The name "Saunders" is from Saxon origin in the British Isles. The word comes from the phrase, "belongs to Alexander." The shortened word, "Alexander's" pronounced without the "x" became "Alesanders's." Throughout the ages the word became Saunders, pronounced as "Sahnders" and finally written, Saunders. (Society of Genealogists, Kensington, England)
The family may have come from western Scotland, but is not a clan in the true sense of Scottish families. The family has no tartan or Scottish plaid colors. In the early feudal ages, smaller families such as the Saunders sought protection with the larger Scottish clans. The Saunders family aligned itself with both the McDonnel and McAllister families. (Ibid)
Two ideas exist concerning how the Saunders family set its roots in the American colonies. The first idea is steeped in family folklore; the second is based more on discernible facts.
The first idea.
Some writings on the Saunders's family folklore state Henry Saunders is the earliest "Saunders" known of our family. Family legend states he was a Highlander from northwestern Scotland and supported the Highlander's revolt to put Prince Charles on the English throne. The forces of the English Crown defeated the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden Moor near Inverness, Scotland, in April, 1746.
In some Saunders family circles legend says Henry Saunders was killed at Culloden. After Culloden, the British Crown disbanded the highland clans and prohibited these Scottish Families from ever gathering together again. (Henry County, Iowa; Biographical Review, The Saunders, c. 1906, Hobart Pub, Co.)
After the Highlander's defeat, the greatest immigration of Scottish people to the American colonies occurred: generally to the North Carolina colony. As early as 1739, three hundred fifty Scotsman came in one group to North Carolina and settled there. The Scottish immigrants eventually branched out to the other American colonies. (Ashe, Samuel; History of North Carolina,Vol I, Noppen Publishing Co.; Greensboro, NC, 1908)
Again, according to some writings about the Saunders family, Henry Saunders's sons, James and William, followed the Scottish immigration after Culloden and came to America. These writings also speculate that the Saunders brothers accompanied the Gunnel family upon the Gunnel's immigration to the American colonies. The Saunders brothers later married Sarah and Elizabeth Gunnel. However, researching available passenger immigration lists show no ship having both the Saunders and the Gunnels arriving together. (Filby, P.W., Passenger & Immigrant Lists,Vol III, 1st Edition, c. 1981, Gale Publishing, Detroit, Mi.)
Fairfax County, Virginia records also list the Gunnels as owning land in Virginia in 1733. The Battle at Culloden, Scotland occurred in 1746 and the Scottish immigration followed. This discounts the notion the Saunders and the Gunnels immigrated together after Culloden. (Mitchell, Beth; Fairfax County, Va. in 1760, c.1987, Comprehensive Planning Office, Fairfax Co., Va.)
The second idea.
This idea has the Saunders family coming from Westmoreland County, Virginia. Westmoreland County is in Virginia's "Northern Neck" region: located between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers. Two Westmoreland County wills support the idea the Saunders settled in the American colonies long before the Scottish immigration after Culloden.
In Westmoreland County, Virginia, a certain Phillip Saunders (Sanders) wrote his Last Will and Testament on 9 December, 1722. The will was probated on 6 April, 1723 in Westmoreland County. In Phillip's will he mentions his son, William; daughter Urslee Taylor; grandson John, (William's son); grandson Phillip; granddaughter Mary Saunders and wife Elizabeth. (Westmoreland County Va. Wills, pg 74, A.Fothergill c. 1925, Appeals Press)
Phillip's first wife was Ursula. This is confirmed by a Westmoreland County. Virginia. order book entry on 30 March, 1704 stating: "Phillip Saunders and Ursula, his wife, being summoned as evidence in a suit." (Westmoreland Co. Va, Order Book, 1698-1705, Part 4, compiled by J.F. Dorfman)
The earliest mention of Phillip Saunders (Sanders) yet found is in the Virginia land grants dated 2 July, 1695. Here Phillip Sanders is granted 131 acres in Westmoreland County,, Virginia, "adjoining land of Wm Harding (dead) and land surveyed for Nicholas Silvester in Betty's Block." (Virginia Northern Neck Landgrants, 1694-1742, compiled by G. Gray, 1987, Genealogical Pub Co. Baltimore, Md)
Phillip's son, William Saunders (Sanders), wrote his Last Will and Testament on 31 March, 1726. The will was probated on 29 June, 1726. William's will mentions his sons John, Phillip, James and William; wife Elizabeth; daughters Mary and Ursula; daughters Sarah and Elizabeth Saunders (Sanders), both not yet 18 years old at the time of William's will. (Westmoreland County Va. Wills, pg 74, A.Fothergill c. 1925, Appeals Press)
The names "Elizabeth" and "Sarah" were frequently used in colonial history. One can speculate on several notions concerning the Sarah and Elizabeth mentioned in William's will. The girls could be daughters from a previous marriage, present marriage, or perhaps even daughters- in-law.
James and William married into the Gunnel family: James married Sarah Gunnel, and William married Sarah's sister, Elizabeth. Their marriage dates and where they married is not yet known.
The Gunnels were a prominent family in colonial Virginia. William Gunnel was also from Westmoreland County, Virginia. His children were William Jr., Henry, Sarah and Elizabeth. He had received 1616 acres of land in Stafford County, (later Fairfax County, Virginia) in 1729. He lived on this land by 1733. (Mitchell, Beth; Fairfax County, Va. in 1760, c.1987, Comprehensive Planning Office, Fairfax Co., Va.)
On February 17, 1742, William Gunnel deeded 125 acres of land to his daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth and their husbands, James and William Saunders. This land is at the "head of 4 Mile Run, a little above the stony hill commonly called Brandamore Castle" in present day Fairfax County, Virginia. (Fairfax County, Va Deedbook)
In Fairfax County, Virginia records, a certain Phillip Saunders leased a tract of Thomas Pearson's land directly adjacent to James and William Saunders's land. Nothing yet states this Phillip Saunders was James and William's brother, but this historical coincidence shouldn't be overlooked. (Mitchel, Beth)
James and William were among a very few planters or farmers in Fairfax County who did not own any Negro slaves. The Gunnels owned slaves, though not many. (Ibid)
James and William's land is near present day Vienna, Virginia: a Washington D.C. suburb. To find the site, travel on the Dulles Airport access road, a four land freeway going between Dulles International Airport and Washington D.C., to State Highway 675 called Beulah Road. This is near the Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts.
Travel south a short distance on Highway 675 to Clark's Crossing Road. Turn west on Clark's Crossing Road and follow the road a short distance to the intersection of Batten Hallow Road. The area west of Clark's Crossing Road and east of Batten Hallow Road was James and William Saunders's inherited land.
It is important to remember that Fairfax County, Virginia was formed from Prince William County, Virginia in 1742. Loudoun County was formed from Fairfax County in 1757. This helps in understanding what appears to be a family change in location.
The Saunders were members of Truro Parish in Fairfax County. The parish was part of the established church. James tithed to the church 300 pounds of tobacco per year. Tobacco was legal tender in colonial Virginia. (Truro Parish, Minutes of the Vestry, 1732-1785, C. 1974, Pohick Church, Lorton, Va)
On November 4, 1761, James and William sold their land for 100 pounds, English currency, to John Hurst. The Fairfax County Court required Nicholas Minor and Richard Coleman to go to Sarah and Elizabeth Saunders to find out if these ladies had freely given their consent for their husbands to sell the land. The sisters had given gave their consent, as this was the women's inherited land. (Fairfax County, Va Deedbook, 1761)
The families moved a short distance west to newly established Loudoun County, Virginia. On August 10, 1761, James leased 150 acres of land from Thomas Mason. This land was in Cameron Parish, Loudoun County. The lease agreement allowed James to farm the land during his natural life for a sum of 735 pounds of tobacco paid annually on December 1. (Loudoun County, Va Deedbook C, pt 1, pg 86)
James Saunders died in Loudoun County in 1778 and presumably Sarah also died there. In James's Last Will and Testament, he mentions "my land lately in North Carolina." How he acquired this land is not yet known. A Saunders's family letter states James had planned to move to North Carolina, but after the death of their son William, James and Sarah gave up the notion.
In 1777, James and Sarah's sons, Gunnel and Henry, enlisted in the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War. Gunnel was a Captain, Henry an Ensign.
The United States's government awarded land grants to U.S. war veterans in gratitude for their service to the newly formed republic. These bounty lands were in the military district of Virginia including present day Ohio and Kentucky. It was because of these bounty lands that the Saunders family began their westward migration.
The Saunders, along with Peter Mauzy, a war veteran who married into the Saunders family, moved to what is now present day Fleming County, Kentucky. It is here that the family grew and dispersed.
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