Born in the spring of 1771, Jacob Boatner was still an infant when his father acquired land on the Broad River. And he must have left the Fairfield County home as a very young man. Perhaps moving directly to Sumter County, for he was not enumerated in the 1790 census.
About 1900, Jacob’s grandson and namesake wrote the following version of early Boatner history:
Lewis Boatner came from Germany when a boy and settled on Broadriver, S.C. He served in the Revolutionary War as a teamster and showed his mechanical genius in rigging sails to his wagon to help propel it. After the war, he owned a merchant water-mill. While helping to keep this mill, his son Jacob learned the mill wright’s trade by which he made his fortune.
Two brothers came over with Lewis Boatner and settled in or near Philadelphia, neither of whom had families so far as we know. . . Mary Martin (Ludwig’s wife) was of French descent.
This fascinating account was written by a man whose ancestors had been gone from South Carolina for almost ninety years. Jacob had been the first to leave home and he had gone a daring distance, undoubtedly, his descendants’ version
acquired some inaccuracies through the years, but there is much that is probably correct.
While there is no known documentation that Ludwig had a wife of French descent, it is not impossible, for there were Huguenots in South Carolina. And while we now do not believe that Ludwig arrived in South Carolina during his boyhood or made his first home on the Broad River, still this was Jacob Boatner’s home from his infancy.
The story of Ludwig’s two brothers differs importantly from the claims of descendants of other branches, principally Solomon’s, whose versions mostly confused the relationships among the South Carolina Boatners.
The version of Jacob’s descendants is the only one which suggests a Pennsylvania connection. And certainly, we know that there were two Pennsylvania Botners – Elias and Joseph – who were younger contemporaries of Ludwig and perhaps orphans of Ludwig Botner of Heidleberg township, Pa. (See Chapter I.)
If Jacob’s version is correct on this point then our Ludwig parted company from his family without joining the Pennsylvania household. And evidently he never regained contact with his brothers. Someday perhaps we will be fortunate enough to have our curiosity satisfied on these questions. What is important here is the close matching of certain points in Jacob’s version with the known history; this suggests that the parts of the story that are most intriguing may also have come from Jacob himself.
In 1799, Jacob Boatner married Elizabeth Rebecca Gerald. If census records can be relied on to define neighborhoods, he and his wife made their first home in the southwest part of Sumter County. In 1800, Jacob’s neighbors included Cains,
Moores and Singletons. There is today a Cain’s Pond on a branch of Cane Savannah Creek called Brunson’s Swamp. And an 1825 map shows a mill site on this branch; it also shows close by the pond site “R Singleton’s Race Turf.” (See map page 112.) This neighborhood was about nine miles south of Elizabeth Boatner, widow of John Boatner, on Long Branch of Black River.
In 1801, Jacob purchased from General John Sumter, the leading citizen of the county, 223 acres on Bluff Head Branch, which was a fork of Long Branch. (S.C. Archives, Sumter County Deeds. Vol. AA, pp. 130-131. Roll 9.)
The county’s residents were mostly second generation colonials, coming from Virginia or from the South Carolina coast. The western area known as the “High Hills of Santee” became, late in the 18th century, a summering place for the low country gentry because of its healthful climate.
Sumter was one of the first South Carolina counties to benefit from the invention of the cotton gin. Cotton was being grown commercially there by 1796. The initial result was prosperity and the beginning of the plantation system, which was to spread throughout the south.
By 1810 (according to census tabulations), the county’s 14,877 inhabitants owned 1,309 spinning wheels and 570 looms. (There were also six distilleries and 2,000 gallons of peach brandy.) But overproduction and the worsening problem of land exhaustion had severely damaged the local economy; and its residents began leaving in large numbers for the newly opening lands to the west and south.
One of the greatest migrations occurred in 1810, under the leadership of John Gaulden Richardson, a descendant of “the worthy sensible gentleman” who had been admired by the Reverend Woodmason half a century earlier. (His mother was Martha Gaulden, no doubt close kin to John Boatner’s widow.)
Young Richardson, under the sponsorship of planters in his neighborhood, traveled on horseback in the closing months of 1808 to a settlement (now called Woodville) in the southwestern corner of the Mississippi Territory. In January, 1809, he staked out 160 acres where he raised profitable crops and returned home with an enthusiastic report of his success.
As a result, more than a thousand people made haste to form a caravan, which departed from Sumter County on the last Monday of November, 1809. A Richardson descendant later wrote. “Family after family fell into line, each with wagons, teams and equipment.” Their journey was an arduous one, covering hundreds of piles and lasting many months.
Jacob and Elizabeth Boatner were not part of this first wave. The county records confirm their presence as late as March 24, 1810, when they were co-sellers, with Elizabeth’s brothers Samuel and Charles and other family members, of land on Hatchet Camp Creek as heirs of Gabriel Gerald. (Sumter Deed Book CC, pp. 209-210.)
But they were preparing to leave even as the caravan departed, for less than a month afterward (December 13, 1809), Jacob Boatner, mill wright, had sold the 223 acres on Bluffhead branch, the “tract whereon I now live.” (Deed Book CC, pp.137-138.) The inheritance from his father-in-law’s estate, added to the $608 from the sale of his own place, undoubtedly provided the stake which Jacob and Elizabeth Boatner used to launch their great adventure.
Their path lay though the Creek lands which were later to be claimed by Alabama. Passports had to be issued by the governors of Georgia to settlers seeking safe conduct through this Indian territory.
On April 30, 1810, only five weeks after the settlement of Gabriel Gerald’s estate, passports were issued for the following party: “Jacob Boatner, his wife, two nephews, mother-in-law, and her two sons and a young man of the name of Ginn, and 28 negroes, all from Sumpter (sic) District. South Carolina.”
The 1800-1810 census for Washington County (which was the name that had been given to the 300 square mile area established in 1800 just north of British West Florida) records Jacob’s household in figures that square precisely with those of the passport: “three white males over 21; three white males under 21; two white females over 21, 28 slaves.”
The two nephews (whether Boatner or Gerald) have never been positively identified. (John’s son William Jared, then 22 years old, was still in Sumter County with his mother as late as January, 1811, though it is conceivable that he had made a hasty round trip in the interim.)
Another unexplained fact is that both Jacob and Elias Boatner had land grants reported as issued to them in 1809, a year before Jacob received his passport. It is conceivable that John Richardson was charged with filing requests for other applicants during his year of pioneering. Even if Elias and Jacob were absentee applicants, however, we have evidence that Elias, too, was involved in the plan to migrate from its inception – or at least that Jacob was acting on his behalf.
After his arrival, Jacob acquired land by grant in 1810, 1811, and 1816. His brother Elias joined him in the latter year and acquired still larger holdings. Their adjoining property was of great natural beauty – gently rolling hills heavily wooded in pine and mixed hardwoods. (Although hunting and fishing remain excellent to this day, it is now poor farm land.)
Jacob was one of the largest slave owners of Washington County; by 1830, he had 39 slaves. This seems ample evidence that he, as well as his brother Elias and nephew William Jared, had prospered on their new frontier to a degree that far exceeded anything that Ludwig had ever achieved, or even envisioned.
Jacob’s only son, Lawrence Marion Boatner (1812-1873), married Frances Kell in 1838, a year after Jacob’s death. Lawrence inherited a considerable estate and built on this to become one of the more affluent local citizens. Nothing is known of Jacob’s other child. Lawrence’s younger sister Theodora.
It was probably Lawrence’s son Jacob who wrote down in 1900, at the age of 55, the story of Ludwig’s origins which he had been told by his own father. This great grandson of Ludwig Bottner was evidently something of a chronicler, for he also penned a recollection of his Civil War service, which had mostly been in Mississippi and Alabama. He surrendered at Gaynsville, A1a. on May 13, 1865:
The quartermaster stole the money (intended for our pay) and six fine mules and a fine wagon and went with honors home.
I went home with 22 months military experience, the government owing me for 20 months at $25 per month, $500; 2 horses $300; bounty $25; extra service $50; and I held a claim for corn and beef for which I never got one cent, $500. Total $1.375.
Many of the descendants of the large family of Lawrence and Frances Kell Boatner still live in the region, although few now bear the Boatner name. Jacob’s house survived until World War II when it was demolished about the time that Camp Van Dorn was built on and around the old Boatner homesteads. But according to the Louisiana Genealogical Register (December, 1967, p. 63), Jacob’s vault, Elizabeth’s tombstone, and other early Boatner vaults and markers still remain.