Willis Family in Southwest Virginia



Willis Tapestry
YDNA. Willis

……………………..The Tapestry
Families Old Chester OldAugusta Germanna
New River SWVP Cumberland Carolina Cradle
The Smokies Old Kentucky


Several distinct, separate, lines bearing the Willis surname were present in Southwest Virginia prior to 1800. In many cases these have intermingled geographically. This has lead to considerable confusion and uncertainty, as different researchers attempt to identify their own root lineages. YDNA testing has been very instrumental in associating various individuals with their correct lineage. Not all Willis in SW VA are associated with a known YDNA group. A mapping of YDNA groups is shown below: Image:Distribution of YDNA Willis Groups in Virginia.jpg The adjacent figure shows the distribution of various Willis YDNA Groups in Virginia through the early 1800's. Undoubtedly some persons bearing the Willis surname are present but for whose lines we so not have YDNA results. There were, for example, Willis at an early date in the Norfolk area, though they are not represented in the Willis YDNA Project. The groups shown are:
Wiltshire Group
Southside Group (aka Southern Group)
Saltville Group (aka SOuthwest Virginia Group
Carolina Cradle Group (aka North Carolina Group)
Southwest Virginia Group
Gloucester Group
Old Rappahanock Group (aka Maryland/Virginia Group)


The many Henry Willis' of Southwest Virginia
Records for Henry Willis in Southwest Virginia
Person:Henry Willis (29)
Person:Henry Willis (10)


Southwest Virginia Willis. An Person:Abner Willis (1) and person:Amos Willis (3) appear in Washington County tax records beginning in the 1790's. Both married and raised families in the area, appearing in the 1810 Washington County Census. Abner appears in the 1820 census record, and in successive records through 1840. Amos, however, dissappears from the record in southwest Virginia after 1810. He may have died, or perhaps have left the area. WIth regard to the latter possibility, an Amos Willis who appears in Hopkins County Kentucky in the 1820 census. It is possible that this Amos of Hopkins county is the same person as Amos of Southwest Virginia. At one time certain researchers traced their line of descent from an Abner Willis of Posey County Kentucky, who they considered to be the son of Amos of Hopkins County. They further believed that Amos came to Hopkins County from Craven or Carterete County North Carolina. The use of the given name "Abner" in this line suggested a possible connection to Abner Willis of Southwest Virginia. They were not, however, able to lay out a clear documentary basis their conclusions. YDNA evidence now suggests that Abner of Posey County belongs to the Craven County WIllis Group, and is unrelated to Abner of SOuthwest Virginia. Moreover, traditional genealogy now suggests that Amos of Hopkins County came to that area from Maryland. YDNA testing has not been done on this line, so its still possible that he's related to Abner and Amos WIllis of Southwest Virignia, though his history would be considerably more complex than that put forward by researchers in the Hoplkins County line. In general, there's no clear reason to presume a connection, though further evidence is needed to confirm or refute the relationship of Amos of Hopkins County to other groups.

Abner remained in the area, settling in Locust Cove, northeast of Saltville. His proximity to where Henry Willis suggests that Henry may have been his father but this is unconfirmed. Amos may have been Abner's brother, but this is conjectural. Abner and wife Eve Sifers moved about 1820 to the area outside of Nickelsville. Their numerous children dispersed throughout Southwest Virginia. Many, but not all, of those in Southwest Virginia, bearing the surname Willis, descend from Abner and Eve.

Henry of Saltville

Saltville Willis.The earliest of the Willis in Southwest Virginia is Henry Willis (10), who settled near Saltville about 1770. Henry appears on the roster of Glade Hollow and Maiden Springs Forts during Dunmore's War (1774). In 1773 Henry and Mary Cochran were charged with cohabiting. Other court records in western Virginia, show a continuing connection between Henry and the family of a Peter Cochran. Mary maybe the daughhter of a Peter Cockran, or alternative, she may be the daughter (wife?) of Peter's son, William Cochran. Both William and Peter died in 1774. The circumstances of their death are unknown, but since this s during Dunmore's War, it may be that they both died during Indian raids. In anycase, the contiueing interaction between Henry and the Cochrans, and with those who had relationships with the Cochrans, suggests that his relationship to them is not casual---ie, they are his kinsmen by marriage.

Henry's presence near Saltville suggests that he might be related to the Abner and Amos Willis who appear in Washington COunty tax records in the Saltville area, beginning about 1795. Their simultaneous appearance in the same area suggests that they are related to each other, and perhaps brothers. Census records suggest that they are appropriately aged to be sons of Henry. However, both would have been minor children at th time Henry dissappears from the Washington County records in 1784, and the ten year gap between his disappearance and their emergence in county records is difficult to reconcile. One way to reconcile that is to assume that Henry died about 1784, and that Mary remained in the area at least until her children by Henry came of age. While possible, there is nothing to particular support this interpretation, other than coincidence.

Persons tracing their descent from Henry believe he left Southwest Virginia, and settled first in Greene County TN, and later Pulaski County, KY. A henry Willis does appear in the Greene County records in 1785, dispappears after 1793. A Henry Willis then appears about this time in Pulaski County. The timing of the disappearances and reappearances of a Henry Willis in these three areas is consistent with the available records. This view is supported by marriage records in both Greene County and in Pulaski County, showing a Henry Willis serving as bondsman, or witnessing marriages for Cochran woman. While this evidence for this is not entirely conclusive, it is consistent with the idea that the Henry Willis in all three locaitons is one and the same person. Significantly, those clamining descent from Henry show a different YDNA signature than those claiming descent from Abner Willis, suggesting that there are indeed two separate lineages which are first noticed in the Saltville area of Southwest Virginia. Barring the appearance of further evidence, it seems unlikley that Abner and Amos are related to Henry of Saltville.

Henry of Montgomery

Wiltshire Willis Group. Person:Henry Willis (29) appears in Montgomery County shortly before 1784. Other Willis in this area include David and Isaac Willis. Because Henry appears in the Montgomery County records about the time Henry Willis of Saltville the possibility was examined that records for these individuals might represent records for the same person. This view is weakened by the fact that the Henry WIllis records in these counties overlap in time, and are difficult to reconcile as belonging to the same person. Recent work on the line shows with fair conclusivity that Henry, David, and Isaac are indeed related to each other, and came to the area from Franklin County TN, where Henry had settled with his brother (?) John, during the Revolution. Other records show that Henry later moved to Monroe County TN. YDNA evidence for descendants of Henry indicate that he is related to the "Wilshire WIllis Group, that initially settled on Long Island, NY, before 1700, moved to Old Chester PA, in the early 1700's, and then to Virginia after 1764. The family appears in Franklin County in 1777. The gap between 1764 and 1777 is largely unexplained. Some have postulated a stay in Gloucester County VA, though eviodence for this is not obvious.

Jacob Wills

Jacob Wills first appears in the records about 1783, purchasing land on Beaver Creek, Poor Valley, Scott County VA. He left the area by 1795. See: Document. Jesse Rogers Deed, Scott County, VA, 1839. His line has not been extensively studied. While some records show him with the surname spelled "Willis", most use the "Wills" spelling, and there is no immediate reason to see a connection with any other Willis lines in the area.


Carolina Cradle Group. Person:Larkin Willis (1) settled in Hancock (?) in northeastern TN. Some of his children and relations moved north into Lee and Scott County by c1810, where they become intermingled with the kin of Abner Willis. YDNA evidence in this line, however, suggests that his descendants are in the "Carolina Cradle Willis Group", centered in Guilford County, NC, and unrelated to Abner and Amos Willis of Southwest VIrginia. The WIllis YDNA project refers to this Group as the Carolina Group

Smith Willis

Person:Smith Willis (1) came into the area following the Revolution, settling in the Holston watersheds, marrying Mary Mullins. He left for Kentucky by about 1800, leaving no known descendants in the area. About 1808 he moved to Wayne County, Kentucky, settling on Otter Creek. His wife, Mary, died in 1828. In old age (1838) he moved to Morgan Co., TN, where his daughter Eleanor Willis Guffey was living. Here he married Eleanor Fulton. He died in 1849. We have no YDNA evidence for this line to confirm or refute relationships to other groups. A possibility remains that he is kin to Abner or Amos WIllis of Southwest Virginia. While no basis for such connection has been found, neither has a reason been found to refute such a connection. YDNA evidence is needed to resolve this.


Land records show a Zachariah Welles/Willes/Willis owning property adjacent to Issac WIllis, son of Abner Willis (1). The relationship, if any, between Zacariah and Isaac is unknown. From the isolated records that have been examined for Zacharaiah its is not possible to say for certainty that his name was a variant spelling of "Willis". Indeed the only reason to think so is the fact that he is living next to Issac.