An Analysis of the Samuel Shepard Letter of 1805 -
and the Yancey-Nanney theory in general - and its credibility
By Dennis J Yancey - dyancey@miami.edu

Introductory paragraph

The first mention of any possible connection between the Yanceys and Nanneys - appears to be a letter written in1805 by one Samuel Shepard of Cumberland (later settled in nearby Buckingham) county Virginia - in which he mentions his wife - who was a Yancey descendant and their new born child along with his wife's cousin Charles Yancey.  In the letter mention is made of a Mr. William Evans, an associate of the family, who claims that the name Yancey was originally Nanney and had been changed upon coming to America.  He also mentions the Nanney Coat of Arms and how similar arms were held by the Yanceys in America. 

This information was seemingly only  first published in 1927  in the William & Mary Quarterly Magazine ( a periodical of genealogical and historical nature).    This also seemingly corresponds to the time period that a Mrs. Tempe H Carraway wrote a report on the Yancey-Nanney connection and also included the transcription of the letter  - the timing of her report along with the formal publication of the Shepard letter does not seem to be just coincidental.  She had employed a British researcher by the name of O. E. Ruck who provided information for her report about the Nanney family of Wales.   The Shepard letters are also printed in the book ""   published in.  

I am unclear as to whether the original letters are extant or not.  That would be an interesting avenue of research.  I

This 1805 letter, accompanied by the information about the arms and its similarities,  seem to be a huge CRUX for the entire Nanney/Yancey connection.  If, for sake of argument, the letter was somehow determined to be a fabrication or hoax - personally I think we could throw the Nanney/Yancey theory out the window.  If the letters were known to be legit - and if those referenced in the letter really did exist and did say what they purportedly said - then the Yancey/Nanney theory (accompanied by other supplemental circumstantial evidence) does seem to be at least quite plausible.  Though there clearly seems to be a lack of much  concrete physical evidence linking the families.

But because of the great significance of this letter to the Yancey-Nanney theory  a thorough analysis of it and the people referenced does seem to be fitting - to understand its plausibility  as well as a good understanding of the background issues and general information about the people and place and times. 

     

The Samuel Shepard Letter:

Dear Brother Robert:  10 December 1805

Since I last wrote you, my wife has been very sick in the home of her cousin Charles Yancey, whom she has been visiting.

Every attention was paid to her, before I reached her side, and she was delivered of a fine boy before my coming. The boy even now resembles that old Welsh stock. Charles Yancey says he must play astrologer and prepare the horoscope of the lad.

While visiting Yancey during the convalescence of my wife, we discussed Welsh stock. He tells me Mr. William Evans of Cumberland County says he is Welsh, and descended from some outlandish prince of that country. Mr. Evans who is a broadly cultivated man, says he does not believe the Yancey name is correct, that it was Nanney and got amended in transportation across the Atlantic. Charles Yancey had heard something of this kind from his folks, and my wife has an old arms of the family, that Mr. Evans says belongs to the same Nanney family. He says he believes he has seen it in his father's books somewhere. Mr. Evans, who was a distinguished soldier in the War, speaks some Welsh and pronounces these Welsh names very peculiarly.

Have you heard anything lately concerning Cousin Betty Gannaway? I heard she was married again, but she has not written me. I believe she still lives in Wythe County. When did you last see our cousins the Burwells? I want to go to Gloucester soon to see them, and to James City County where we all came from. I need not write you about our circumstance here as you were so recently our guest. The bad crops this year leaves me inclined to pessimism. The corn turned out badly, the tobacco was diseased, flea bitten, and is now bringing poor prices on a dull market.

Last week some two dozen veterans of the War gathered at the Court House for a reunion. We has excellent punch, some fine port, cakes baked by the Ladies of the village, pastries, venison, pork, turkey and other accessories.

The hero Peter Francisco who entertained us with exhibitions of his strength. He offered to wrestle with me, but though I am large, I did not feel it necessary that I risk widowing my wife. Mr. McGraw, however, challenged Fransisco to a fencing match and neatly overcame him. We sang some songs, talked, and at four o'clock rose from the table to get our horses out. The hour was too cold for me in my exhilarated condition to venture home, and I staid in the village with Mr. Eldridge, sharing my bed with Mr. McGraw, who was overcome with wine. He delivered a speech on women that was as amusing a thing as I ever heard, and would perhaps have gone on talking for a couple of hours had I not smothered him with a pillow.

When you are in town send me some good books. I want a new Shakespeare if you can get it cheap. Mine is worn out and Xenophon.

Love to all the Family

Samuel Shepard

[Buckingham County, Virginia]

another letter many people have missed.

"Dear Brother L. Thomas: While I am writing a sheaf of letters to my relatives I must write one to you, though I do not know whether, from your steady silence, I owe you any writing. Prosperity must have dislocated your sense of relationship with us Virginians, or, as I trust not, adversity upset your affairs to the extent of causing you to forget the cradle you were born in. I refuse to consider myself the friend remembered not, until you tell me so.

"My wife has another son, upon whose first name we cannot agree, but whose middle name my wife says shall be Yancy. Mrs. Sheppard insists that his first name shall be Sais, but I refuse, up to this time, to yield up my son to such a name. Charles, Peter, Richard, or more appropriately to Robert for our great ancestor - great, because he lived a long, long time ago and perhaps for other reasons suits me better. But my wife has not the bold of the Welsh rulers in her veins for nothing; there may be only a millionth particle of a droplet in her, yet it is sufficient to make her as much a dictator as Queen Elizabeth, of great 'Axial' fame. Our child, however, is delicate and may not live. My wife thinks me foolish but I have had queer sensations that warn me of its hold on life. I pray God I am wrong. There are corners of the mind we do not know of, and I fear, I greatly fear the premonitions that often rouse me in the night. I have had these feelings before, with results in conformity with my apprehensions.
 

[more from the letters]

 

The people referenced in relation to the letter:
The writer of the Letter: 
Samuel Shepard (1760-1840) a resident of Cumberland (later settled in Buckingham) county, Virginia.  The Shepard family was originally from England.
The recipient of the Letter:  Robert Shepard (abt 1772 - ????) - younger brother of Samuel
Samuel's  wife and child:  Susannah Shepard (abt 1770-aft 1850) and child (who though it is not mentioned in the letter - the child seems to have died as an infant). She was the daughter of John Holman and Susannah Yancey. The Holmans of English ancestry and the Yanceys being what was said to be Welsh.  Of interest is the fact that the child's middle name was to be "Yancey" and the mother wished his first name to be "Sais" (a Welsh name).
The wife's cousin: Charles Yancey (1770-1857). Charles was probably one of the most affluent and respected citizens of Cumberland and Buckingham County for nearly 50 years.  He was very involved in community affairs and an educated man of means. Buried in Buckingham County.
The parents of Charles Yancey: Charles Yancey was the oldest and only son of the Reverend Robert Yancey and his wife Ann Crawford. Reverend Robert Yancey was the Protestant Episcopal (Anglican) minister for Trinity & Tillotson parishes in Louisa County, Virginia.  Surely he would have been a well known and respected member of the community.  Of note is the fact that he traveled to England  in 1768 to be ordained as a minister by the Bishop of London.
William Evans:
It would appear as if Charles Yancey, Samuel Shepard and William Evans were all prominent respected men of the community who knew each other and probably often saw each other at community events etc.  Both Charles Yancey and William Evans had military experience - William in the Revolutionary War and Charles in the War of 1812.  William Evans was a man of Welsh ancestry who descended from the Welsh  Quakers of Pennsylvania.  Most of these Pensylvania Welsh were from Quaker families that had come to America to gain religious tolerance. In contrast to various welsh immigrants who had come to Virginia - the Pennsylavnai Welsh were able to keep their welsh identity and culture across many generations here in America. This contrasts to many of the Welsh in Virginia who seemed to have melted into the English dominated society.  Evans himself was a descendant of  Bleddyn - Prince of Wales - and ancestor of the Nanneys of Nannau, Merionethshire Wales - and apparently did recognize the family crest of that of his own ancestors.  It is interesting that Evans had kept much of his welsh culture and language - even after his family had been here in America for three or four generations. It is interesting to note that Evans clearly would have known that the name Charles Yancey - was blatantly and clearly NOT a welsh name - so it is quite interesting that even knowing that he still had reasons to believe the Nanney-Yancey connection.   It is also interesting to note that Charles Yancey said he had heard something of the same from his parents.  William Evans and Charles Yancey are both  buried there in Buckingham County - it is quite interesting to come to find out the name of the family estate of  William Evans - none other name then "Merioneth" - in honor of his family origins of Merionethshire Wales (the same origin of that of the Nanneys). If anyone was in a position to know of the Yancey/Nanney origins you would think William Evans would have known.
Burial & Family Info - at "Merioneth".
Family Info of William Evans.

 
Year and Place:  1805 - Cumberland Country Virginia.  This was an interior rural sparsely populated county.  Cumberland county was formed in 1749 from Goochland County.  In 1761 Buckingham county had been formed from an adjoining county of Cumberland.  Both Evans and Yancey ended up in Buckingham County where they were both buried. 
Could the letter have been a hoax or scam?
Just about anything is possible.  At first glance upon the topic - one wonders if someone (such as a genealogist of the early 20th century) may have been over-zealous to make some sort of connection to the Royal Welsh Family. But as one researchers the families in question, the other Shepard letters that were written and other background information - there seems to be little that would point to a fabrication. The more one researches this subject and the family - the more it seems the pieces of the puzzle do fit together - contrasting to what often happens when investigating a hoax - the more one discovers the more conflicting and contradicting info one finds. 

 

The Nanney - Yancey stories

More information about the Nanneys can be found here:

Nanney-Yancey cnnections

Yancey Origins

Nanney Site

Nanney Genforum

 

Examples of Welsh immigration to Virginia about the year 1700:

see this site for various examples of welsh migration.
 

Members of the Welsh Nanney Family who came to America

1635 - Robert Nanney
came to America on the ship "Increase" in 1635 - most researchers record him as the son of one Robert Nanney - a grocer of London, England who traces his lineage back to Wales.  He settled first at in Dover, New Hampshire and later in Boston and had various children.  Some descendants of John Nanney of Brunswick County, VA claim descent from him - recording their John as a grandson via Samuel Nanney - but it seems this may be in error.
Other than that - Robert  apparently did not have any descendants beyond his children that carried the Nanney name  [more details]   [Indenture]  [will record]  

1689 - Hugh Nanney
- recorded as being among 131 persons imported by Edmund Jennings near James River area - but other records seem to indicate he was already in Virginia in York County in 1687. Later his name shows up in other York County records and in Henrico county in 1701.  Exact linkage to Nanneys of Wales not known.  No known descendants or family. [more details]

about 1700's - Rhys or Rees Nanney
- came to Pennsylvania about the year 1700.  His exact lineage has not been documented. These Nanneys were Quakers.  [more details]  [more details]

early 1700's - William Nanna or Nanney
came to New York from Wales - various descendants up to the present day  - among them some who use the name ANWAY.  His exact lineage has not yet been documented.   [more details]

about 1700? - John Nanney of Brunswick County Virginia. For many years researchers showed him as a grandson of Robert Nanney of Massachusetts (above) but this seems a likely error. Other researchers record him him directly coming from Wales  but details are sparse.  His descendants probably comprise the larger portion of Nanneys in America relative to any other branch.   [ will ]  [descendants]

about 1700? - William Nanna
- Talbot County Maryland.  His will is recorded in that County in 1703 - whether he is a relative of some of these other Nanneys is unclear and when he came to America has not been determined. [will ]

1731 - Martin Nanny (Nunny)
- came to Virginia as a "transported convict" to Virginia apparently form England [ more details ]  Once thought to be a Nanny - research would seem to indicate that the name here is not Nanny - but Nunny - and thus no connection.

1911 - William Rees Nanney - came to New York form Wales in 1911.  Died in the great flu epidemic of 1919. [ancestry]

 

 

Branches of the Nanney Family in Wales

Hugh Nanney

John Nanney

Lewis Nanney

Evan Nanney

 

 

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