The Ancestry of William Alexander (1749-1838) 

by Floyd L. Owsley 


Updated May 22, 2017 



Alexander family tree: 

William Alexander (c1749-1838) md. Anne Laird. 

William was the son of: 

John Alexander (c1714-aft1772) md.  name unknown. 

John was the son of : 

James Alexander “the carpenter” (1685-1717/18): md. Mary Steele 

James was the son of: 

Samuel Alexander (1657-1733) and Mary Taylor. 


Based on numerous findings in my Alexander family research during the last several years, I have come to believe that William Alexander was one of seven Alexander brothers who resided in Washington County, Virginia, in 1780. A huge amount of circumstantial evidence, along with convincing DNA test results of direct male descendants, clearly supports my belief. Along with William, the brothers were named as follows: Ebenezer, James, Jeremiah, John, Joseph, and Oliver. All lived in the Green Spring area of Washington County, near the town of Abingdon. It appears these brothers had migrated from York County, Pennsylvania, to Augusta County, Virginia, then to Washington County, Virginia. They later moved on to East Tennessee. A few moved on to other states such as Alabama and Kentucky.  


While residing in Washington County, Virginia, William and four of his brothers (James, Jeremiah, Joseph, and Oliver) served in the Battle of King’s Mountain campaign in the Revolutionary War. 


In William Alexander’s obituary, it is noted that he was born in Pennsylvania and removed to Augusta County, Virginia, a short time before the Revolutionary War began. According to William’s Revolutionary War pension records, his war service began in 1774, while he was a resident of Augusta County, Virginia


William Alexander married Anne Laird in 1778 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, with his brother, Ebenezer Alexander, serving as the Bondsman. Rockbridge County was formed in 1778 from Augusta and Botetourt counties in Virginia.   


I believe the father of William Alexander and his “brothers” was John Alexander, who purchased land in Augusta County, Virginia in 1769. John was still residing in York County, Pennsylvania, at the time of the purchase. Other Alexander family researchers believe John’s brother, Joseph Alexander, was the father of William Alexander and his “brothers.” I do not rule this out as a possibility as there is evidence of a close relationship between a few of the “brothers” and Joseph Alexander. As noted later in this article, Joseph Alexander purchased land in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1768. Also, William Alexander named his oldest son, Joseph. Although I have knowledge of this strong possibility, I will continue to refer to John Alexander as the probable father of William Alexander and his brothers.  


John Alexander was born about 1714 probably in Cecil County, Maryland, and was the son of James Alexander “the carpenter” and Mary Steele of Cecil County, Maryland. James was the son of Samuel Alexander (1657-1733) and Mary Taylor. Samuel Alexander is said to have been one of seven brothers and two sisters who migrated from Ireland to America around 1685. They settled in Somerset County, Maryland, and later Cecil, County, Maryland. (NOTE: John Alexander’s brother, Joseph, was born about 1712 probably in Cecil County, Maryland.)      


James Alexander “the carpenter” was born in 1685 and died around 1717/18. In his will, he referred to himself as James Alexander “the carpenter” and named three sons, Joseph, John, and Francis. Francis was referred to as the youngest. Also named in the will was his wife, Mary, father-in-law, John Steel “yeoman,” and brother, Francis Alexander “weaver.” By 1724, Mary Steele Alexander was married to her second husband, Adam Rankin. According to Rankin genealogy, the name of Adam Rankin’s second wife was Mary Steele.  


In 1722, Adam Rankin resided in Cecil County, Maryland. He was one of several signers of the “Petitioners of New Munster Circa 1722 to Lord Baltimore.” In the petition, they stated their belief that Maryland was their proper place of residence, not Pennsylvania. In a resurvey (dated September 28, 1724), of the land James Alexander left to his heirs, it was noted that his widow, Mary, was now married to Adam Ranken (Rankin).   


Most Rankin family researchers have Adam Rankin and his second wife, Mary Steele, as the parents of four children: James Rankin, William Rankin, Jeremiah Rankin, and Esther Rankin. As noted earlier, two grandsons of Mary Steele Alexander Rankin were Oliver Alexander and Jeremiah Alexander. It would appear that Jeremiah Alexander was named after his half uncle, Jeremiah Rankin. Also, it is known that the youngest son of Oliver Alexander was named Adam Rankin Alexander. Adam Rankin Alexander (1781-1848) resided in west Tennessee and was twice elected to the United States Congress, before being defeated by Davy Crockett. 




It is believed that John Alexander (born c1714) and his brother, Joseph Alexander (born c1712), moved from Cecil County, Maryland to Pennsylvania sometime around 1740, along with their mother and stepfather (Mary Steele and Adam Rankin). It is known that Joseph Alexander sold his land, called New Munster (in Cecil County, MD), in 1740. This was land he inherited from his father. It was noted in the deed that he sold the land because he was moving. John and Joseph’s stepfather, Adam Rankin died in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1747. According to Adam Rankin’s will, his wife was still living at the time.  


John Alexander was residing in York County, Pennsylvania, in the 1760’s. (NOTE: York County borders Lancaster County to the west.) The Craig, McGinley, Laird, and Gilliland families, along with Rankin families also resided in York County. These families were closely associated with each other and the Alexander family. 


How do we know John Alexander lived in York County, Pennsylvania?  

In the 1880’s genealogical research of Dr. Ebenezer “Eben” Alexander (1851-1910), he noted there was a connection between the Alexander and McGinley family back in Pennsylvania. (NOTE: According to reliable McGinley family history, the McGinley family definitely resided in York County, Pennsylvania, now Adams County, Pennsylvania.)         


It seems certain that the Alexander and McGinley connection in Pennsylvania occurred when Jane Alexander (born c1742), married John McGinley about 1762. Jane is believed to have been a granddaughter of James Alexander and Mary Steele, through one of their sons, Joseph or John. Jane Alexander and John McGinley had the following children: James, Ebenezer, John, Abigail, Mary, Margaret, and Sarah. (NOTE: The names given to these McGinley children were commonly used in the Alexander family.) Their son, James McGinley, later married his first cousin, Susan Alexander, in 1787, in east Tennessee. Susan was the daughter of Oliver Alexander. It is also known that two daughters (Abigail and Mary) of Jane Alexander and John McGinley married grandsons of Adam Rankin and Mary Steele. They were noted as William Rankin and James Rankin.   


John Alexander can be found in the 1767 records of York County, Pennsylvania:  

Slemons, Rev. John, Hugh Ferguson, Amos McGinley and John Alexander, in trust for use of Middle Presbyterian Church, in Hamiltonban Township, joining lands of said Slemons and James Kimberlin, 10 acres, August 13, 1767


More proof of John Alexander having resided in York County, Pennsylvania, can be found in the Revolutionary War pension records of his son. Jeremiah Alexander (1763-1847). In the pension records, John Craig (1764-1852) of Limestone County, Alabama, stated that he had known Jeremiah Alexander since earliest youth. According to Craig family history, John Craig was born in 1764 in York County, Pennsylvania. According to the records of Dr. Eben Alexander, John Craig was a half brother of Margaret Paul, wife of Oliver Alexander. (NOTE: Jeremiah Rankin, son of Adam Rankin and Mary Steele, married Rhoda Craig providing another Alexander, Rankin, and Craig family connection.)  


Also living in York County, Pennsylvania, very near the McGinley family, was the family of Francis Alexander and Jane Blair. Francis was a son of Samuel Alexander and Mary Taylor and was a brother to James Alexander “the carpenter” who died in 1717/18. 




On November 18, 1768, Joseph Alexander purchased 265 acres of land in Augusta County, Virginia from Francis Beaty. 


About six months later, on May 16, 1769, Joseph’s brother, John Alexander, of York County, Pennsylvania, purchased 400 acres of land in Augusta County, Virginia, from David Doak. (NOTE: In later deeds, John’s wife was noted as Mary. She is believed to have been his second wife. The name of John’s first wife is still unknown at this time.)  


Both tracts of land were located very close together in the southwestern corner of the old Beverly Manor district of Augusta County. This was near the border of the Beverly Manor district and the Borden Grant. 


On October 12, 1769, Joseph Alexander, of Augusta County, in the Colony of Virginia, deeded David Alexander, of Cecil County, Maryland, two tracts of land called “Sligo” and “Alexandria”, in Cecil County.  This instrument was dated October 12, 1769, and recorded in Book II, page 125, Cecil County. The name of Joseph Alexander is found in the court records, that he removed to the Shenandoah Valley about the time he sold land in 1769. (NOTE: It is unknown how Joseph Alexander came into possession of the tracts of land “Sligo” and “Alexandria,” which were both formerly owned by his grandfather, Samuel Alexander.)  


Earlier, a deed from Joseph Alexander, carpenter, and Margaret his wife, to Adam Wilson, of New Castle, Delaware, is dated December 12, 1740 (Cec. 6-660).  It identifies the land as being in New Munster, on the east side of the Elk River; “said tract left Joseph by the will of his father, James Alexander, carpenter, who bought from Thomas Stevenson, August 15, 1718. In the 1740 Cecil County, Maryland deed, it was noted that Joseph Alexander was moving.  


How do we know that the Joseph Alexander who deeded land in Cecil County,  Maryland, in 1769, was the same Joseph Alexander who purchased land in Augusta County in 1768?  

It seems clear that since Joseph was a landowner in Maryland, he most likely would have been a landowner in Augusta County, Virginia. In my research, I have found only two men named Joseph Alexander residing and owning land in Augusta County in the 1760’s and 1770’s. One was Joseph Alexander, son of Archibald Alexander. The Archibald Alexander family had already been living in Augusta County, Virginia for two or more decades. Archibald’s son, Joseph, certainly wasn’t the Joseph Alexander who sold land in Maryland in 1769. The other Joseph Alexander was the one who purchased land from Francis Beaty in Augusta County in November of 1768. It appears almost obvious that this was the same Joseph Alexander who deeded land in Maryland in 1769, and was the son of James Alexander “the carpenter.” (NOTE: In 1740 in Maryland, Joseph’s wife was listed as Margaret. In 1772 in Augusta County, his wife was listed as Abigail. Sometime between 1740 and 1772, Joseph’s first wife, Margaret, must have died. He later took Abigail as his second wife.)  


As noted earlier, both Joseph Alexander and John Alexander purchased (in 1768 and 1769) tracts of land in Augusta County, Virginia, which were very near each other. Later in 1772, Joseph Alexander sold land he had purchased from Francis Beaty, to James Alexander, Oliver Alexander, and Alexander Montgomery, husband of Sarah Alexander. Sarah is believed to have been a daughter of either John Alexander or Joseph Alexander, sons of James Alexander and Mary Steele. This seems to support the belief that James Alexander, Oliver Alexander, and Sarah Alexander Montgomery, were children of Joseph Alexander, instead of his brother, John.  

An Alexander Family Bible record of a descendant of Adam Rankin Alexander - has the following information noted in the family records pages: Adam Rankin Alexander (born November 1, 1781, in Washington County, Virginia) and his wife, Leah Reagan. In the margin of the Bible page, the following is noted: Oliver Alexander born in Va. and John Alexander born in old country. Adam Rankin Alexander's father, Oliver Alexander, was most likely born in Pennsylvania or Maryland, and not in Virginia. He did reside for a significant amount of time in Virginia. When the information was written in the Bible, the writer believed (incorrectly) that Oliver's father, John Alexander, was the immigrant of their family and the first to come to America. The immigrant was actually John's grandfather, Samuel Alexander.   

Link to Bible record: Alexander Family Bible record of a descendant of Adam Rankin Alexander


Fifteen direct male descendant of John Alexander (or Joseph Alexander) have submitted to DNA testing with Family Tree DNA. Based on the tests results, theses descendants were placed in the 7+2 group of the Alexander family in the Alexander DNA Project. (NOTE: The 7+2 group is defined as direct male descendants of the seven brothers and two sisters who migrated from Ireland to America around 1685. They first settled in Somerset County, Maryland, and then moved to Cecil County, MD.)

The DNA test results revealed all of the descendant of John Alexander (or Joseph Alexander) had a one step mutation at marker 390, which clearly distinguishes them from the rest of the 7+2 group, including some known direct male descendants of Samuel Alexander (1657-1833). It is clear the one step mutation at marker 390 probably occurred with the birth of James Alexander "the carpenter." 

The DNA results show that John Alexander (or Joseph Alexander) could definitely have been a son of James Alexander 'the carpenter." It certainly does not rule out the relationship. 

Alexander family tree:  

William Alexander (c1749-1838) md. Anne Laird.  

William was the son of:  

John Alexander (c1714-aft1772) md.  name unknown.  

John was the son of :  

James Alexander “the carpenter” (1685-1717/18): md. Mary Steele  

James was the son of:  

Samuel Alexander (1657-1733) and Mary Taylor. 

Hopefully more information and proof of these relationships will be found in the near future.