city in the central part of Fairfax County. Providence was then renamed, “Fairfax.”
Everyone living in the colonies was involved in the tobacco raising industry in some way. Tobacco warehouses sprung up along the Potomac River in Fairfax County in an area where the water was deep enough for large vessels to dock close to shore. This site made it easy to load tobacco and other farm products for export, and to unload supplies needed to sustain the plantations. A small town started to flourish at this unofficial port that was known as Belle Haven. In 1749, John Alexander donated sixty square acres to establish an official city and port at Belle Haven. The city was later renamed Alexandria in his honor.
Origins of Robert Mills
It is not certain when Robert Mills came to Fairfax County, or whether he was an adult when he arrived there. He may have come with his parents as a young boy from another colony in Virginia, or from across the Potomac River in Maryland – a trip of only nine miles by boat or ferry. Perhaps, his parents had already established themselves in Fairfax County before he was born. He could have been one of thousands of people who were lured to the colonies from abroad by the prospect of “free” land. By the time he appeared in records of the time, there were several Mills families living in St. Mary’s County, Maryland; and, in Fairfax and Prince William Counties in Virginia. He is most likely related to some, if not all of these Mills families.
The origins and parentage of Robert Mills may never be discovered; however, there were two other men in the area at the time who could have been his brothers or cousins. Records of activities regarding Robert Mills, Alexander Mills and William Mills men showed they were apparently born within a few years of each other.
- Robert Mills lived until at least 1763 when his name appears in the Vestry (governmental body of the Church of England/Episcopal Church) records of Truro Parish as receiving aid on October 25, 1762 because he was “aged and decrepit.”
- Alexander Mills died in 1767 in Fairfax County.
- William Mills bought 100 acres in Prince William County on August 29, 1758; and gifted it to his son, John on November 4, 1783.
Information in the documents tells us all three men were planters, and their property was in the same geographic region. Also, all three men used the same given names for their own children; specifically, William, John, Robert, George, Alexander, and Ann. In each family, these names appear almost without exception. This could be more than coincidence, considering children were named after their grandparents, parents, uncles, and aunts in keeping with traditional naming patterns in the 1700s and 1800s.
The Search for Robert Mills, Our Ancestor
There was no official record that stated Robert Mills 1695-1763 c. was the father of William Mills 1737/8- 1815, who was the father of William Nelson Mills 1783-1852. The Bible of Rev. William Robert Mills (1816-1869), a Methodist minister, gave us the one name that led to the identity of Robert Mills. In his perfect penmanship, Rev. Mills had written two lines in his Bible that led to a breakthrough in discovering the identity of Robert Mills.
“ William Nelson Mills, Son of William Mills and
Charity his wife, was born on the 13th of March 1783==”
We were extremely fortunate that Rev. William Robert Mills was a good record-keeper, because the next document he penned listed the names of William Mills’s children, which led to the discovery of Robert Mills’s name, and that of his wife and children:
“The inclosed [sic] Parchment gives the evidence of linage descent of the mother of William Nelson Mills, and his late brother, Robert Alexander Mills, and sisters, Nessey M. Violett and Nancy Mills – dated at the city of Elgin, Scotland, on the third day of June, in the year one thousand, six hundred and ninty [sic] eight (1698) – who emigrated about that time to North America, and settled in Charles County, near to Matteoram Creek, in the then province of Maryland.”
Now that we knew William Mills’s name, the name of his wife and his children, we were able analyze the family unit as a whole. Our search for the father of William Mills started with William, because there were no official records about Robert Mills’s marriage, death, or his will that would contain this information. Consequently, we had to find all the documents that survived over the years that mentioned or were about William Mills, and analyze those records. We also considered naming patterns of children in the late 1700s and early 1800s – the first son was named after the father’s father; second son named after the mother’s father; third son named after the father. The same pattern was used for daughters: first daughter named after the mother’s mother, second daughter named after the father’s mother, and so on. Applying the naming pattern to the William and Charity Warden Mills family, we found the following:
- Robert Alexander Mills was the first son, as he was listed first in Rev. Mills’s note. His grandfather’s name would have been “Robert,” in keeping with the naming pattern. Therefore, William Mills’s father’s name should be Robert Mills.
- William Nelson Mills was listed next; however, if the naming pattern was followed, he would be the third son, named after his father, William Mills. Most likely, there was a second son born between Robert Alexander and William Nelson who did not survive. This second son would have been named “Richard” after his mother’s ( Charity Warden Mills) father.
- Nessey M. Violett was the first daughter, named after her mother’s mother, Agness (nee unknown) Warden. “Nessey” is a nickname for Agness. The “M.” probably stands for Mills. Agness Mills married Whaley Violett of Fairfax County about 1790.
- Nancy Mills was the second daughter, named after her father’s mother, Ann (nee unknown) Mills. Nancy is a nickname for Ann.
Based on the finding of the records analyzed and the general use of naming patterns, it was determined that Robert Mills and his wife, Ann, were the parents of William Mills; e.g., William’s father’s name was Robert Mills, and his mother’s name was Ann. Likewise, Charity’s father’s name was Richard, and her mother’s name was Agness. Next, we found all the documents that mentioned or were about Robert Mills and analyzed them.
The following document gave us the name of Robert’s wife, Ann, and the names of three of at least four children we know they had: On 1 January 1753, Robert leased 200 acres from Gerard Alexander in Fairfax County for the “natural lives of William, Robert, Jr., and, Ann, the sons and daughter of said Robert Mills and Ann, his wife.”