The Strange Romance of William Batchelor Denmark

It’s Valentine’s Week, and I wanted a romance story to share for my weekly 52 Ancestors posts. Several weeks ago, I began digging around in my family tree, hoping to come across a sweet romantic story to share.

Sometimes, when you go rummaging around in your family tree, you come up with a family skeleton … a story you wish could remain buried and hidden away. That’s what happened when I went hunting for a family romance story among my ancestors.

You see, instead of finding an inspiring or thrilling romance, what I found was a rather bawdy story sordid enough to make you blush!

Lest you fear, trust me … I’m not about to get X-rated or share any raunchy details. However, this strange tale is sure to make you scratch your head at the indecorous behavior of my 7th great-grandfather.

William Batchelor Denmark was born in 1740 in North Carolina to William Denmark and his wife Mourning Moye Denmark. Records indicate that during his adult life, he was known as WB and fought during the American Revolution. He died in 1821 at the age of 81 in Georgia. During his life, he married three times and had 17 children.

So far, nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. But hang on … William Batchelor Denmark was anything but ordinary.

In 1765, WB married his first wife, a lady by the name of Mary Moye (1745-1793).

Wait? Wasn’t WB’s mother a Moye?

She was, but it wasn’t unusual for families to intermarry during colonial times. This probably wasn’t a shocking situation, even at the time.

What might be shocking, however, is that census records show WB and Mary’s first child, Eleanor, was born in 1759, a full six years prior to their marriage. Mary was just 14 years old at the time of the birth.

Having a child out of wedlock isn’t exactly unheard of, even back in the mid-18th century. I mean, it could be a source of gossip, but this sort of thing does happen quite often. And while I do think that in 18th century American society most respectable men would have married their lover prior to the child’s birth, I’m sure WB wasn’t the only man who waited six years to do so either.

A quick look at WB and Mary’s remaining children shows that they were all born after their 1765 marriage. So far, WB and Mary seem to be on the up and up.

Keep reading. I promise you, this tale grows more salacious the further you dig around.

You see, two years after Mary’s death, WB married for a second time. This wife was a woman named Anna Moye (1742-1806).

Wait a minute. Wasn’t Mary’s last name Moye, too?

Yes, it was. In fact, Mary Moye was the younger sister of Anna Moye. (I’m still not sure how these two sisters tie into William’s mother, Mourning Moye. Obviously, there is bound to be a connection.)

Perhaps now you are thinking this situation certainly is a bit odd … yet, marrying sisters (even if they were your relatives) probably wasn’t totally unheard of back in pre-Revolutionary America. History is filled with stories of families that intermarried.

If you are looking for the shocking stuff, just stay with me … because the tale of WB and the Moye sisters is far stranger than just a story about man who happened to marry two sisters who were probably already related to him in some way or another.

The first odd thing I noticed was that Anna had two children with WB prior to his marriage to Mary.

That’s right. WB fathered two children with Anna BEFORE he married Mary. In fact, Anna was the mother of WB’s first-born child, a daughter named Sarah Margaret born in 1757 when Anna was only 15 years old. Anna also gave birth to Stephen in 1763, which was a full two years before WB and Mary said their wedding vows.

All told, WB and Anna had nine children, all of whom were born either before or during WB’s marriage to Mary. By the time WB actually marries Anna, their youngest child is approximately 6 years old!

According to several other researchers on the Denmark-Moye marriages, it seems that there were some discrepancies about which children belonged to which mother. Even the kids, later in their lives, couldn’t sort themselves out consistently.

I know that I saw several different versions of which children went with which mother. However, I attempted to piece together a list of William Batchelor Denmark’s 17 children, along with the years of their births and their assumed mothers based on the most reliable sources I could find on the internet. (Again, this is my best guess and I’m sure if you google William Batchelor Denmark, you will find plenty of genealogical researchers who match the children and the mothers up differently. Researchers even disagree on the names of some of these kids. It’s not easy to figure out who is who in this mixed-up family tree!)

  • Sarah Margaret born in 1757 to Anna
  • Eleanor born in 1759 to Mary
  • Stephen born in 1763 to Anna
  • Seaborn born in 1765 to Mary
  • Susannah born in 1765 to Anna
  • Jemima born in 1767 to Mary
  • Louisa (AKA Lavina) born in 1768 to Anna
  • Elizabeth born in 1771 to Mary
  • Redden born in 1773 to Anna
  • James born in 1774 to Anna
  • Margaret born in 1775 to Mary
  • Clarissa born in 1775 to Anna
  • Martha born in 1777 to Anna
  • John James born in 1780 to Mary
  • James Thomas born in 1782 to Mary
  • William Batchelor Jr. born in 1884 to Mary
  • Malachi born in 1787 to Anna

After Anna and WB married, they moved to Georgia, apparently following their children who were headed westward. It is said that while traveling through Georgia, Governor Mitchell gave W.B. and his party “passports” which attested to their “character and honor.” These passports then convinced the Indian Chiefs to allow WB and Anna to travel through the newly-acquired Creek Indian lands, in order that they could visit W.B.’s sister Abigail and their daughter Susannah.

After Anna’s death is 1806, WB married for a third time in 1813. This wife’s name was Mary Cochram, and it appears that she is not connected in any way to the Moye family. No children came from this marriage.

For the record, I am descended from William and Anna’s daughter, Susannah. She married a man by the name of Reverend Adam Jones. From all appearances, Susannah and her preacher husband seemed to live a much more honorable lifestyle. Thank goodness!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Last week I missed my weekly 52 Ancestors post. But that’s okay … it gives me the chance to write two posts this week. On Thursday, I’ll be sharing about my great-grandmother on what would be her 117th birthday. Can’t wait to share more about this amazing lady and her influence on my life and faith.

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