The Life of Robert Mills

Robert and His Family

The earliest record that indicates the makeup of his family was found in the 1749 List of Tithables (persons old enough to be taxed) prepared by Rev. Green, pastor of Truro Parish. This tax list is important because it tells us four things:

  1. Robert probably owned the land, as he was the person responsible for paying taxes.
  2. Three males were shown as tithable (between the ages of 16 and 21). Males of this age indicate they are Robert’s sons.
  3. The three sons were born between 1728 and 1733 (1749 minus 21 and 16) to be at least 16 and not more than 21 years of age in 1749.
  4. Approximate date of birth of Robert Mills was 1695-1704.

Robert Mills’s date of birth was calculated as follows: Presuming he was 25, the average age when men married and started a family, Robert would have been 45 (born 1704) when the List of Tithables was created in 1749. This calculation works if the oldest son on the list was 20 years of age, and Robert and Ann Mills did not have any older children who were no longer in the household.

The Vestry record of 1763 showing Robert Mills receiving aid because he was elderly leads us to believe Robert Mills was born much earlier. Specifically, if he was 45 years old in 1749, he would only be 59 years old in 1763 – not exactly elderly, even in colonial times. There was no mention of Robert Mills in any later records, which means he probably died shortly after 1763. He was most likely was born about 1690-1695, which would mean he was between 68 and 73 when he received aid as being elderly.

William, Robert Jr.., and Ann were most likely the youngest children of Robert and Ann Mills. We know from the list of tithables there were three sons in the household in 1749. Robert had to sign the lease because William and Robert, Jr., were under age 21, the legal age for signing documents. At least one, and possibly two, of the three sons would have been over 21 and no longer living at home in 1753. We searched for other Mills persons who could have been older sons of Robert and Ann Mills.

There were three men in Fairfax County records in 1749 who could be the older son or sons of Robert and Ann Mills:

  1. John Mills who died prior to February 24, 1784, the date of his estate inventory. There was a sale of personal property on March 20, 1784; and accounts and list of debts were filed on February 22, 1785.8 Earlier, on November 15, 1775 he bought the ½ acre lot he had been living on near the town of Colchester.9 On July 7, 1775 he also bought 11 acres of land between Ox Road and Alexandria Road.10 This property contained a dwelling house and store, kitchen and salt house.
  2. Daniel Mills, born about 1730 and died about 1800, appeared on the Truro parish 1749 List of Tithables11 without any other information. This indicates he was over the age of 21, but he did not have anyone over age 16 in his household. Daniel Mills died without a will, leaving his property on the Occoquan River to be divided among his sons, Daniel, Robert, Roger, Edward, Peter, William and John.12 We did not find a deed to tell us how Daniel Mills came about owning that property.
  3. James Mills (wife was Mary Awberry Mills) of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, was executor of the estate of her father, John Awberry of Fairfax County, deceased February 15, 1743. James and Mary Mills sold the property her father inherited from his father, Francis Awberry in Cameron Parish, Fairfax County in 1757.13

To summarize, we concluded that Robert and Ann Mills were the parents of William Mills based on the following:

  • The 1753 lease between Gerard Alexander and Robert Mills names William as the son of Robert Mills.
  • Robert Mills’s birth year (1695) as calculated from the 1749 List of Tithables, shows him to be the correct age for him to be William’s father.
  • Robert Mills had three sons (born 1728-1733) in his household on the 1749 List of Tithables. William Mills, born 1737/8, could have been younger than 16, the age when sons were listed as tithable. William Mills died 23 January 1815 at the home of William Nelson Mills. His age was reported as 77 at the time of his death (born 1737/8).14
  • The land Robert Mills leased was close to Alexandria, the location of the “small plantation” as told in the family legend.

Robert and Ann Mills had at least three children, named in the lease, and most likely had older children whose names we did not discover. Persons who could be their older sons were mentioned in records of the area during times their children would have been born. We have included those names, in the event additional information is found to prove a relationship. If Robert and Ann Mills’s older children were daughters, there are no records of marriages that could reveal their names and who they married.

Robert Mills, Planter

Tawny leaves on tall stalks stood basking in the sun of another Virginia autumn day. Soon, Robert thought, he and his sons would gather in this unusually prodigious crop. This year, he would have enough excess pounds of tobacco to purchase that acreage off of Ox Road, close to where his kinfolk lived. He planned to have one of his older children raise a family there someday. Later this winter, he would speak to Mr. Gerard Alexander about leasing some of his land that lay close to the markets and the new grammar school at Belle Haven. He would make sure terms of the lease would allow his three youngest children to live there for their natural lives. After years of hard work, Robert fi nally felt at ease, knowing his family’s future would be secure.

Robert Mills worked his land by himself or with hired hands until his own sons were old enough to help. His relatives either owned or leased farms within a modest distance of his own. He would join his relatives and neighbors when tobacco seedlings had to be transplanted, mature plants harvested, hung in barns to cure, loaded for transport to the tobacco warehouses for inspection, sale, etc. He would be repaid in kind when it was time for his own crops to be tended. Robert and his family prospered along with his neighbors as the demand for tobacco and domestic farm products increased.

In addition to raising tobacco and corn, Robert grew wheat, vegetables and other grains that were popular at the seaport market. Part of his land was cultivated in feed for his animals, vegetables and fruits for his own family. He would have had the usual farm animals – cows, sheep and pigs were brought in on the ships with the settlers. Many farmers established apple and peach orchards for the ever-popular apple jack and peach brandy. Fairfax County farmers supplied the Belle Haven markets with dairy and produce from the earliest days. The Virginians’ particular way of salt curing hams to preserve the meat for the long trip across the Atlantic also gave them a robustly, delicious f avor that quickly became a favorite delicacy in England.

Robert would have been part of the team of neighbors who worked together at slaughtering time to prepare the hams that were ultimately loaded aboard ships for the journey to European dinner tables. From necessity, Robert had working knowledge of several trades. In any given day he was a lumberjack, carpenter, butcher, barrel maker, blacksmith, or whatever was required to maintain his livelihood.

The 1753 lease between Robert and Gerard Alexander begs the question, why did Robert lease the land for his children and not for himself? The 200 acres was in an excellent location, because it was close to the southwestern edge of the new city of Alexandria where it was only a short distance to haul crops from plantation to market. Robert most likely had more than one parcel of land. He could have given his primary parcel of land to the eldest son as was the custom, which would have left his younger two sons and daughter without land and a means of support. Was Robert unable to continue farming? Did he and his wife live on the leased 200 acre parcel with their youngest children? Was the lease a legal way to transfer an existing “lease for life” contract with the Alexander family from father to sons?