Chapter XVII

Joseph Combs, of Stafford and His Descendants

This very conspicuous gentleman among the Tidewater Virginia Combses of the first half of the eighteenth century is styled of Stafford County [VA]; since the first recorded knowledge we have of him is when he takes up land in that county, August 9, 1725, on Aquia Creek. It now seems certain, as I shall attempt to show a little later, that he is a son of John Combs of Richmond ([later] King George) [Cos, VA], and an older brother of Mason Combs, of Stafford. Joseph is the progenitor of what has become one of the most celebrated lines of Combses in the country. Some of his descendants were officers in the Revolution; some were officers, one a colonel, and later a general, in the Second War with England; one of them, a son, gave Washington considerable concern in the Shenandoah Valley. They played a prominent part in the settlement and development of Central Kentucky, four brothers preceding their mountain kinsmen by twenty-five years. In politics, they vied with the "House of Breckinridge", one of them, Gen. Leslie Combs, measuring swords with John C. Breckinridge. The descendants of Joseph are now to be found in probably half the states of the Union. (1)

Unfortunately, Joseph's descendants of the present know nothing of his parentage, or ancestry, although a few of them have engated [engaged] in some astute tight rope walking, attempting to establish it. Long ago the American Genealogy sicked its experts onto old Joseph, and they pulled him out of the jungles of the Potomac, on the Maryland side; Mr. J.W. Wayland, in his History of Shenandoah County, Virginia, aided and abetted them. But these two authorities, with no data upon which to substantiate their claims, differ materially as to Joseph's


parentage. Mrs. Elizabeth Combs Pierce, of Lancaster County, Virginia, also places Joseph's original habitat in Maryland, in Charles County. There is neither evidence nor tradition to verify these claims. Miss Bessie Taul Conkwright, of the Louisville Times, has shown that Joseph as a given name does not appear among the Maryland Combses until about the middle of the eighteenth century, or sixty-five years or more after Joseph Combs was born. The theory that Joseph's father was Richard Combs (born 1653), of Charles County, Maryland, is just a theory, nothing more.

In the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography for October, 1946, I set forth my reasons for classing Joseph Combs, of Stafford, as a son of John, of Richmond or an older brother of Mason, of Stafford. I now review some of them here, with additional presumptive evidence, data and statements. In the final analysis, the argument would hardly seem necessary, but the matter needs to be cleared up, once and for all.

1. All the children but one or two mentioned in John Combs' will (1717),[(] already quoted in full, earlier) are those by his second wife, Hannah. More recently Beverley Fleet's Abstracts show that John had been previously married, to Ann ___, and was living with her as late as 1693. If he married shortly before 1685, he had time to have three or four children by 1693 or a little later. We know that one of these earlier children was Elizabeth, married to William Kendall, of Stafford. (2)

2. John lived among the Masons, (Joseph Mason was his neighbor), and probably married a Mason; he named one of his sons Mason, and it is not improbable that he named another and an older one (by his first wife) Joseph, a name common among the Masons. (His presumed son Joseph was born 1680-1685.). (3)

3. Elizabeth Kendall was living in Stafford, an adjoining county, when her father died. Joseph was living there as early as 1725, probably earlier. Mason shows up there as early as 1740 (Overwharton Parish Register); he may have been there earlier. We know that Archdale Combs, one of Mason's older brothers, was not in the good graces of the family, a fact which may have induced Mason to leave Caroline [Co, VA], where Archdale also lived.

4. Joseph lived on Aquia Creek, in Stafford. Mason moved to the same part of the county, and lived near Joseph and the Brents; therefore, he must have known his presumed nephews, Joseph II and John, and a niece, Jane, who married Capt. John Ashby in the same


county. His older sons, John (father of the eight brothers), "Danger Nick" and Josiah, must also have known them; these boys were twelve to sixteen years old when Mason left Stafford for old Frederick [Co, VA], in 1751. For what it is worth, one of Joseph's two sons was named John.

5. Joseph Combs, John Ashby (Joseph's son-in-law), William Kendall (Joseph's presumed brother-in-law, and Mason Combs' brother-in-law) were witnesses in the Murdock vs. Ralls suit, in court at Dumfries, nine miles from Joseph's home. George Mason was also a witness.

6. Joseph II, moved over to Frederick ([later] Clarke [Co. VA]) about 1750. Mason Combs moved over, or takes up land the same year, a few miles up the Shenandoah from Joseph. Joseph later moved up near Mason. (4)

7. Benjam (Gen. Leslie's father), nephew of Joseph II, lived in Clarke [then Frederick] for several years after the Revolution. He was commissioned a lieutenant in Frederick, and apparently served much of his time there. John (father of the eight brothers) belonged to the Frederick militia in the Revolution.

8. Benjamin married a Richardson. Mason, his presumed second cousin, and oldest of the eight brothers (and a grandson of above Mason) also married a Richardson, presumably in the same county, before he moved to the Holston Settlements. (5)

9. Benjamin and his brother, Cuthbert ("Cud") finally settled down for good in Clark County, Kentucky. Henry (Harrison), of the eight brothers, made frequent trips down the Kentucky River, with produce for New Orleans; he knew and visited Benjamin, and maybe Cuthbert. Later, Harrison's brother, William, moved to Clark, or Fayette [Cos, KY], near Boonesboro [Boonesborough], ran the Combs Ferry at the mouth of Lower Howard's Creek, and the tavern, built by Gen. Leslie Combs.

10. Benjamin rode horseback from Winchester [Clark Co, KY] to Hazard [Perry Co, KY], to visit Harrison and his brothers, and while there nearly drank up all of Harrison's peach brandy. He and his brothers in the Bluegrass were always referred to as counsins [cousins].

11. Gen. Leslie Combs told a number of the children of the eight brothers that he was related to them. (His father was dead, and he did not know the exact relationship; he was their third cousin). Gen. Leslie came to the mountains a number of times.

12. In Dickey's diary, Bonaparte ("Boney") Combs (born in 1807,) youngest son of Mason of the eight brothers, says: "Gen. Leslie


Combs was a cousin of my father, so I have always understood it. (He is a bit confused on the exact relationship, or at least uses the word cousin in a general sense). One of my nephews named his son for him; so did Hardin Combs, of the Middle Fork, Breathitt [Co., KY]. Old Leslie Combs told Wiley Combs, my son-in-law:'Never deny your name; it is as good a name as there is in this world.' He always claimed kin with us." Says William Mason Combs (a grandson of Henry, one of the eight brothers), of Jackson, in Dickey's Diary: "I met him (Leslie) at Frankfort in July, 1862 . . . . . . Leslie told me we were all kin. I do not know how close, but it was distant."

13. Says Elijah Combs Cornett (born in 1822), grandson of "Gen." Elijah Combs, one of the eight brothers, in the Dickey Diary: "General Leslie Combs was a kinsman of my grandfather; also Dr. G1enmore Combs (Leslie's cousin), of Winchester [Clark Co, KY], also Wirt Combs, of Combs Ferry."

14. A number of given names appear in both families, such as: Harrison, Fielding, Francis, Stephen, Cythia and others. Archdale and Mason occur once or twice among the Clark County Combses.

15. For what it is worth, a final bit of presumptive evidence: the initical [initial]C (for Calmes?) was formerly common in given names in both branches of the family. In the Kentucky mountains it continues to this day. It could hardly stand for Cuthbert as there have been a number of Cuthbert C. Combses. (6)

The defense rests. It appears that Joseph Combs of Stafford was an older brother of Mason Combs of Stafford, both of them descending from Archdale Combs, of old Rappahannock; and that, in consequence, the "eight" brothers of the Kentucky mountains were first cousins once removed of the Bluegrass brothers. It does not seem reasonable that those two sets of brothers could have been ignorant of the kinship existing between them; albeit distance and the passing of time have conspired gradually to becloud the issue among their descendants, and to ring down the misty curtain of forgetfulness between the two sets.