John Finley (1706 - 1773) MP

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Birthplace: Dublin, County of Dublin, Leinster, Ireland
Death: Died in Augusta County, Province of Virginia
Managed by: Ben M. Angel
Last Updated:

About John Finley

  • John and Thankful (Doak) Finley

John and Thankful (Doak) Finley, were among the earliest settlers of the Shenandoah Valley in what is now Augusta County, Virginia, most likely having come from Pennsylvania. Like their early neighbors, they were Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. John was also a cooper. From land records and other documents we can get some feel for his life in this early Virginia settlement. John and Thankful lived on Middle River, a branch of the Shenandoah. While his property is not shown on the settlement map of Beverley Manor, one can make a pretty good estimate of his location as being just across the manor line near the property of Robert Davis.

We cannot be sure whether John Finley and Thankful Doak were married in Pennsylvania or in Virginia. The Doaks were also early settlers in this region and it is possible that John and Thankful met after both families arrived in the area. Thankful's brothers, Samuel and David Doak, had properties about ten miles due south of John's Middle River property. Her sister, Ann Doak, was married after the Doaks moved to Augusta County.

The first record found for John appeared in Augusta County records of 1 December 1740 when he received a patent for 183 acres "on a branch of Cathey's River called Finley's Branch" (now Middle River).(1) Since the actual receipt of a patent was the third step in a process that normally took several years, we can assume they were probably in that location by 1737 or 1738. On 15 October 1741, he received another patent for 300 acres "on a draft of Cathey's River."(2) This property was described as being adjacent to land owned by Alexander Breckenridge, whose son, George, married Thankful's sister, Ann Doak, the next year.(3)

John sold his first patent, 183 acres, to Alexander Garden on 27 November 1749.(4) On 17 November 1767, John and Thankful deeded 179 acres of their property to their son, George, for five shillings. George, however, soon moved to Washington County about 170 miles to the southwest and sold his Middle River property to Robert and Margaret Clendenen for £16, less than five years after it was given to him.(5) The Clendenens, in turn, sold it back to John and Thankful three years later for five shillings.(6)

On 20 July 1768, John acquired another patent of 238 acres "on a branch of the middle River of Shanando adjoin to the land he lives on."(7) This same year he was named as one of the representatives and commissioners(8) of Brown's Meeting House and received two acres on Meadow Run, a branch of Middle River, from John and Margaret Brown(9). North Mountain Meeting House (later Hebron), which was the church nearest the Middle River neighborhood, had originally been "Old Side" Presbyterian and held only sporadic services until the mid-1740s when the "New Side" revivalist Presbyterians stepped in. Brown, not pleased with this turn of events, joined with his neighbors to build a meeting house near his home. Brown's Meeting House officially opened its doors 16 February 1748(10). This, perhaps, explains why John and Thankful's children were baptized at Tinkling Spring, some twelve miles away, until December 1746.

On 16 March 1773, John was bound, along with his neighbors, William McPheeters, Jr. and George Berry, in the settlement of the estate of William McPheeters, Sr.(11) That same year, John and Thankful were both named in an accounting of Samuel Craig, who served as a guardian for John Black, orphan of Anthony Black. John received £5 and Thankful received £5 6s. for services or goods.(12) Three of the persons with whom John is associated in these documents, John Brown, Hugh Young, and John Trimble, can be found in the extreme northwestern corner of Hildebrand's map of The Beverley Patent. They lived either on, or close to, the Manor line and near Middle River.(13) This gives us a good indication of the location of John and Thankful's property as being just outside the Manor line along Middle River.

John Finley appeared on the tax rolls during the periods 1777-1778 and 1782-1787, the only years for which lists were found. Until 1786 he was listed as the only tithable in his household. His 1786 entry read "Jno & David," while the 1787 entry read "self & son David."(14)

John wrote his will on 7 August 1791 naming in order; wife, Thankful; children, David, George, Robert, Margaret Shields, James,(15) John, Jean, and Thankful McKarter; and grandson, John Trimble, son of Jean. David received the lion's share of the estate. Thankful received all household furniture except "one old bed and furniture," his Negro woman, Hannah, and a saddle and horse, with maintenance out of the estate willed to David. George, Robert, and Margaret Shields received five shillings each. James received £120 "with interest from this date," to be paid by David out of the estate. John was to receive one bed and furniture upon the death of Thankful. Jean was to receive a mare and Negro woman upon the death of Thankful, while her son, John Trimble, was left a saddle and bridle. Thankful McKarter was left six shillings. David, probably the youngest son, was also named executor.

It is interesting that John chose to divide his estate so unequally and no clues have really been found as to why this was so. Often, when the parents have already provided for their children, the children are left only nominal amounts in the will. This may have been the case here and is just not specified. We do know, however, that George received a portion of John and Thankful's property in 1767. Naming David as executor may have been a practical necessity as it appears all other sons had left the area by 1791.

An appraisal of John's estate was made on 20 December 1791 by David McNair, James Wilson, and John Thomas, the same men who had witnessed his will. The total of his estate was £99 5s. 2p. including one slave, Hannah, valued at £12. The largest single entry was a book of accounts of David's totaling £19 16s. His inventory included a set of cooper's tools.

It is not known how much longer Thankful lived. However, David sold his entire holdings on 1 October 1794 to John Johnston for 1,100 and moved on,(16) suggesting, perhaps, that Thankful had died prior to that time.

Known children of John and Thankful (Doak) Finley include the following, in the order named in John's will (except for David who is presumed to be the youngest male):

+2 i. George2 Finley, christened at Tinkling Spring, 30 January 1743.(17)

+3 ii. Robert Finley, christened 21 April 1745, at Tinkling Spring.(18)

+4 iii. Margaret Finley, christened 21 November 1746, at Tinkling Spring.(19)

+5 iv. James Finley.

+6 v. John Finley.(20)

+7 vi. Jean Finley, married Joseph Trimble.(21)

8 vii. Thankful Finley, married McKarter.

+9 viii. David Finley.

John Finley, Elder at Tinkling Spring

John Finley(22) (? - 1782) was, most likely, a first generation Scotch-Irish who arrived in America as a child in the early part of the eighteenth century. The earliest records that could be found for him were in Beverley Manor, Augusta County, Virginia, in 1738.(23) He had come to Virginia from Pennsylvania with his two brothers, William and Robert, just a few years after the movement of Scotch-Irish to this area was started by John Lewis.(24) While we do not have a date of birth for him, we do know that he had five children born between 1740 and 1749 and an elder son born before 1740. From this one would assume that he was a fairly young man when he settled in Beverley Manor, born probably not later than 1710.

His first wife was a daughter of the Reverend John Thomson, her given name unknown. John took an active role in establishing Tinkling Spring Meeting House, a Presbyterian congregation for the Scotch-Irish settlement in and around Beverley Manor. In the first action recorded, John Finley was appointed one of five commissioners charged with purchasing property on which to build their meeting house and collecting money to pay a minister. His brother, William, was one of the signers of this act, dated "August ye 14th 1741." However, as early as 1737, the people of Beverley Manor had petitioned the Donegal Presbytery to establish a meeting house. As a result a Christian Society called "The Triple Forks of the Shenando Congregation," was formed. Interestingly, their first request was for the services of Reverend John Thomson:

The Christian Societies in the back part of Virginia on September 5, 1739, united in presenting a supplication to the Presbytery of Donegal for the ministerial services of Rev. John Thomson, Chestnut Level pastor, as an "Itinerant Preacher to Virginia."(25) However, the Donegal Presbytery refused Thomson's petition to release him from Chestnut Level, where he was stationed at that time, and the Reverend John Craig was assigned in his place.(26) A site to build the first log structure was selected about five miles southwest of where the Finleys were living:

     A cool spring of water--issuing from beneath a rock, gathering into a pool from which man lives, overflowing into a stream by which the plains are made alive--is a delightful work of nature. The earliest pioneers in the Valley of Virginia found a bold spring, whose emerging waters made a musical sound upon the cavernous rocks, and they called it the tinkling spring. The church, located near this spring and named for it, is like "a spring of water willing up to eternal life" for multitudes who have passed this way.(27)

The first sanctuary was twenty-four by fifty feet, with a simple interior. "The floor was the ground over which the sanctuary was constructed. The pews were backless hand-made benches, probably small logs split with the smooth-hewn surface up and supported by wooden legs driven into auger holes. . .[and it was] without heating facilities."(28)

The Tinkling Spring Commissioners posted their first notice for payment on the log building on 12 November 1744, calling for twelve shillings per family. The congregation was divided into three quarters, with John Finley heading one quarter. This was an administrative device for organizing and collecting money from the parishioners. John's brothers, William and Robert, were both listed as members of his quarter at this time.(29)

Those must have been busy years in the settlement of Augusta County. Estimated population of the territory, authorized as Augusta County, was estimated at 2,500 in 1742, including about 500 in the bounds of the Tinkling Spring Congregation. The first court of law was established in late 1745 and John Finley [Finla in the records] was among those who took the oath of office on 30 October that year. The Augusta County Court was located at "Beverley's Mill Place," now Staunton, contrary to advice of local citizens who were ordered to view the land offered by William Beverley. Prior to that time, Augusta County citizens were served through the Orange County Court--and John Finley had been a justice there as well.(30)

An early road order showed that the Finleys operated a mill, "A Road be cleared from Finley's Mill to the Tinkling spring and thence to McCords Mill That John Finley and Archibald Stewart, John Christy and Robert Cunningham oversee the Same."(31) John and his family had been living on property near South River adjacent to the property he bought in 1746, 892 acres purchased from George Robinson, directly on South River. By then John and his wife had at least two children and brother William had at least three.(32) Presumably the three brothers were living close together. Four years after the purchase of the Robinson property, formal deeds were drawn up in which John split his property into equal thirds and sold two of them to his brothers, William and Robert.(33)

In 1748 John was made an elder of Tinkling Spring, a position he held until about 1764.(34) Between 1740 and 1749, the only years for which Tinkling Spring baptismal records are available, John and his wife had at least four, and possibly five, children; Elisabeth, William, James, George, and possibly another James (christened 26 March 1749). These are the children listed by Wilson as belonging to one of the two John Finley families in the area (the other being the John Finley family on Middle River). However, John's first wife died prior to 22 May 1750 when he divided his 892 acres and deeded two portions to his brothers. At that time, John's wife was named Mary, and while we do not know the given name of his first wife, we do know it was not Mary, since the Reverend John Thomson had another daughter named Mary who was living at that time. Son George was baptized on 4 January 1748 by his grandfather, Reverend John Thomson. One might speculate that Reverend Thomson may have made the trip from Prince Edward County to Augusta County to baptize the last child of this daughter.

John's second wife was Mary Caldwell, whose cousin Martha Caldwell was the mother of John Caldwell Calhoun. What is known about the Caldwells is discussed in the previous chapter.

The people of Augusta County lived in relative harmony until the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1755. Augusta County men were then called upon to strengthen the lines at the frontier, but were reluctant to leave their families without protection against the Indians. When George Washington made a tour of inspection in 1756, in and around Staunton, Augusta County, his evaluation was that, "the militia are under such bad order and discipline, that they will go and come when and where they please, without regarding time, their officers, or the safety of inhabitants, but consulting solely their own inclinations."(35) Through all this John Finley, as a representative of Tinkling Spring, continued actively in the cause of the church, attending special meetings of the presbytery at Rockfish Meeting House beyond the Blue Ridge in 1759 and in Prince Edward County in 1760.(36) At the next meeting of the presbytery, held at Tinkling Spring on 1 April 1761, the Reverend Richard Sankey of Buffalo, in Prince Edward County, son-in-law of Reverend John Thomson, was "continued" as moderator of the group.(37) Tinkling Spring continued to be a favored meeting place and the Reverend John Craig also often served as the moderator. However, problems mounted after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Craig's original mission included serving the Stone House just north of Beverly Manor, as well as Tinkling Spring, with the understanding that he would become a full time pastor for whichever could first afford his services. At the spring meeting held 5 May 1763 at Tinkling Spring, the Stone Meeting House asked for a separation from Tinkling Spring, with a decision deferred until the next meeting.

At the fall meeting of the presbytery in Cumberland County, 3 October 1764, the first item of business, following "Suplications for Supplies," was that:

     Mr Craig is dismissed from the Tinkling Spring, and sustains the pastoral relation as to the Congregation of Stone meeting House only.

The elder representing Tinkling Spring at this meeting was John Finley. He put in a request for a supply assignment at Tinkling Spring but none was made except, ". . .ministers in Augusta County, are left to their own discretion, in supplying." . . . Mr. Craig preached his farewell sermon at Tinkling Spring in November 1764.(38)

Wilson, in discussing post war problems of the French and Indian War, summarized the situation succinctly:

     Tinkling Spring people, with Rev. John Craig as their pastor, pioneered in the practice of religious freedom in the Colony of Virginia . . . Her men, though reluctant in aggression, were invaluable in defense against Indian cruelty. They were among the stalwart leaders that turned the tide in the frontier phase of the French-British struggle out of which grew the short-lived English rule over America. Tinkling Spring's first quarter of a century of service left her a changed and weakened meeting house group. Alexander Breckenridge, James Patton, John Preston, Archibald Stuart and John Lewis were dead by this time; John Finley, an active elder, disappears from the record, probably transferring his efforts to Brown's Meeting House; and families now removed entirely, or in part, were the Breckenridges, Lewises, Prestons, Campbells, Bells, Thompsons and others.(39)

Wilson, who published his book in 1954, probably made the same assumptions that earlier Finley researchers made and did not realize there were two distinct contemporary John Finleys in the area. The John Finley who showed up in the records of Brown's Meeting House was the John Finley who lived on Middle River.

One can imagine the feelings of dismay which probably overcame John after devoting a good twenty-five years of his life to the building of Tinkling Spring. He sold his remaining interest in the Robinson property, 297 acres, to his brother William in March 1765.(40) It is not surprising that he chose to go to Prince Edward County. This was another Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlement adjacent to that developed by John Caldwell and the Reverend John Thomson contributed to the Buffalo settlement in Prince Edward County for a while in the late 1740s. John Finley was related by marriage to both the Thomsons and the Caldwells, and while neither were living at the time, his first wife's brother-in-law, Reverend Richard Sankey, was still actively engaged in church work there. In fact, his daughter, Elisabeth, had been living with the Sankeys before John made the move and until her marriage in January of 1764.(41) John purchased 400 acres on Vaughan's Creek on 15 June 1765 from Jacob and Honour Garrett,(42) and his son William bought 430 acres on Vaughan's Creek from John Caldwell on 19 August 1765.(43) Just where this John Caldwell fits into the family in unknown, but he was most likely related to John Finley's second wife, Mary Caldwell.

John and his family lived in Prince Edward County for only about seven years and then moved on to Reed Creek area in Montgomery County (now Wythe), Virginia. It is unknown what prompted this move, but again he was moving into territory where other family and friends had located. There were two James Finleys already living there and it is strongly suspected that the elder James was a younger brother of John. Reverend Thomson's oldest daughter, Sarah, was living there with her second husband, William Sayers, who was also active in the affairs of the local Presbyterian Church at Reed Creek. George Breckenridge, son of Alexander, who had also been one of the original commissioners of Tinkling Spring, was nearby. John settled on a 327 acre parcel on Sally Run, waters of Reed Creek, which he bought from John McFarland in November 1773.(44) Six years later, John and "Meary", his wife, drew up articles of agreement giving their property to sons, David and Samuel, in exchange for life care. John died sometime prior to 19 August 1782, when the court ordered a deposition be taken of Mary to testify the document they drew up in 1773 was done according to his wishes.(45)

All of the children of John Finley by either marriage have most likely not been identified.

Children of John and (Thomson) Finley include, so far as they are known:

+2 i. John2 Finley, born about 1738/39, most likely in Augusta County, Virginia.

+3 ii. Elizabeth Finley, baptized by Rev. John Craig 18 January 1740/41, Tinkling Spring, Augusta County, Virginia.

+4 iii. William Finley, baptized by Rev. John Craig 30 January 1743, Tinkling Spring, Augusta County, Virginia.

5 iv. James Finley, baptized by Rev. John Craig 8 March 1747, Tinkling Spring, Augusta County, Virginia.(46)

+6 v. George Finley, baptized by Rev. John Thomson 4 January 1748, Tinkling Spring, Augusta County, Virginia.

A second James Finley said to have been born to this John Finley, cannot be definitely identified as the son of Thomson or of Mary Caldwell (and it is assumed Wilson was correct in his grouping of the children into separate John Finley families).

7 vi. James Finley, baptized by Rev. John Craig 26 March 1749, Tinkling Spring, Augusta County, Virginia.

John and Mary Caldwell had at least three children, and quite possibly others:

+8 i. David2 Finley, born 1 June 1754,(47) probably in Augusta County, Virginia.

9 ii. Samuel Finley, named heir with his brother David to his parent's plantation in Montgomery County in 1779, which they jointly sold in 1792. At that time both David and Samuel were "of Mercer County, Kentucky."(48) In 1785 a Samuel Finley signed a petition for the grant of land for a town site in Lincoln County.(49) In 1789 a Samuel Finley signed a petition for the repeal of the Act of Separation. David Finley also signed this petition.(50) In 1795 and 1796, Samuel Findley appeared on the Madison County tax list.(51) In 1796 a Samuel Finley was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in Madison County.(52) He appeared on the Lincoln County tax list from 1797, at least through 1811.(53) In 1801 he bought 100 acres in Lincoln County.(54) Evidence of his presence in Lincoln County continues at least through 1822, when the Rev. Samuel Finley served as President pro tem of Centre College in Danville.(55) It is tempting to believe this Samuel Finley is David's brother, and perhaps he is. The one disquieting fact is that in the 1810 census of Lincoln County he is placed in the twenty-six to forty-five age group, too young to have inherited property in 1779.(56) Perhaps the above records include more that one Samuel Finley.

+10 iii. Thomas Finley, born 11 February 1757, probably in Augusta County, Virginia.(57)

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John Finley's Timeline

1706
December 18, 1706
Dublin, County of Dublin, Leinster, Ireland
December 18, 1706
St. Peters, Dublin, Ireland
1724
April 10, 1724
Age 17
Chester County, Province of Pennsylvania, (Present USA)
December 8, 1724
Age 17
Calvert, Cecil County, Province of Maryland
1728
June 18, 1728
Age 21
Chester County, Province of Pennsylvania
1730
October 6, 1730
Age 23
Chester, Delaware, Pennsylvania, USA
1734
November 18, 1734
Age 27
Chester, Delaware County, Province of Pennsylvania
1734
Age 27
1736
April 12, 1736
Age 29
Augusta County, Province of Virginia
1739
March 1739
Age 32
Augusta, Virginia, USA