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Torrence, Georgia Branch

by The Reverend Clayton Torrence

The first of the line of the Torrence family, of Georgia, was a certain John Torrence (1750-1827), who appears in middle Georgia in 1776, and whose record we shall presently consider in its entirety. So far we have not been able to obtain any definite clue as to John Torrence's "origin", although he doubtless sprang from the Torrences who lived in Londonderry, in the North of Ireland, either himself coming direct from that section to the American Colonies, or descending from one of the several Torrences who settled in the Province of Pennsylvania and who are traceable to the ancestral Scotch-Irish stock in Londonderry.

In all of the research that has been made by several parties into the origin of the immigrant Torrence ancestors, and the early generations of their families in America, only one item has been discovered which would seem to afford any clue to the origin of John Torrence (1750-1827), of Georgia. In his researches, in York County, Pennsylvania, Robert M. Torrence (the author of this present volume) discovered that a certain William Torrence, Note 141-1 of Chanceford Township, York County, dying in 1752, left issue (by his wife Eleanor), two sons: 1. William Torrence, Jr., who can be definitely traced to Adams County, Pennsylvania, where he died soon after 1807. 2. John Torrence.

It appears, from records, that this John Torrence, son of William and Eleanor, was born January 1, 1750; that he was apprenticed, August 29, 1759, while yet a young child, to Alexander Creighton, of Shrewsbury Township, York County, to learn the trade of a weaver, which apprenticeship was to continue until the said John Torrence was 21 years old. It was evidently this John Torrence who appears as a taxable in Monaghan Township, York County, in 1771, and as a subscriber to Guinston Presbyterian Church, Chanceford Township, in August, 1771, after which date his name disappears from York County records.

In John Torrence, (son of William and Eleanor Torrence) we have a John Torrence who was born January 1, 1750, while we have the specific statement, in the obituary of John Torrence, of Georgia, that he died 141 July 4, 1827, in the 78th year of his age. A man dying in July, 1827, in the 78th year of his age, would have been past his 77th birthday and would not yet have reached his 78th year of age; and the year of his birth would have been 1750. Therefore, John Torrence of Georgia was certainly born in the year 1750. We raise the question: In view of the year 1750 having been the year of birth of John Torrence, (son of William and Eleanor Torrence) of Chanceford Township, York County, Pennsylvania, who disappears from York County after August 1771; and also the ascertained year of the birth of John Torrence, of Georgia (who appears there first in 1776), may not these two John Torrences have been one and the same person, and thus the "Identity" of our John Torrence, (born 1750; died July 4, 1827) of Georgia, established as John Torrence, (born January 1, 1750) son of William and Eleanor Torrence, of Chanceford Township, York County, Pennsylvania? Note 142-1

The earliest reference to John Torrence, (1750-1827) of Georgia, which we have discovered in research, thus far made, occurs in a record in the critical year of 1776, and places him among the vivid characters of Georgia's revolutionary period, who devoted themselves to the cause of Colonial Independence. Note 142-2

There is an "original paper" Note 142-3 which bears the following endorsement: "Minute Battalions 1776-acc't. for Deserters examined - John Torrence, Joseph Walker, W. Few." The contents of this paper give an account of the indebtedness of "the State of Georgia", in the sum of £35-0-0, "to David Lindson to apprehending and bringing 6 Deserters belonging to Cap't Bevens Company to Head Quarters", and the certificate of "Benj'a. Beavin, Capt'n." to the accuracy of the account.

While we cannot, at present, state the authority under which Torrence, Walker, and Few were acting in the capacity of examining such accounts, yet no doubt back of it lay a provision of a Georgia Convention, or the General Assembly, or an order of the military authority. Though Joseph Walker is as yet an "unknown person", to us, John Torrence's record through succeeding years can be traced with a degree of definiteness, while we can identify "W. Few", as the distinguished William Few, one of the moving and most vigorous of Georgia's revolutionary spirits. 142

"William Few (1748-1828) of St. Paul's Parish, along the Broad River, later in Richmond County, Georgia, was a member of the Convention called to form a constitution for the State; Lieutenant-Colonel of the Georgia Forces; member of the General Assembly, and of Congress. After the Revolutionary War, he occupied many offices of responsibility and trust, among them being a Judgeship in Georgia, and was a U. S. Senator." Note 143-1

The "Minute Battalion" of 1776, was evidently the Battalion ordered by the Convention of July, 1775, to be raised for the protection and defense of the State.

The name of John Torrence appears as one of the early settlers of Wilkes County, which was laid out in 1777. Note 143-2 During the course of the Revolutionary War, Wilkes County, with adjoining sections, was overrun by British and Tories, who forced the settlers to flee with their families. These Georgians crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina, and there the men were formed into a regiment for duty under Colonel William Candler, while many of the women and children were escorted. by troops under the command of Candler and Colonel Elijah Clarke, to the Wautauga Settlement in Holston County.

John Torrence was a member of Candler's regiment, as is attested by the following certificate: "This is to certify that John Torrence is one of those Worthy Citizens that fled British Protection and took Refuge in the Other States and did his Duty faithfully as a Good Soldier in the Rigem. of Refugees Under my Com'd . . . Wm. Candler, Coll'., of the Rige't. RRC." "State of Georgia. To the Hon'ble, the President & the Members of the Land Court: Your petitioner prays a warrant for the within certificate in Franklin County & he will ever pr . . . John Torrence. Pet'n.: John Torrence, No.1469." Note 143-3

In addition to his military services, John Torrence appears, in the earlier years of his residence in Georgia, to have been actively engaged in surveying lands. There are references to John Torrence as a "Deputy Surveyor", in December, 1777, when he made surveys of several tracts of land which, at that date, were in Richmond, later Columbia, County, and extracts from his Field Book, of lands surveyed and certified by him 143 in 1784. These notes were sent to the compiler by Miss M. R. Robinson, of Newnan, Georgia, and indicated by her to be from Richmond County, Georgia records. Plats of Headrights, in the office of the Secretary of State of Georgia, in Atlanta, are signed by John Torrence as "Deputy" and Assistant Surveyor.

John Torrence evidently retained practical interest in surveying, as we find an item in the inventory of his estate, made November 5, 1827, listing" 1 set of surveyor's instruments . . . $50.00;" while the account of the sales of his estate, November 17, 1827, shows that Samuel Torrence, who was his son, purchased "1 compass, chain, and mathematical instrument . . $5.00."

John Torrence became an extensive land holder, obtaining his holdings both by grants from the state and by private purchases. We have not obtained a list of his purchases of land, but the Land Grants and plats (in the office of the Secretary of State for Georgia), between the years 1785 and 1816, show that he received grants totalling 4119 acres of land, distributed as follows:

Besides grants and purchases, John Torrence also obtained lands through the operation of the well-known State Lotteries. Up to the time of his death, in 1827, his large holdings continued, as shown by his will, disposing of 4286 acres, of which 1771 acres were made up of adjoining tracts in Warren County, on which he and several of his children were then living.

While we note these extensive land-holdings, we cannot forbear referring to the fact that he does not appear as owning slaves. The inventory of his estate does not list a single slave. The only reference which we have so far found to John Torrence's ever owning any slaves, is in the U. S. Census for Georgia, 1820, Warren County, where he is listed as owning one male and one female slave, each between 25 and 46 years old; and one male and one female slave each under 14 years old. In view of the fact that he was such a large land-holder, and a man apparently of ample means to possess slaves, the only reason to be advanced for his not owning them is that he, in all probability, entertained religious scruples 144 against the institution of negro chattel slavery. It is a well-known fact that he was a man of the deepest piety and loftiest religious sentiment; a Presbyterian, though doubtless deeply tinged with the fervor of the Methodism, which played such a wonderful roll in the religious life of Georgia, in his day. In passing, we may add that none of the Torrences of this line ever appear as slave owners, beyond an occasional servant. However, they do appear to have been people who entertained the most solid ideas about religion, education, and local public service, and were people of substantial, though never extensive, worldly possessions.

Now, resuming the record of John Torrence, of Georgia, we find that after the Revolutionary war, he was a Justice of the Peace in Wilkes County, in 1788 and 1790; a, member from Wilkes County, of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly, in 1791; clerk of the Court of Ordinary of Warren County, from 1811 to 1827, his home having fallen into this county through a division made in 1796. At the present time, the old home-place may be located less than three miles east of the village of Barnett (in the old days known as Double Wells) and about ten or twelve miles northeast of Warrenton, the county seat.

The "Mansion House", as John Torrence described it in his will, was standing in 1916, though it has long since passed out of the Torrence family. It is said to have succeeded a double hewn-log house, which was the original home of the Torrences. 68.1. John Torrence1 (1750-1827) married Jemima, whose surname is as yet unknown, as is also the date of their marriage, which, however, must have taken place sometime between 1775 and 1780. But, whoever she may have been, this Mother of our race was the truly adored of her husband, who made her motherhood the subject of an incomparable tribute in his will, which was dated May 13, 1825, with a codicil dated June 8, 1827, and was probated September 6, 1827. Note 145-1

To begin with, John Torrence, by his will, devised to "my beloved wife Jemima Torrence . . . my large family Bible and all such other books of Divinity, sermons, pamphlets of devotional exercises as she may choose to keep and retain during her life without being accounted for in any further division of my estate . . . and to be at her disposal after her decease among her children and friends according to her own prudence and desire". He also devised her "a life estate in the homestead 145 of my lands including the Mansion House and other buildings, her choice of horses and other animals, farming utensils, household furniture, not otherwise disposed of". Should their son, Septimus and family, continue to live with his mother in the home place, he was to enjoy joint and equal privilege therein; but should they think it more convenient to live separately, then Septimus was to have the privilege of building a dwelling for himself on any part of the land he desired and though having the use of the plantation, stock, and farming tools, and to furnish his mother with a sufficient and genteel support in such necessaries as she may not be provided with, at my decease, and reserving to her, nevertheless, the Mansion House, the forementioned live stock, three feather beds with their steads and furniture, her spinning wheels, cards, loom and tackling, secretary and bookcase, bureau, cabinet and slab with such household furniture as she may think she stands in need of whilst she lives and continues in a family capacity. Whatever cash may be on hand (if any) at the time of my decease, after debts and funeral expenses and all notes due to me and also my house clock, shall be reserved for her. At her death, the homestead of land including the Mansion House and other buildings . . (the tract containing 430 acres) was to go to their son Septimus.

To his son Samuel, 320 acres, to his son John Wiston Torrence, 310 acres, being the lands on which they had erected their houses and were then living and which adjoined his home plantation. To his grand daughter, Caroline W. Torrence, daughter of his son William, deceased, he devised the 284 acres of land where his said son had erected his house and which adjoined Samuel Torrence '5 land. He directed that the said Caroline's mother, Mrs. Mary Semmes, widow of Joseph M. Semmes, and formerly widow of his son William Torrence, deceased, should have the privilege of living on this land, in case her necessity so require, and she think proper to settle and live thereon, and at her death, or remarriage, the whole estate in the said land to go to the said Caroline. Should the said Caroline predecease her said mother before marrying or without lawful heirs of her body, then the said land to revert to his estate to be divided between all of his children, with the exception of Abigail Watson.

To his son Ebenezer Torrence, he devised 437 acres of land adjoining the tracts devised to Caroline W. Torrence and John W. Torrence, the said Ebenezer paying (as his tract is much larger than the others) $50.00 each to the said Caroline and John W. Torrence. 146

To his daughters Mary White and Abigail Watson, he devised 600 acres in Washington County. He directs that all of his heirs relinquish to the said Abigail Watson their right to 250 acres in Early County, which land stands in the "name of their deceased brother Banajah Torrence"; but should the said Abigail, or her legal representatives, the same being notified in a public Gazette of the State, not claim the said legacy, then the said land to be sold and the proceeds "equally divided among the rest of my own children or their legal representatives."

He further directs that if anything can be obtained of or for his claim of and to 1000 acres in Jackson County, granted to George Weatherby, "that the proceeds be equally divided among all my own children and their legal representatives, Abigail Watson excepted."

He also directs the sale of 250 acres in Early County and proceeds distributed "among all my own children."

To his son Septimus Torrence, he devised certain live stock remaining after the death of his wife; a bed, bedstead and furniture, "my large Rifle and appendages, my second sized family Bible, with my earnest request that he so peruse it as to become intimately acquainted with its contents and the doctrines therein contained."

"Touching my library of books, it is my desire that such of them as my children may wish to retain and not being herein specifically bequeathed, be lotted out and divided amongst my children or their representatives according as they may agree, and the remainder sold."

He directs that the residue of his estate, real or personal, including a strip of 90 acres of land, be sold and the proceeds divided among his daughter Mary White, sons Samuel, John W., and Septimus Torrence and grand daughter Caroline W. Torrence. He refers to having given his son Ebenezer Torrence a cotton gin and running gear and one horse, and to cattle which he had given to his other children.

He appoints his beloved sons Ebenezer Torrence, if convenient for him to serve, Samuel and Septimus Torrence, executors of the Will.

By codicil to the will, he made additional provisions for his son John Wiston Torrence by devising him 202½ acres in Carroll County, the said John Wiston Torrence "by a deficiency in his eyesight . . . is incapacitated to exercise sundry lucrative employments of which his other brothers may be capable and likewise in consideration of his having received a smaller dividend in my other lands." He also directs the sale and distribution of 202½ acres in Lee County. 147

In the concluding of the will, John Torrence pens this tribute to his wife Jemima: "And I do specially enjoin upon each of my children that they pay a tender and affectionate regard and attention to the necessities of accommodation and comfort of their tender and affectionate Mother during her life, being well assured they can never repay her for the fatigue, the anxious solicitude and affections demonstrated by her toward them from their birth up."

The date of Mrs. Jemima Torrence's death has not been discovered. On the home-place, there is an old stone-walled family graveyard and, though no tombstones are visible, tradition states that the bodies of John and Jemima Torrence were interred there, together with the bodies of their sons and other members of the family connection.

The use of the term "her children," and the thrice repeated term "my own children," in John Torrence's will, suggests that John Torrence's wife Jemima may have been a widow with children at the time of her marriage to John Torrence; while his " claim " to the land in Jackson County, granted to George Weatherby, has led to a belief that Mrs. Jemima Torrence may have been in some way connected with the Weatherby family.

We cannot refrain from noting here what appears to have been a cherished possession of John Torrence, and that is his library, which was, moreover, a possession which clearly indicates the intellectual and educational standards of this old worthy, who lived in a part of the country which has been heralded to the world, by certain writers and historians, as at that time, devoid of refinement and culture. John Torrence's mental and spiritual caliber, and the cultural standards he impressed upon his family, are well attested by his possession of this library.

The inventory of John Torrence's estate reveals the nature of his greatly prized library, as follows: -One lot of Bibles and other books. Four volumes of Ecclesiastical history. Four volumes of "Geographical Commercial." Two volumes Blair's lectures. Four volumes of Gordon's History of the American Revolution. Two volumes Volney's works. Four volumes Cook's Voyages. Two volumes Pinkerton's geography. One volume Moise's Geography and Navigation. Five volumes Domestic Encyclopedia. Two volumes Elements of Criticism. Richardson's Physiology. Babley's dictionary. Rush's "On the Mind". Geographical Views of the World. Medical Companion. Elements of Euclid. Paley's Philosophy. Wealth of Nations. Beattie's Works. Reynold's Works. Law books, Musical Books, and about a hundred miscellaneous Books. 148

The appraisement of these literary items amounted to $111.20, and of his personal estate, $1427.62. Appraisement was made November 5, 1827, and recorded March 13, 1828, Court of Ordinary, Warren County, Georgia.

The compiler has in his possession Elements of Criticism, Volume 1, Samuel Etheridge, Boston, publisher, 1798, which carries a fly-leaf notation, "John Torrence's book, price $2.00, December, 1809." He also has a copy of The Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale, by Miss Owenson, 6th American Edition, published by Joseph Greenleaf, Boston, 1808, a fly-leaf carrying the notation: "John Torrence's book, price $1.00, March 7, 1810."

We have reviewed in detail the life of John Torrence (1750-1827), the first of the Torrences, of the Georgia line, and now we will permit a contemporary of his, whose name is not given, to place the memorial wreath upon his bier:

Another Worthy Man of '76 Gone.

Died Suddenly on the 4th instant (July 1827) John Torrence, Esqr., of Warren County, in the 78th year of his age. The Venerable old patriot died within a few miles of his residence, on his return from the celebration of the day in Warrenton, in which he participated with more than usual interest and feeling, as if he were conscious it was the last National jubilee he should ever witness.

His countenance wore a peculiar cast of serene and heartfelt joy during the day, and his old acquaintances received many a cordial embrace. His character, both in public and private life, was without reproach; and whether we view him in early life in the field of battle, bearing arms in defence of his country, in the Revolutionary struggle, which 'tried men 5 souls', or whether we scrutinize him in filling the various political and civil appointments to which he was called to act in subsequent life, both in the Legislature and in his county, he was the same consistent, temperate, and upright man. Always respectful himself, he received the kind attention of all who knew him, and his suggestions were regarded as the dictates of experience, emanating from the best motives of benevolence. He was charitable and human, and took a warm interest in the welfare of the widow and orphan. Few men have lived so well. His whole life was shaped and governed by the strictest rules of temperance, justice, and piety. Note 149-1


The names of the children of John Torrence1 have been obtained from his will, and the records of their marriages, found in Warren and Green Counties, Georgia.

Children of John and Jemima Torrence, eight:

  1. i. William Torrence2 born in Warren County, Georgia; died in 1811; married, in April, 1807, Mary Scott, born in 1776; died in 1851, a daughter of James Scott, of Harford County, Maryland, and Warren County, Georgia. After the death of William Torrence, his widow, Mrs. Mary (Scott) Torrence, married, in January, 1817, Joseph Milburn Semmes. William and Mary (Scott) Torrence bad issue, one:
    1. 1. Caroline William Torrence3 born in 1808; died in 1863; married, December 22, 1829, William W. Ford.
  2. ii. Abigail Torrence2 married, in July, 1797, William Watson.
  3. iii. Mary Torrence2 married a Mr. White, whose christian name may have been Thomas.
  4. ¶68.2. iv. Samuel Torrence2 married Matilda Scott.
  5. v. Banajah Torrence2 unmarried.
  6. vi. Ebenezer Torrence2 of Green County, Georgia, was Clerk of the Superior Court, of that county, 1818-1826; married twice. Married first, Mrs. Mary (Hawkins) Parke; married second, in 1830, Miss Beard. Issue, two by each marriage:
    1. 1. Albert Parke Torrence3 married Emma Treadwell.
    2. 2. Mary Ann Torrence3 married Ebenezer McKinley.
    3. 3. John Torrence3 (first child by second marriage) married Mary Rogers.
    4. 4. Eliza Torrence3
  7. vii. John Wiston Torrence2 living in Warren County, Georgia, as late as 1830, married, in July, 1819, Margaret H. Bledsoe, of Green County.
  8. viii. Septimus Torrence2 of Warren County, Georgia, died in 1847; inherited the Torrence homestead; was Justice of the Peace for a number of years; married, in November, 1824, Matilda Stone. No issue. Mrs. Matilda (Stone) Torrence married, second, in May, 1849, Curtis Lowe.

68.2. Samuel Torrence2

(John1), born circa 1780-5; died in Warren County, Georgia, in December, 1836; was Justice of the Peace in that county; and a member of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly from Warren County, in 1833. He lived on a farm (which he inherited from his father) about two miles east of the village of Barnett. He died intestate, his estate being administered by his brother Septimus.

In April, 1813, he married Matilda Scott, a sister of the wife of his brother William Torrence.

Children of Samuel and Matilda (Scott) Torrence, five:

  1. ¶68.3. i. James Napier Torrence3 married Martha Robinson Dudley. 150
  2. ii. John Early Torrence3 died circa 1875; lived at Knoxville, Crawford County, Georgia; married Mary Foster Taylor. Issue, three:
    1. 1. Samuel Alexander Torrence4
    2. 2. Emma Torrence4 married a Mr. Sappington.
    3. 3. Frank Leslie Torrence4
  3. iii. William A. Torrence3
  4. iv. Amanda Torrence3
  5. v. Narcissa Torrence3 married Joseph W. Lowdermilk.

68.3James Napier Torrence2

(Samuel3 John1), born in Warren County, Georgia, in December, 1814; died in March, 1857, in Lowndesboro, Lowndes County, Alabama, where he had gone to live. His wife was Martha Robinson Dudley; died in Atlanta, Georgia, May 6, 1875; a daughter of John Alston Dudley and his wife Mary (Robinson) Dudley.

Children of James Napier and Martha Robinson (Dudley) Torrence, four:

  1. i. William Henry Torrence4 born April 23, 1842; died in 1916; married Susan Henderson.
  2. ii. Victoria Alston Torrence4 born August, 1845; married Frank W. Broward.
  3. iii. James Napier Torrence, JR4 born March 15, 1847.
  4. ¶68.4. iv. John Early Torrence4 married Katharine Winter Clayton.

68.4. John Early Torrence4

(James3 Samuel2 John1), born in Lowndesboro, Lowndes County, Alabama, January 14, 1851; died in Atlanta, Georgia, April 10, 1903. He married, October 18, 1881, Katherine Winter Clayton, born in 1854; died in 1910, a daughter of the Honorable William Wirt Clayton, born 1812; died 1885, and his wife Caroline Marie Semmes, born 1819; died 1893, both of Atlanta, Georgia.

Children of John Early and Katherine Winter (Clayton) Torrence, six:

  1. i. William Clayton Torrence5 born December 20, 1882; died December 21, 1882.
  2. ¶68.5. ii. William Clayton Torrence5 married Elizabeth Green Neblett.

  3. iii. John Early Torrence5 born January 27, 1888; unmarried; resides in Albany, New York.
  4. iv. Maude Dudley Torrence5 born March 19, 1890; died April 15, 1894.
  5. v. Paul Semmes Torrence5 born May 25, 1891; resides at Atlanta, Georgia; married, February 5, 1921, Mrs. Bertha Evelyn (Holley) Young. No issue.
  6. vi. Katherine Clayton Torrence5 born September 29, 1893; died February 18, 1898. 151

68.5. William Clayton Torrence5

(John4 James3 Samuel2 John1), born June 7, 1884; went to Virginia to live, in 1903, where, for some years he was engaged in historical research work; was first, Bibliographer, Virginia State Library, 1906-1910; then, Secretary of the Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia, 1910-1918; was ordered by Bishop Brown, of Virginia, a deacon, December 17, 1919; and presbyter, December 20, 1920, in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Ordained, and became rector of Upper Touro Parish, Fairfax County, 1921-1925; St. Paul's Church, Suffolk, 1925-1926; Mcllhany Parish, Albemarle County, 1926-1929; Somerset Parish, Somerset County, Maryland, 1929-1934; St. John's Church, Mt. Washington, Baltimore, Maryland, 1934 to present time.

He married, August 1, 1912, Elizabeth Green Neblett, daughter of Dr. Norman Henry Neblett and his wife Lillian Henry Hite, of "Inglewood", Lunenburg County, Virginia.

Children of William Clayton and Elizabeth Green (Neblett) Torrence, three:

  1. i. William Clayton Torrence6 born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, August 17, 1913.
  2. ii. Elizabeth Green Neblett Torrence6 born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, August 24,1916.
  3. iii. Norman Macfarland Torrence6 born at Front Royal, Warren County, Virginia, September 3, 1922.
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Torrence and Allied Families Written by Robert McIlvane Torrence, published 1938
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