EARLY DOWNEN HISTORY -- COLONISTS AND PIONEERS
[This section is intended only as a general overview of Downen family origins so far as they have been documented. It is based upon personal research, and also summarizes information found in previous publications, including History of the Downen Family 1777-1970 (A.R. Bradley, Carmi, IL. 1974) and Many Branches of the King-Miner Family (Glen Miner, Ridgway, IL. 1984). For additional detail, consult one or both of those books, which can be found in several libraries in Southern Indiana and Illinois.]
The earliest documentation found on our particular Downen family line is a Royal Land Grant in South Carolina presented to our ancestor, JOSIAH DOWNING, dated February 13, 1768. The grant, in the name of King George III, gave Josiah 150 acres of vacant land in Granville County, South Carolina, located slightly north of the town of Abbeville in modern-day Abbeville County. During the Revolutionary War era, this region was known as "96th District." Grants were also made in the same area to James, John, and Thomas Downing who could have been his brothers. No earlier references to Josiah Downing have been found in South Carolina. Of course, if he had recently come of age, this might just be his first appearance in an official document. Official birth records were not kept in the early colonies.
Different theories exist as to Josiah Downing's origins. Some researchers have speculated that Josiah was one of the many poor Scots-Irish Protestant immigrants to the Carolina colonies during this period, who were promised free land by the English crown to settle there. Others believe Josiah was part of a Downing family migration southward from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina in the 1700s; in fact, one source claims that Josiah's oldest son was born in Granville County, North Carolina. There were other Downings in nearby Chester County, South Carolina, who seem to have followed this southward migration. Also, there were Downing families just across the boundary in Georgia, who could have moved northeastward into South Carolina. Some researchers speculate that Josiah may be closely related to Indian Traders John Downing and Patrick Downing who were sent from Virginia to South Carolina in the 1750s to man the new frontier trading post near Abbeville; both were still living in the 1770s, in proximity to Josiah. At this point, nothing can be ruled out, and clear-cut proof remains to be found. However, the southward migration from Pennsylvania through Maryland, Virginia (perhaps Orange County), and North Carolina (perhaps Orange County) seems promising and whould merit further research.
Josiah Downing was born about 1740-45. His wife Mary was born about 1747. We believe her maiden name was Smith, and her family may have come up from Georgia. So far as can be determined, Josiah was a frontiersman and farmer. Their children, born approximately 1765 to 1788, were Job, Hannah, William, Timothy, Polly, Elizabeth, Josiah Jr., David, Patsy--and possibly James, who was a neighbor of Josiah in the 1790 South Carolina federal census. Timothy, born in 1777, was the father of James Downen of Jackson County, Illinois.
In the latter stages of the Revolutionary War, North and South Carolina became the focus of intense fighting between Americans and the British, who sought to maintain a foothold here after defeats in the New England states. The British occupied and fortified the 96th District in western South Carolina in 1780, until they were forcibly evicted by South Carolina patriots in 1781. Between 1780 and 1782, Josiah Downing served in the South Carolina Militia of patriots under the command of General Andrew Pickens, whose purpose it was to harass the British. There is sworn testimony that in 1781 Josiah was "sent out on a Detachment [which] was overtaken by a party of the Enemy... in the flight Josiah Downen was struck off his horse and Lay som time as Dead...". Later he was compensated for his loss of "one Riffel gun, Sadel, Bridel, one coverlid on Quilt, a new Racoon Hat, one Silver plated Spur." Josiah's service as a "Revolutionary War Patriot" is formally recognized by the DAR in Washington, and several descendants have gained membership through his name (DAR National #547976).
All documents carrying his name prior to the War refer to Josiah as "Downing." All documents dated during and after the War refer to him as "Downen". Therefore, we believe he may have chosen to "Americanize" his surname out of loyalty to the patriot cause. In any case, all of Josiah's children and their succeeding generations have used the "Downen" spelling (though several in Southern Illinois pronounced it as Downey). Genealogy research prior to 1776 would seem to require attention to the "Downing" family lines.
By 1790, Josiah's family was residing in what is now Anderson County, South Carolina, near Pendleton. The last record of him at this location is in 1794. Probably soon afterward, Josiah Downen and his children left South Carolina and took the heavily traveled pioneer route through Tennessee to Kentucky. Although Josiah himself received 200 acres in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky in 1799, some of his family remained behind in southcentral Tennessee for a time. Our own Timothy probably married there; and his first child was born in what is now Giles County, Tennessee in 1805. Downen, Downey, and Downing families could be found in southern Tennessee for several generations afterward.
Josiah Downen died in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky in 1802 or 1803, for his wife Mary Downen was taxed on this farm from 1803 to 1807. She died May l5, 1835, at age 88. Their place of burial is not known.
TIMOTHY DOWNEN, son of Josiah and Mary, married Jane about 1804, probably in Tennessee. She was born Sept. 18, 1782 in South Carolina; and we believe she was a member of the LACEY family, quite possibly the Lacey's of Chester County, South Carolina. After their son George Tillman Downen was born in Tennessee, they moved to Kentucky about 1806 to join the rest of the Downen family. Timothy paid $50 for 100 acres on Pond River in Muhlenberg County, where his next three children (Brycem, Eliza, Eletha) were born.
In 1811, Timothy accompanied his brothers David, William, Job, and Josiah Jr. to the southwest corner of the Indiana Territory, which was soon to become Posey County. In September, he marched with others to Vincennes, where he served under General William Henry Harrison in the November 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe against Tecumseh's Indians. Timothy was severely wounded. The following year, Timothy's fifth child, James (our ancestor), was born. Over the next eleven years, five remaining children were born here: John, Thomas, William, Jane, and Mary.
According to county records, Timothy was one of the ten first petit jury called in Posey County in 1815. In 1818, he was appointed Constable of Marrs Township. Two years later, in 1820, Timothy purchased 80 acres of land in neighboring Robinson Township from his brother Josiah Jr., for $500. Timothy's farm was about half way between Evansville and New Harmony, Indiana, just south of what is now Blairsville.
Then, on December 28, 1828, Timothy Downen met with a tragic accident. According to family Bible records, Timothy was "killed by a runaway horse." His gravestone at the small family cemetery on the farm says he was "about age 51." His wife Jane remained on the farm, remarried, and died twenty-four years later on June 9, 1852, at the age of 70. She is buried with Timothy and other family members.
Today, the Timothy Downen cemetery sits on private farm property, surrounded by a five-foot chain link fence erected by his descendants. A bronze plaque marks the site, and briefly describes the Downen settlement in this area. To visit the homestead site and cemetery, take Route 66 to Blairsville, Indiana. Take the gravel road heading south out of Blairsville, and go two miles. Turn right (west) onto the old "Downen Road" and go approximately one mile to the bronze marker on the left side of the road. The old cemetery sits in a grove of trees on the ridge of the field behind it.
To discuss any aspect or exchange information, contact Bob Downen at firstname.lastname@example.org (active 2007)