Who Was Mary Hart Who Knew the Natural Children of James Orrey?

On what was probably a warm day in June of 1818 in what was probably Bedford County, Virginia, Mary Hart made out an affidavit before Thomas Logwood:

upwards of Twenty years ago […] James Orry made a will […] and Left his Land to Mary Parkers four Children (viz) Nancy Parker Aaron Parker Moses Parker & James Parker…

She probably never dreamed that two hundred years later someone would be reading her affidavit. There’s also a good chance that she could not even read it herself.

James Orrey’s will was never filed and apparently lost. His property escheated to the State of Virginia. The Parkers were attempting to recover it and Mary Hart’s affidavit was one item that was to be considered in lieu of the will and the failure to record it. Mary Hart is not the only person to make an affidavit for the Parkers and she’s not the only woman either.

Mary Welsh also makes out an affidavit in 1822 regarding the Parkers and their connection to James Orrey. She refers to them as the “natural children” of James Orrey, indicating that he was not married to their mother when they were born. What is not mentioned in her affidavit is that she was the mother of James Orrey’s children. She was the Mary Parker with whom James Orrey had four children. At least she was Mary Parker when she had children with James Orrey. She would later be Mary Welsh.

Mary Welsh’s giving an affidavit is pretty obvious. She was the mother of the Parkers and would have first-hand knowledge of their relationship to James Orrey. Her relationship was never stated in the affidavit. Mary Welsh also indicted that she was a subscribing witness to James’ will. Mary Hart’s affidavit contains that phrase, but it is struck out. It’s possible the phrase was struck from Mary Hart’s affidavit because it wasn’t relevant, but that seems highly unlikely since the phrase is contained in Mary Welsh’s affidavit and the inheritance is key to the Parkers’ attempt to recover the property of James Orrey from its escheatment to the State of Virginia. What’s more likely is that Mary Hart was not a witness to the Orrey will, but that she had first hand knowledge of the parentage of the Parker children.

The question: who is Mary Hart?

The other question is: how did she have that first hand knowledge?

The first question may take some work to discover. Information on women is not littered all over records in early 19th century Virginia. Census records only list heads of household–usually men. Even if Mary Hart is enumerated as a head of household, it may be difficult to determine if it’s the right Mary Hart. There’s always the possibility that her last name was some reasonable variation on Hart. The affidavit does not indicate where she lived in 1818. While it was probably in Bedford County, Virginia, or very near to it, there is nothing in the document that explicitly states she lived there. Since she had knowledge of the relationship between Orrey and the Parker children she likely lived near them at least during their births. Locating more about Mary Hart will require determining if she was single or married. If she was married, locating more about her will be easier done by locating information on her husband.

The question of “how she had first hand knowledge?” may sound a little creepy (or perhaps quite a bit creepy) and suggest that she was a local busybody who knew everyone’s business. That’s not the intent. If she knew Mary Parker was the mother of all of James Orrey’s children, how did she come to that knowledge? It is possible she had some familial connection to Orrey or to Parker.

Of course our research does not operate from the premise that Mary Hart is related and that we are trying to prove it. Our research operates from the desire to learn more about Mary Hart, knowing that she was associated with the Orrey-Parker families well enough to vouch for the parent-child connection.

A supplemental question: was there no man who could testify to this parent-child relationship? If there was he likely would have testified instead–given the realities of the time.

Mary Hart’s affidavit appears in the petition of Moses Parker, James Parker, John Parker, and Sarah Ramsey to the Virginia Legislature, 11 December 1822, all petitioners from Bedford County, Virginia, appearing in “Legislative Petitions Digital Collections” on the Library of Virginia Website (Richmond, Virginia) at
http://www.virginiamemory.com/collections/petitions.

Viewed on the Library of Virginia website on 19 August 2019. Mary Hart’s affidavit is part of the Parker-Ramsey petition. Their request for relief was granted.

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