Timothy Dalton and the Bobbitts


The Myth

Timothy Dalton of Bedford County VA was the father of Elizabeth Bennett Bobbitt and grandfather of her Bennett and Bobbitt children.

Source of the Myth

This myth seems to have gained its power from publication in the book Bobbitts in America.  That book indicates: "The interesting fact of this marriage [of James Bobbitt to Elizabeth Bennett] was that we have found that Elizabeth's maiden name was Dalton.  She was the daugther of Timothy and Elizabeth Dalton of Bedford County VA" (p. 261).  Evidence for this claim is not provided.  I have been able to find no support for the myth in that volume, only the statement that it is true.  Others claim that the relationship is proven by deeds in which Timothy Dalton and Elizabeth his wife convey land to John and William Bobbitt at a sweetheart price.

Straightening the Record

The Sweetheart Deal:  The deals for the land to Wm and John Bobbitt were not as much sweetheart deals as claimed.  Typically, deeds conveying land in the eighteenth century were deeds of "lease and release."  Without going into too much technical detail (see Black's Law Dictionary for the details), the technical legal process in such a deed was that the seller would grant a lease to the buyer for the land upon signing of the instrument, and with the deed the buyer would become the owner of the land upon entering the property.  The Bobbitt deeds were slightly different.  On 5 January 1763, Timothy and Elizabeth his wife gave a deed of lease to William Bobbit for 240 acres on the south side of the Pigg River for 5 shillings, "the land on which he now lives" (Halifax Deed Book 5:90)  On the same day, a deed of lease was granted John Bobbit for 160 acres on the north side of the Pigg River for 5 shillings, "the land on which he now lives" (Halifax Deed Book 5:86).  Note that these were not deeds of lease and release, but deeds of lease.  Certainly 5 shillings would have been a sweetheart price if it were a sale.  But, the next day, 6 January 1763, Timothy and Elizabeth sold the 240 acres in a deed of release to William Bobbit for 23 (Halifax Deed Book 5:92).  This was much closer to the normal price for land in the area at the time and thus less than a sweetheart deal.  On the same day, they sold the 160 acres to John Bobbit for 20 (Halifax Deed Book 5:88).

Why did the deeds occur in this unusual manner?  We cannot be certain.  One explanation would be that John and William had to secure the additional funds required to buy the land (23 and 20 respectively) and so the initial deed was what we today call earnest money to hold the property.  Perhaps someone was offering to purchase the land from Timothy and he was giving the opportunity for the current occupants to buy it.  But any explanation is speculation, not record.

The tale gets even more unusual, however, because the Bobbitt's father and Elizabeth Bennett Bobbitt's second husband, James Bobbitt, thought he already possessed the land.  In his will dated 13 March 1761, James Bobbitt made the following bequests:

"I give to my son William Bobbitt that part of the tract of land I had of Timothy Dalton lying on the south side of Pigg River to him and his heirs and assignees forever, he paying likewise to the said James Bobbitt Junior, the sum of seven pounds in like manor as the . . ."

"I give to my son John Bobbitt the remainder of the tract of land I had of this said Dalton on the north side of the Pigg River, he paying the sum of eight pounds in mannor above as to the above said Randall Bobbitt."

In his will, James Bobbitt was leaving to his sons the land that they purchased three years later from Timothy.  James seemed to think that he already owned the land since he required that his heirs pay a sibling for their share of the land.  Furthermore, if we assume that the payment was an equal share (something James did not say), then he valued William's land at 14 and John's at 16, less than the younger Bobbitts paid three years later.

At this point, only questions remain.  Did James previously purchase the land in deeds now lost and in fact lost by 1763?  Did the phrase "I had of Timothy Dalton" mean something other than purchase?  If so, why was the bequest necessary for something James had no claim to anyway?  Was James' arrangement with Timothy merely a lease?  If so, why the "heirs and assignees forever" legal language that generally is a sign of ownership?  Although there are many questions, they point to something besides a loving relationship between Timothy and the Bobbitts.  At one extreme they suggest a rather ruthless businessman extracting a second purchase price from the Bobbitt children; at the other extreme, a rather confused legal situation resolved by purchase of the land by the Bobbitts who already lived on it, thus clearing their claim.

Is there reason to doubt the myth?

Timothy's birth year does not allow him to be the grandfather:  That the Bobbitts were grandchildren of Timothy Dalton is almost certainly untrue.  We know that Timothy Dalton of Bedford was born in 1714 or 1715 (Bedford County VA COB 3:480).  If James and Elizabeth Bennett were married in 1734 as claimed, Timothy, supposedly her father, would only be 19 years old at the time of her marriage.  If James and William Bobbitt were born around 1745 as claimed, 30 year old Timothy Dalton could not reasonably be their grandfather.

Of course, Elizabeth could still be a sister of Timothy, thus the Wm and John Bobbitt his nephews.

Geography makes a relationship to Timothy Dalton unlikely:  Bobbitts in America indicates that James Bobbitt married the widow Elizabeth Bennett in Prince George County VA in 1734  (p. 260).  In 1734, Timothy Dalton was living in Hanover County VA, west of the Southwest Mountains, near today's Charlottesville VA.  He was living there in 1736 when he was in a dispute over land rights with Richard Hammock (Notes of the Council of Virginia 4:371, 5:11).  He received a grant there in 1738 pursuant to the Council's action.  Timothy did not move south to the Staunton River until about 1745 (Louisa County VA Deeds A:204-205).  It is not, therefore, clear how Elizabeth, if a relative of Timothy, could have been in the somewhat distant Prince George County.  But it is not impossible.

At the moment no good theory has support for the parentage of Timothy Dalton of Bedford.  It is impossible, therefore, to rule out a relationship.

What does the record tell us about the myth?

Researched and prepared by James F. Klumpp.  If you find evidence supporting or refuting this myth please send to the author.

Last revised June 26, 2001

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