Myths, Mysteries & Mistakes in Rainwater genealogy research

The purpose of this page is to debunk the many hand-me-down stories and fictions about the Rainwater family that have accumulated over the years. It bears saying that where I refer to proof, I am speaking of a primary source document - a will, census record, tombstone, marriage record, family Bible and so on. "So-and-so told me", or "it’s in an online database", does not constitute proof for the purposes of this page.

For clarity, we are using the busted-plausible-confirmed tags, created by the television show Mythbusters.

General Rainwater Claims
Claims about the early Virginia & Carolina Rainwaters
Claims about the Alabama Rainwaters
Claims about the Arkansas Rainwaters
Claims about the Georgia Rainwaters
Claims about the Kentucky Rainwaters Claims about the Mississippi Rainwaters Claims about the Tennessee Rainwaters Claims about the Washington Rainwaters

The Claim: My Rainwater ancestor was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian


There is a great romantic attachment to the notion that the Rainwaters are a family of Native American origin that is not borne out by the available facts.

In order to make the claim that someone was "full-blooded" all of their ancestors on both sides must also be Cherokee.5 Since Mary Fussell was provably English (for three generations, back to 1600) , no one claiming descent from this family can make the concurrent claim that they were "full-blooded".

The common supposition is that the Rainwaters derive from the Cherokee, one of the five native American groups in the southeast during the period when the Rainwaters lived in the Carolinas (see map). However, this seems to overlook the rather obvious problem of race relations. If the relations between the anglos and natives were so swell, why did the settlers petition the government to drive the Cherokees west? The tragic answer that the assimilated Cherokees were never completely accepted, and driving them west offered an easy opportunity for the whites to obtain free land. This was particularly the case after the brief gold rush in northern Georgia.6

The next claim is that Rainwaters can be found on the various "indian rolls". The Guion Miller Roll includes two Rainwaters, both of whom applied as descendants of Old Ned Sizemore, and whose applications were disqualified. All fifteen Rainwaters who applied to the Dawes Commission were also rejected. Twelve of the fifteen applied as Choctaws, not Cherokees. The vast majority of the indian rolls contained no Rainwaters at all.

Two other notions assert themselves when the claim of Native American ancestry is being proffered. The main one is that "Grandma told me we were Cherokees and she wouldn’t have lied." This overlooks the obvious possibility that Grandma might have been sincerely mistaken. The other notion is that having a photo of an ancestor in so-called "traditional indian dress" means the ancestor was an indian. If you have such a photo, take the time to seek out someone at a university or museum who can validate the authenticity of the clothing. I have yet to see one of these photos that's authentic.

It’s frequently claimed that one’s Native ancestry is supportable by the fact that some ancestor "looks dark" or "looks indian" 1 4 in a 19th century photograph or tintype that has been passed down in the family. I have a great many dark tintypes myself – dark because of age or the circumstances under which they were stored. Many of these individuals look non-white or at least odd, but this is largely because of the hairstyles and the length of time that a person had to sit still for a photo to be made.

I continue to be surprised by how many people cannot distinguish between "looking indian" and simply looking elderly. Having a great many wrinkles does not a Native American make. If you take the time to examine photos of genuine Native Americans taken in the same time frame, the differences between dark, odd photos and the real thing becomes apparent.2 Moreover, a surprising number of the War of 1812 and Civil War discharge papers describe the Rainwater men as fair with light hair and blue-eyed – not characteristic of Native American lineage.

Recently, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of folks claiming that the proof of their ancestor’s indian origins can be found in an odd name. I’m not speaking of names like Little Running Deer or some such, but simply old names that sound odd and have fallen out of favor. Examples of this include Karenhappuch (Biblical, from the Book of Job), Didama (variant of the Greek word diadem, meaning crown), Donamency (First and middle name run together - Dona is the Italian and Spanish spelling of the name we generally render as Donna and is a truncation of Madonna). This is just silly. Having an odd sounding name no more proves that you’re an indian than being named Ivan proves you’re Russian.

Finally, there are a handful of cases of Rainwater men marrying individuals of full or partial Native American ancestry. While the descendants of these few marriages can claim to be part indian, this has no bearing on whether the Rainwaters as a whole are Native American or whether the name is of Native American origin.

To date, I have found only a few traces of confirmable Native Americans who used the name Rainwater. These are detailed on the Native American Evidence page.

Tony Frudakis, the research director at DNAPrint, said the three-year-old company has coined the term American Indian Princess Syndrome to describe the insistent pursuit of Indian roots among many newly minted genetic genealogists. If the tests fail to turn up any, Mr. Frudakis added, "this type of customer is frequently quite angry." 3

1 In his article, The Melungeon Mystery Solved, researcher James S. Elder indicates that the same insupportable assertion – that odd-lookng photographs prove ethnic identity – is made regarding Melungeon ancestry.

2 For comparison, I strongly recommend that you seek out the work of Edward S. Curtis, whose books should be available in any public library. The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth has a substantial collection of his original plates.

3 Seeking Ancestry in DNA Ties Uncovered by Tests, Amy Harmon, New York Times, 12 Apr 2006

4 In the Dallas Observer’s Ask A Mexican column, June 2011 edition, Gustavo Arellano refers to the Indian Princess crowd as delusional and hysterical, noting that the same phenomenon occurs among southerners who claim that all of their ancestors were Confederate heros, and Mexicans who claim that their ancestors served in the revolution with Pancho Villa.

5 For an explanation of how the whole “full-blooded” business is not even part of the Native American way of thinking, but rather is a concept imposed on them by the anglos, see “Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma” by Circe Sturm.

6 See “Trail of Tears” by John Ehle, and Wikipedia's article on the Georgia Gold Rush.

The Claim: Donald S. Webber’ "Genealogy of the Rainwater Family" is a sound reference


Over the years, I have revisited the subject of Don Webber’s 1972 "Genealogy of the Rainwater Family". While I still regret that he did not include any sort of reference list, did not supply any original documents, and did not indicate where he found his information, the number of mistakes he makes are few. He does perpetuate some well-documented errors, but on the whole, this is a sound resource for the families which it covers. [247]

Read the original document in PDF format
pages 1-21 (1.9 MB), pages 22-43 (2.6 MB), pages 44-62 (2.4 MB), pages 63-81 (2.1 MB)

The Claim: Robert Rainwater (ca 1669-after 1706) is the father of John and William


The earliest record anyone has found thus far of a Rainwater in America is the listing of Robert Rainwater among those indentured to John Hurt of Virginia in 1706. This mention, combined with the proximity of Virginia to the North Carolina counties where the Rainwaters eventually settled, have caused many of us to suppose that Robert is the father of John and William Rainwater. Unfortunately, the documentary evidence needed prove this claim has not yet been found. While it’s likely that Robert is the progenitor of the English Rainwater line, it remains a speculation. [46], [55], [402]

The Claim: John Rainwater Sr. (ca 1705-1777) was born in Danbury, VA


The problem with this claim is Danbury, Virginia doesn’t exist - either as a historic or currently populated place. There is a Danville in Pittsylvania Co., VA and a Danbury in Stokes Co., NC. Since Danbury, NC is only 12 miles from the border, there is a slim possibility that Danbury was originally in Virginia and that the common border between the states moved in North Carolina's favor. However, there’s no proof one way or the other regarding John's birthplace.

For further investigation of this point, check the US Geological Survey’s GNIS Map Server.

The Claim: The will of Thomas Fussell was recorded in Cartee County


The only reason we know John Rainwater married Mary Fussell is that his father-in-law, Thomas Fussell, mentioned his daughter by her married name in his will. As is often the case with these old documents, the handwriting is not wonderful, and the county name is difficult to read. Someone’s misreading of this county name has started the tradition that the Fussell family lived in Cartee or Cartec County, North Carolina. One problem - there is no such place and never was. Thomas Fussell’s will was recorded in Bertie County. [303]

The Claim: John Rainwater Sr.’s (ca 1705-1777) son William married and had children


A good many individuals claim descent from John’s son William, as opposed to John’s brother William. The difficulty in making this stick is a 1769 court record in which John declares that his son William is an idiot (that is, mentally retarded) and requests an exemption for him from paying taxes and the other duties that would have been required of an adult male. If William was retarded there is very little chance that he would have married. It has only been in recent times that mentally handicapped individuals have been permitted to marry. In fact, Helen Keller’s biographer (see Dorothy Herrmann’s "Helen Keller: A Life") notes that the social norms of earlier times did not even permit marginally physically handicapped individuals to marry. Despite the rosy portrait in the TV series, "Little House on the Prairie", the blind Mary Ingalls did not marry and have children (see Donald Zochert’s 1976 biography "Laura"). In the early decades of the 20th century, the retarded were routinely sterilized. While there were doubtless exceptions, it’s not safe to assume this is one of them. John Rainwater’s will makes special provisions for the care of his retarded son by Mary Fussel Rainwater, John’s widow and William’s mother. This is not indicitive of an individual expected to marry. Thus, our interpretation is that records contemporary with John that refer to William Rainwater and his wife, Ann, identify John’s brother not son.

Thanks to Robert Albert for his persistence on this point. [212], [302]

The Claim: William Rainwater, John’s theoretical brother, married Ann Gilliam


Traditionally, the wife of William Rainwater is given as Ann Gilliam. In fact, there is a land record that gives her name as Ann, but no documentary evidence to support Gilliam. This Halifax county deed abstract reads: "William Rainwater and his wife Ann of Edge Co. to Nathaniel Merritt of Edge Co., Apr 1751". [218]

The 1790 census of Halifax Co., NC includes one Gilliam Rainwater, who married Nancy Christmas in Warren Co. in 1787. This unusual name is the source of this myth. A number of individuals have assumed that because it is unusual, it must be his mother’s surname. While this is certainly possible, it’s not provable. Moreover, it assumes that because both men have reside in Halifax County, they are father and son, though there is no other evidence to prove this. [67]

The Claim: Descent from the children of James Rainwater (ca 1735/38-ca 1805) has been proven


This is a topic all to itself. See The Children of James Rainwater.

The Claim: One of the James Rainwaters was married to was Catherine Ann Regan


This claim illustrates the problem of generational compression, in which two similarly named individuals get merged into a single, non-existent person.

First, two different James Rainwaters are given as the husband of Catherine Ann Regan. One is James Rainwater (ca 1735/38-ca 1805) the theoretical son of the original John Rainwater (ca 1695/1705 - 1777), whose wife's name is unconfirmable, because the records simply don't exist. The other is the James Rainwater (ca 1780-post 1840) whose wife was actually Charity Fowler.

Robert Albert, editor of The Rainwater Researcher, posed this theory on the origins of Catherine Ann Regan1. He suggests that the confusion originated in the family Jacob S. Rainwater (1836-1906), the grandson of James Rainwater and Charity Fowler. Jacob married one Catherine Lucinda Williamson whose mother was Catherine Regan Emmett. Robert suspects that the two Catherines - Catherine Williamson Rainwater (b. ca 1836) and Catherine Regan Emmett (b. before 1820) - have been merged into the ficticious Catherine Ann Regan. This theory presents considerable date problems, and requires three to four generations of compression, rather than two.

The more likely origin of Catherine Regan was recently illuminated by the late Ray Rainwater. He notes that Catherine Regan (without the Ann) goes back to the letter written by Judge Clive Pettijohn, the son of Mary Catherine Rainwater Pettijohn, to Jesse Rainwater Thompson. A transcription of this document may be found on the Rainwater Bibles page. In it, Judge Pettijohn recalls "There was a Catherine Regan and a Sanderson - I think Mother said Sanderson was the name of your great-grandfather James’ 2nd wife. Maybe Catherine Regan was one of his wives. She was either his or your Grandfather James’ 2nd (if he had a 2nd), I don’t know. I just know Catherine Regan belongs in somewhere.".

To clarify, the individual referred to as Grandfather James was the husband of Delilah Kifer and Julia Jane Sanderson, while great-grandfather James was the husband of Charity Fowler. Since the children of Catherine Regan are frequently said to include Catherine, Ann and Sesame (Sessom), she cannot be the wife of the oldest James (ca 1735/38-ca 1805), as these children are among the known children of James Rainwater and Charity Fowler. What is possible, however unlikely, is that Catherine Regan was the first wife of James Rainwater (ca 1780-post 1840), known to us as the husband of Charity Fowler. That this would make Charity his 2nd wife seems clear since she was still living in 1850 with their daughter’s family, nine years after James’s death.

According to Ray, a great many Rainwater researchers believe that Judge Pettijohn was simply confused and point to other errors in the document as proof. There is no denying the errors. In my opinion, though, this is the most believable explanation for the persistence of Catherine Regan, and the only one which lends a glimmer of credence to the possibility of her having actually existed. [174], [485]

1 The Rainwater Researcher Vol. 2 Issue 3, in April 1996

The Claim: John Rainwater (ca 1759/66-ca 1832) of Spartanburg District, SC married Susannah Bobo


This is another of those ideas that has been passed around for so long that it has taken on a life of its own. The will of the John Rainwater who died ca 1832 in Spartanburg District, SC, gives his wife’s name as Susannah. Among the witnesses to his will is one Simpson Bobo. Apparently these two facts have been combined to produce the belief that Susannah’s maiden name was also Bobo. I suspect that additional weight is added to this claim by the Bobo-surnamed individuals involved with Miles Rainwater, also of Spartanburg see Rev. Miles Rainwater of Spartanburg District, SC married Nancy Miles.

To the best of my knowledge, there simply isn’t any documentary evidence giving Susannah’s maiden name, though if some turns up, I’ll be happy the amend this entry. [1500]

The Claim: Judge Clyde Pettijohn, son of Ella Rainwater Pettijohn, wrote the letter detailing the children of James Rainwater & Charity Fowler


The Rainwater Researcher, Vol. 2, Issue 3, April 1996 contains a portion of a letter detailing the children of James Rainwater & Charity Fowler. The description of this document says it was written by Judge Clyde Pettijohn, son of Ella Rainwater Pettijohn, to Jessie Rainwater Thompson.

Close, but not quite.

In trying to explain their standing to the source person, the writer says of James Rainwater, husband of Charity, "He was your great-grandfather, Jessie; my great-great grandfather". This means that Ella must be from the same generation as Jessie and be a descendant of James. But there is no Ella in that generation, and the individual who married a Pettijohn was named Mary Catherine.

Among Mary Catherine Rainwater Pettijohn’s children are two individuals whose names have been confused to form this myth: Clive (not Clyde) A. Pettijohn, the writer of the document, and his sister, Era Jane Rainwater Chamberlain, who has been transformed into the non-existent Ella.

By the way, Jessie Rainwater Thompson was the daughter of Jacob Sessom Rainwater and his second wife, Nellie Pintler.

Thanks to the late Ray Rainwater and Glidie Rainwater Mobley for their assistance in illuminating this confusion. [9], [174], [485]

The Claim: James Rainwater’s (ca 1780-ca 1841) wife was named Charity Fowler


We tend to take for granted that Charity Fowler is a proven fact, the definitive wife of James Rainwater (ca 1780-ca 1841) of Sevier Co., TN. In reality, Charity Fowler has been arrived at by a serious of deductions and while this is likely the correct name, proven it is not

The 1850 census of Johnson Co., IL includes the household of Burrell Wright, whose wife Anna is named in their 1849 marriage record as Anna Rainwater. Living in this household is Charity Rainwater, age 70, born in North Carolina. It’s not uncommon to find elderly widowed parents of either sex living with their married children in this century, so the natural conclusion is that Charity is Anna’s mother. Keep in mind, though, that the first census to explicitly state the relationship between family members was 1880. In 1850, we have no such information, and Charity could as easily be an elderly aunt as mother.

What lends support to the identifying of Charity as mother is the fact that two of her children passed on the name Charity in their own families. John Nelson Rainwater had a daughter named Elizabeth Carity, and Sessom Rainwater had a daughter named Charity by his third wife.

Fowler comes to us by a more circuitous route. In her memoirs, Sarah Fowler Rainwater, the wife of Charles Cicero Rainwater, recalls that some time after their marriage, her father-in-law remarked to her "I am not sure that you and Charley haven’t committed a sin in getting married . . . because my mother was a Fowler.". Her father-in-law was Moses Fowler Rainwater, son of James Rainwater and brother of Anna Rainwater Wright. Hence, his mother was Charity Fowler.

While doubtless many have drawn this conclusion, the first place I am aware of it having been published is in The Rainwater Researcher, Vol. 2, Issue 3, April 1996 in an article by Robert Albert. [6], [174], [520], [574]

The Claim: William Rainwater’s wife Molly Reaves was known as "Granny Cherokee"


This idea appears to originate with an article published in the Rainwater Researcher, Vol 1 Issue 1, entitled ”Genealogy letter written by a granddaughter of Eli Rainwater“. This lengthy letter, written by one of the daughters of Dr. Brady Rainwater, starts out by saying “William Rainwater, born about 1756, married a Cherokee Indian woman (whose name and dates I have been unable to get).” Later in the article, she refers to William’s wife as Granny Cherokee.

Like many myths, this one is wrapped around factual data. Marriage records in Johnson Co., NC do show the marriage of one William Rainwater to Molly Reaves (one transcription says Medley Rives) on 16 Nov 1787. Whether this is the William mentioned in the above article is not at all clear, but so many researchers now assume that the two are one in the same that it has taken on the veneer of truth. [928]

The Claim: Jacob and Abraham Colson, alias Reignwater, were licensed indian traders


This controversy, which has been kicking around for some time, recently resurfaced on the Rainwater mailing list. The facts are these: Three property records and an article in a regional history refer to Jacob and Abraham Colson (Collson), alias Reignwater, as "licensed indian traders".

First, let’s dispose of "alias Reignwater". An alias, according to my dictionary, is an assumed or false name. The family name of these individuals was Colson, not Rainwater. Therefore, whether they were Native American or not has no bearing on the Rainwater family.

Second is the problem of "licensed indian traders". The writer who posed this problem on the Rainwater mailing list clearly believed that this phrase meant "Indians who are licensed to trade". However, there is another possible meaning, "Anglos who are licensed to trade with the Indians".

For additional reading on the subject of licensed indian traders, see "James Logan Colbert of the Chickasaws: The Man and the Myth" by Richard A. Colbert, The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Vol XX, No. 2, May 1994, pgs 82-95. [1508]

The Mistake: Rev. Miles Rainwater of Spartanburg District, SC married Nancy Miles


This case of mistaken identity has largely been caused by a profile of the good Reverend in The Reedy River Baptist Association Minutes, 1835, which names his wife Nancy Miles. The problem is further muddied by the fact that there actually was a Nancy Miles who was married Rainwater. This question has been amply researched by Glidie Rainwater Mobley who explains it as follows:

"The Nancy Miles who married James Rainwater is so named in the distribution of the estate of Jane Farrow Bobo, the wife of Rev. Spencer Bobo (the elder). Nancy was the daughter of Jane’s sister Sally Farrow who had married Thomas Miles. The children of Sally were named because Sally was already deceased at the time Jane made her will.

The Nancy who married Miles Rainwater was Nancy Edwards, daughter of William and Mildred "Milly" Smith Edwards. The final settlement of William Edwards’ estate on 5 Dec 1836 lists as heirs: William Edwards, Milly Edwards, the heirs of Isaac Edwards, deceased, Nancy Rainwater, George Edwards and Newman Edwards." [719]

The Claim: Rev. Miles Rainwater of Spartanburg District, SC had a daughter named Milly


The Reedy River Baptist Association Minutes of 1835 regarding Cedar Shoal Church, Spartanburg District, SC provide us with what has long been considered the canonical list of children born to Rev. Miles Rainwater and his wife, Nancy Edwards Rainwater. These are Mary, who married Spencer Bobo; Miles, who married Hannah Hindman and Sarah Edwards; Vashti, who married David Crossley; Mariah, who married Rev. Pinckney Lanford; Jane Amanda, who married William W. Waldrop; Silas Mercer, who married Mary Jane Hindman; and Milly, about whom nothing is known.

I accepted this list as valid because every family member, except Milly, can be verified through other sources. Recently, though, a piece of evidence has surfaced that casts doubt on the existence of Milly – or more accurately, suggests that Milly was really Sallie.

Numerous researchers have noted that Spencer Bobo, who married Mary Rainwater, had a brother, Levingston Bobo, who married Mary’s sister. In the 1850 census of Fayette Co., AL, the Bobo brothers are recorded in succession – first Spencer with wife Mary, then Levingston with wife Sarah. In 1860, Sarah is recorded as Sallie.

Sallie is not listed in The Reedy River Baptist Association Minutes among the children of Miles Rainwater. I believe that Milly is a mistranscription or misrecording of Sallie Rainwater Bobo. [719]

The Claim: William Rainwater (ca 1790-1839) of Marengo Co., AL was married three times


This case of the compression of two Williams into one individual is so commonly believed that even I fell into it. The difficulty results from the existence of two William Rainwaters, both of whom have marriage records in Marengo Co., AL, making it appear that they are one individual. Two key pieces of evidence dispel this myth.

First, we have the William Rainwater who married Elizabeth Lucas in 1823. This couple is found in the 1830 census of Marengo Co. in a household of 4 males and 1 female. This corresponds accurately to the three sons of this couple: Richard, John R. and Elkhanny.

Second, we have the William Rainwater who married Caroline Davis in 1828. This couple is found in the 1840 census of Marengo Co. in a household of 3 males and 5 females.

There are two reasons why the 1840 household cannot be that of the first William Rainwater: he had no daughters and he died in 1839. This is borne out by a Tuscaloosa Co., AL newspaper announcement naming Cornelius Holliman as the administrator of the estate.

The second William Rainwater went on to marry Sidney Farmer in 1844, and died in 1866 in Mississippi. Two of his sons from the second marriage were charged with his murder.

Thanks to Glidie Rainwater Mobley for helping straighten out this confusion. [4], [5], [290]

The Claim: William Rainwater’s (ca 1774-1825) children include Sukey and Anson


The family Bible lists a daughter named Susannah. Since Sukey is an old English nickname for Susannah, Susannah and Sukey are probably the same person. However there is NO child named Anson! The last two children born to this family were Patsy and a twin brother who died at birth unnamed. The family Bible records this birth "Patsy Rainwater daughter and son of ditto was born March 15th 1823". The words "and son" are in minuscule script and someone apparently read this as a name - Anson. This myth has been passed around since the 1960s. [178]

The Claim: It’s possible to prove that William Rainwater’s (ca 1774-1825) wife, Martha "Patsy" Hodges (ca 1781-bet. 1840/1850), was the daughter of Bartholomew and Elizabeth Hodges of Surry Co., NC


No document exists giving the maiden name of Martha "Patsy" Rainwater. The citation of her name as Hodge/s is traditional, as is the identity of her parents. The source of this tradition is not known.

The 1832 will of Bartholomew Hodges of Surry Co., NC names his wife Elizabeth and four of his eleven children. Martha is not among those named. The reason for citing Bartholomew as her father appears the fact that she named her first son Bartholomew, a name not previously found in the Rainwater family. If Bartholomew was the only male of his age sporting the Hodges name in Surry Co., this would be enough for even a skeptic like me. Unfortunately, Surry Co. is rife with Hodges, many of whom are old enough to be Martha’s father. While I suspect that Bartholomew is Martha Rainwater’s father, so far it hasn’t been proven. [431]

The Claim: The Abraham Rainwater found in the 1810 Pulaski Co., KY census is the son of William (ca 1774-1825)


According to the family Bible, William’s son Abraham was born in 1808 and would have been 2-years-old in 1810. He therefore cannot be the Abraham Rainwater recorded in the 1810 census as a male age 26 to 45. It’s possible, but not provable, that this individual is William’s brother. [178]

The Claim: William Rainwater (ca 1774-1825) served in the Pulaski Co., KY 1814 militia during the War of 1812


"Roster of the Volunteer Officers & Soldiers from Kentucky in the War of 1812-1815, Adjutant General’s Office" indicates that a William Rainwaters Sr. enlisted on 1 Jan 1814 in the 7th Regiment of the US Army at Fort Hampton during the War of 1812 and deserted in less than a month. Because this individual is listed as a volunteer from Kentucky, it has been common practice to assume that this is William the wife of Martha "Patsy" Hodges. The problem is that, though there were three Forts Hampton1 at that time, none was in Kentucky. The most probable candidate was in Limestone Co., AL on the Gaines Road, which ran from eastern Tennessee to Natchez and Vicksburg, MS (See map). Meanwhile, William was residing in Pulaski Co., KY, having purchased a farm there in 1813. While he might conceivably enlisted in the local militia, it seems highly unlikely that he would travel hundreds of miles to enlist in the regular army when he had a new farm and seven children to support in Kentucky.

The Rainwater family has Williams in abundance and it’s quite clear that this individual was a resident of North Carolina at the time of his enlistment. Moreover, three other Rainwaters enlisted in the same regiment - William Jr., Edward and Newsom, who upon their discharge, received successively numbered land warrants in Missouri. I suspect that these three provide a better clue to William Sr.’s identity than the Kentucky book.

A related myth which I recently received in email is that William Rainwater was the Captain of the Pulaski Co. Home Guards. If there is evidence to support this, I’d love to see it. [173]

1Alabama’s Fort Hampton was founded in 1809 on the Elk River, and is now called Elkmont in Limestone Co. North Carolina’s Fort Hampton was in Carteret Co. on the Atlantic coast. It is listed in the USGS map server as Fort Macon, which was built in 1826-1834 on the site of the former Fort Hampton. Tennessee’s Fort Hampton is described as being at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River. This places it near present-day Florence, in Lauderdale Co. about 45 miles west of Elkmont. [1239]

The Claim: Martha "Patsy" Rainwater (ca 1781-bet 1840/1850) can be found in the 1860 census household of her son William Howard Rainwater in Brown Co., IN

All that’s required to disprove this is a look at the Brown Co., IN census microfilm. The household of William and Minerva Rainwater is on page 420. It consists of the two adults and six children - Miles, Mary, William Jr., Arthur, Mark and Luke. No Patsy.

The Claim: Silas Mercer Rainwater’s (1825-1902) wife was named Sally Hutchinson


"Bobo Cousins by the Dozens" by Herbert Moses Newell, Jr., 1968, indicates that Silas Mercer Rainwater was married to a woman named Sally Hutchinson. According to Glidie Rainwater Mobley, this information is in error and her assertion matches the evidence of the 1850 census of Fayette Co., AL. Silas Mercer Rainwater is listed in this record with a wife named Mary J., whom Glidie identifies as Mary Jane Hindman. There are no children in the 1850 household and therefore no evidence of a prior marriage.

The Claim: Elisha Gentry Rainwater (ca 1807-post 1880) fought at the Battle of San Jacinto


Worth S. Ray’s book, "Austin Colony Pioneers"1 indicates that Elisha Gentry Rainwater is among the heros of San Jacinto. How Ray came to this conclusion is unknown, since the book is not well documented. What is clear, though, is that his conclusion is wrong.

The records indicate that an E. R. Rainwater served as a Private in Capt. Mirabeau B. Lamar’s Cavalry Corps, and that on 21 April 1836, he was one of a small group of soldiers under the command of Captain Erastus "Deaf" Smith, who assisted in the destruction of Vince’s Bridge, cutting off the enemy’s retreat.

E. R. Rainwater was granted a headright certificate to one-third of a league of land by the Matagorda County Board of Land Commissioners. In January 1838, the Board of Land Commissioners of neighboring Brazoria County granted him an unconditional certificate to one-third of a league of land. A check of the title records for both counties prior to 18412 suggests that the certificates were never converted into land, for there is no title of any kind under Rainwater. Moreover, no Rainwater is found in the 1840 tax rolls of the Republic of Texas.

Louis Wiltz Kemp’s Biographical Sketches of the Men Who Won Independence for Texas provides the final element necessary to put this myth to rest. His sketch of this veteran names him Edwin R. Rainwater. Kemp’s research reveals what mine has suggested, that Rainwater signed over his land warrants to other men, but his signature on these documents gives us his name - Edwin, not Elisha. Copies of these documents may be acquired through Texas General Land Office. [169], [689], [1069], [1089]

1This claim is repeated in Ron Gregory’s profile of Little Berry Moore Rainwater in "Rusk County History", published by the Rusk County (Texas) Historical Commission in 1982.
2Abstract of all original Texas land titles comprising grants and locations to 1841, Texas General Land Office, microfische, Dallas Public Library

The Claim: John R. Rainwater (1810-1889) married Elizabeth Sawslip


This is commonly repeated error based on someone’s misreading of the clerk’s script in the old Pulaski Co., KY marriage records. John’s one and only wife was Elizabeth Lawless. This is borne out by marriage and census records. [49]

The Claim: The 1850 census gives an accurate listing of the children of Bartholomew Rainwater (1804-1889)


The only accurate source for the names of Bartholomew’s children is the family Bible. The 1850 census includes five children who are not part of this family - John, Abraham, Martin, Jane and Jeminico. It fails to list four children who are members of the family - Miles, Sciota, Sarelda and Josiah.

Two of the incorrectly named children, Abraham and Jeminico, have names similar to a couple Bartholomew’s nephews, Abram and Jeremiah, suggesting that these individuals may have been visiting on the day the census enumerator stopped by. It’s also possible that the names were supplied by a neighbor who accidentally mixed the two families together. [56]

The Claim: Abraham Rainwater (1808-ca 1870/75) and Anna McLaughlin (1810-ca 1870/75) had a son named Stamitor


This is misreading of the miserable 1850 Pulaski Co., KY census. The individual frequently misidentified as Stamitor is in reality Jeremiah Stanton Rainwater. He is found in his own Pulaski Co., KY household in both the 1870 and 1880 census, and his name is correctly given on the death certificate of his son, Peter. [363]

The Claim: Mary, the daughter of James Rainwater (1806-1862) and Mary "Polly" McDaniel (ca 1810-1880) married Joshua Cooper in 1851


Joshua Cooper did marry an individual named Mary Rainwater on 9 October 1851. That the record names his father, but not hers indicates that he was not of age to marry without his parents consent, but she was. In other words, Mary Rainwater was at least 21 years old and would have been born in or before 1830 (see Sandi Gorin’s Kentucky Marriages) However, Mary "Polly" Rainwater, the daughter of James Rainwater, was born ca 1842 according to the 1850 through 1880 census records, making her age 9 at the date of her supposed marriage. She can be found in her parents’ home each of the census years. Her father’s 1862 will refers to her as one of the unmarried daughters to whom he is leaving a dowry portion. Finally, she is buried in New Hope Baptist Cemetery under her maiden name. I don’t know which to which family Mary Rainwater Cooper belongs, but it isn’t this family. [48], [50], [404]

The Claim: Lydia Rainwater, Elizabeth Rainwater Loveall and others moved to Fairbault Co., MN


This is a small thing, but is an indicator of whether you are a list collector or a researcher. Someone, somewhere misspelled this county name years ago and the misspelling has been passed around unchecked ever since. Do a quick search in the GNIS Map Server of the US Geological Survey and you will discover that there is no such place. It’s F-A-R-I-bault, not F-A-I-R-bault.

The Claim: Susannah Rainwater (1815-1858), daughter of William Rainwater & Martha "Patsy" Hodge, married Bucky Vaughan


This is another piece of passed-around information, of unknown origin, that simply isn’t accurate. Susannah Rainwater is found living in the household of her elderly aunt, Elizabeth Rainwater, in the 1850 census, and was unmarried at that time. According to the Pulaski County death records, Susannah died on 14 Apr 1858, of dropsy. Her surname is given as Rainwater, not Vaughan, and she is identified as the unmarried daughter of William and Patsy Rainwater. Moreover, there is no marriage for anyone named Bucky Vaughan in the Pulaski County records. [263]

The Claim: Was John Berry Rainwater or John Nelson Rainwater the son of James Rainwater and Charity Fowler?


James Rainwater and Charity Fowler are traditionally said to have had at least six children, one of whom was named John. The difficulty is that two John Rainwaters present themselves as candidates for this ancestry, and researchers are divided over which John they believe to be the rightful heir.

The letter written by Judge Clive Pettijohn to his half aunt, Jessie Rainwater Thompson, provides the most generally accepted family record of James & Charity Fowler Rainwater.

Judge Clive Pettijohn’s letter names John Nelson Rainwater as the eldest son of James and Charity Rainwater, and gives as his wife, Barbara Emmett or Emmert. That such a couple existed is not in doubt. John N. and Barbara Rainwater can be found in the 1850 and 1860 census records of Ray Co., MO; his widowed wife can be found in 1870 in Camden Co., MO.

The objection most frequently raised to this document is that it contains a number of errors, or at least confusions. This is a valid objection, and these errors are illuminated in the transcription. The document is not wholly in error, however, and does supply at least as much correct as incorrect information.

One of John Berry Rainwater’s granddaughters, Mary Kate Chryst Bradford, compiled six pages of rambling, typewritten notes regarding her memories of the family’s history. Like the Judge Pettijohn letter, there are as many facts as mistakes. What’s interesting is that Bradford also clearly accepts the idea that John Nelson Rainwater was the descendant of James & Charity Rainwater. She makes clear that she does not know the identity of John Berry Rainwater’s parents.

One theory recently floated on the net is that John Berry Rainwater was the illegitimate son of a Rainwater daughter, the sister of the James Rainwater who married Charity Fowler. This is an interesting notion, but I have no idea what, if any documentary evidence supports it.

To the best of my ability to determine, then, the basis for the inference that John Berry Rainwater was the son of James & Charity Rainwater rests on one fact - that he married Mary Godden Kifer in 1846. Mary, it is said, was the sister of Delilah Kifer, who married one of the children of James & Charity Rainwater. In an age where boys frequently married the girl next door, it’s not uncommon to see a pair of sisters marry the neighbor brothers. However, that this frequently occurred is not proof that it occurred in this case.

I’m not closing the book on this one, but in the absence of more credible evidence, I hold that John Nelson Rainwater was the son of James Rainwater & Charity Fowler. [6], [485], [916], [1301]

The Claim: John Berry Rainwater was the son of Mary Rainwater and John Berry, a surviving colonist from Roanoke


An article by Vern Jordan, and sent to me by Dennis Rainwater, makes the following claim: "One of my maternal lines, Rainwater, is said to have descended from the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, NC. John Berry Rainwater is said to have been the son of John Berry, one of the colonists, and Mary Rainwater."

Now let’s be clear about this. The author is saying that John Berry was one of the colonists at Roanoke, not a descendant. The Roanoke colony was founded in 1585 and found abandoned in 1590. John Berry Rainwater, was born, according to his tombstone, 18 July 1820. Do the math.

Even if this is a slip, and the author meant to say that John Berry was the descendant of a survivor, you still have the problem of proof. Historians have long maintained that the Roanoke colonists were absorbed by one of the local indian tribes. If this is correct, it’s still necessary to establish the connection between one of these surviving colonists and the purported descendant John Berry Rainwater, and this Jordan has not done.

Jordan goes on to say that "(John Berry Rainwater) took his mother’s maiden name for his last name as was the old English custom." This custom is only invoked if the children are illegitimate, and this may be what Jordan means, but he doesn’t actually come right out and say so.

Jordan’s article goes on to claim that the Rainwaters who migrated to Washington state were of Melungeon origin, whom he hypothesizes are from a small island in Southeast Asia. Melungeon researcher James S. Elder points out that it has become fashionable to claim both Native American and Melungeon ancestry. His article (now offline) refuting these false claims sounds very familiar to those of us accustomed to refuting false claims of indian ancestry. [1896]

Jordan’s article is a work of poor scholarship, wild speculation and a generous dose of fiction. Nothing in it can be taken seriously.

The Claim: Bartholomew Rainwater was a childhood friend of Abraham Lincoln


According to this old chestnut, Bartholomew Rainwater, while growing up in Faubush, Pulaski Co., KY, was a childhood playmate of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is said, in this story at least, to have lived in Hodgeville.

For starters, there is no such place as Hodgeville. Lincoln’s Kentucky birthplace was Hodgenville in Laru Co. Unfortunately, the distance between Hodgenville and Faubush is about 122 driving miles, perhaps 75 miles as the crow flies. So, did Bartholomew take the bus or what? 75 miles is not a quick sprint across the valley.

The most I’m willing to concede here is that the two boys lived in the same state for about 4 years. Bartholomew’s family arrived ca 1813, while Lincoln’s moved to Indiana ca 1817. Apart from that what we have here is pure wishful thinking.

The Claim: Josiah Rainwater (1843-1934) was a Captain in the Union Army under General Grant


In fairness, anyone who served in the Union Army between 1864 and 1865 can be said to have served under U.S. Grant, though in this case, the units in which Josiah served were under the immediate command of Generals Rosecrans and Sherman.

The Captain myth is a bit of a sticky wicket. Josiah’s service and pension papers both refer to his being promoted to Sergeant in July 1863. He was mustered out at that rank in January 1865, and his pension application indicates this was the highest rank he achieved. However, Gene Rainwater recalls that a certificate hung over his grandfather Josiah’s bed which he was told was Josiah’s Captain’s commission. The document has since vanished and we have no idea what it represented. While it is possible that Josiah was briefly brevetted to Captain during battle, this ought to be reflected in his service records. It seems terribly unlikely that certificate reflecting this commission would have been issued without a mention being made in his service records. I’m not aware that certificates were usual in the case of temporary brevet commissions.1

What seems more likely is that he was a member of a post-war veteran’s group, such as The Grand Army of the Republic, that often bestowed honorary ranks on its members. This myth has found its way into several obituaries and newspaper articles, making it difficult to stamp out. [327], [328]

1I have actually posed this question to a military historian, and his answer was that if a certificate of commission was issued, it would have been mentioned in Josiah’s service records. A temporary brevet amidst battle might or might not have been mentioned in the service records, but no commission certificate would have been issued.

The Claim: William Harrison Rainwater (1863-1890) is the son of Milford Enoch Rainwater and Permelia Ellen Garner


This is a case of same verse different song. William Harrison Rainwater is the son of Enoch Rainwater and Martha E. Compton, and can be found in their household in the 1870 and 1880 census records. The confusion is created by the mention of an M. E. Rainwater in William’s marriage record. In all likelihood, this is his mother. According to census records, none of Milford Enoch Rainwater’s children were named William. [51]

The Claim: William Howard Rainwater, Jr.’s (1850-1925) son Henry is from his 2nd marriage


William Howard Rainwater was married three times. His first marriage, to Julia Markwell on 7 Jun 1869 in Brown Co., IN, ended when she died between 1870 and 1871. She, not William’s second wife, was the mother of Henry Clarence Rainwater. William then married Ellen Victoria Pool on 27 Feb 1872, and they had one child, William Luther Rainwater. According to divorce records in the Brown Co., IN courthouse, William divorced Ellen in 1877. Ellen Victoria Pool remarried, taking Bennett Wise as her 2nd husband in 1890.

William removed to Wayne Co., IL, where he married Mary Ann Buffington. Their descendants give 22 Dec 1877 as the date of their marriage. This is difficult to verify because the records were lost in the 1886 Wayne County courthouse fire.

Thanks to Lisa Alexander for helping sort this one out. [247], [190], [191]

The Claim: P.C. Rainwater (1859-1949) was completely unrelated to his wife, Martha Jane Rainwater (1866-1961)


Like many other Pulaski Countians, P.C. Rainwater migrated to Williamson Co., TX between 1880 and 1893. He married Martha Jane Rainwater in 1893, maintaining all his life that their two Rainwater families were completely unrelated. In reality, P.C. and Martha Jane were 2nd cousins, both descended from William and Patsy Rainwater, something of which P.C. was apparently unaware or preferred not to acknowledge. [363]

The Claim: The Rainwater family has a Mayflower connection


I recently received a photo via email, which has written on the back of it "Martha Jane and the mirror which was brought over on the Mayflower by her ancestors". Oh, come now. I mean, really. I am stunned that anyone would even consider this to be a possibility. The descendants of the Mayflower passengers have all been thoroughly researched and documented. There is simply no connection to the Rainwaters or any of the allied families, and this is quite apart from the fact that the mirror shown in the photograph could not possibly have been made in the 1620s.

The Claim: The Folmar Chart provides an accurate Rainwater genealogy


R. H. Folmar was a wealthy Los Angeles businessman who married Maude Love Rainwater, a descendant of the Moses Fowler Rainwater branch. In the 1950s and 60s, he corresponded with several other Rainwater genealogy researchers, among them Walter Terrell Rainwater, Jr. of Texas.

Terrell, a descendant from the Kentucky branch, had put together a chart of his interpretation of the descendants of John Rainwater and Mary Fussell. This chart went into circulation among researchers of the era, and Folmar eventually received a copy. Folmar then made "revisions", adding and deleting names, to support his own personal theories. In fairness, Terrell contributed his fair share of mistakes to the chart.

The resulting family tree has come to be known as the Folmar Chart, and has received such wide circulation that it’s probably caused over half of the myths found on this page. It’s an excellent example of what happens when list collecting is one’s primary mode of research. While the chart is interesting as an historical artifact, it’s poor quality genealogy and should not be taken at face value. It should be said, though, that it’s no worse than the family trees that pass for research on Ancestry.com, may of which are substantially fictional.

The copy of the Folmar Chart available on this website was contributed by Don Pruitt. Of it, he says, "It is not actually the original Folmar Chart. Terrell Rainwater had used the old Folmar Chart and drew out this together with his [own] research. I have also added the children of Levi."

The photocopy I received from Don Pruitt is 17" x 22". The chart available on this website was assembled from six separate scans, and is optimized for monitor viewing, rather than printing.

Thanks to Don Pruitt for the copy of the chart and to both Don and Glidie Rainwater Mobley for the historical summary.

The Claim: John Christopher "Kit" Rayborn (ca 1788-post 1850) was married to Mary Margaret "Polly" Rainwater


I am frequently asked about a couple whom researchers identify as John Christopher "Kit" Rayborn and Mary Margaret "Polly" Rainwater. For many years, I believed, based on available evidence, that there was no such couple. New evidence now suggests otherwise.

While going through some old photocopies, I came across the biography of John W. Carter of Adair Co., KY in "Kentucky Genealogy and Biography, Volume 5", a reprint of a book published in 1892. Of Carter's mother, the following statement is made:

"Mrs. Polly Ann (Rabern) Carter departed this life in 1867. Her father, John Rabern, was also a native of Virginia, but while yet a young man removed to the wilderness of southern Kentucky, where he was afterwards married to a Miss Rainwater." [71]

Too bad the writer did not know Miss Rainwater’s first name.

A small amount of documentary evidence exists for this couple: tax records, census records and marriage records. No record that I have seen calls John Rayborn by the names Christopher or Kit. His wife is always identified as Margaret, not Mary or Polly. And the surname, Rayborn, is spelled in all of the various ways one might imagine: Raybern, Rayburn, Rayborne, Raybourn, and so on.

The 1850 census of Pulaski Co., KY includes a couple named John and Margaret Rayborn, and their five children. Pulaski County marriage records confirm the existence of at least four other children.

The couple’s own 1815 marriage record, found in the records of Wayne Co., KY, gives both John and Margaret’s surname as Rayborn. However, it doesn’t give Margaret’s maiden name as Rainwater, though it may be in error or this may be the wrong marriage record.

Adding further confusion, John and Margaret Rayborn were the parents of Minerva Ann Rayborn, who married William Howard Rainwater in Pulaski County in 1838.

While there is still no evidence for the names Christopher or Kit, and the Wayne County marriage record is less than satisfying, there is at least some evidence that this couple existed.

The Claim: There are two different couples, from two different centuries, named Vida Rainwater and Oscar Cole


Let’s start with the absolutely provable facts. On 15 January 1886, Hester and Elliott Z. Rainwater welcomed into the world a daughter named Vida. At the age of 20, Vida Rainwater married Oscar A. Cole, on 2 December 1906 in LeFlore Co., Oklahoma. They were the parents of eight children, and were buried in Garland Cemetery, Haskell Co., Oklahoma. These claims are supported by census records, marriage records, and tombstones. [13] [896] [1128]

A small, but vociferous group claims that there is also an 18th century Vida Rainwater, often identified as a Cherokee indian, who married an 18th century Oscar Cole, and whose daughter Mary Cole, born ca 1782, married a Jonathan Dean. In the one chart I have seen, Mary was only 12-years-old when she married, her son was born 6 years after her death, and her parents were born 150 years later. This is a preposterous claim.

While it's certainly possible that there were two couples with the same names, separated by over 100 years, the issue here is one of proof. The claimants offer no documentary evidence and seem to have no idea of the origin of the information. They simply accept as fact something they found on Rootsweb, and respond with anger when asked for proof.

My belief is this is an accidental compression of a real couple, Oscar and Vida from Oklahoma, with another real couple, to whom the names Oscar and Vida have been assigned. A database uploaded to World Connect in 2001 has fanned the flames of this claim.

As I frequently find myself saying, I would be more than happy to consider documentatry evidence of any kind regarding the 18th century couple, but will not accept the claim without it.

The Claim: George W. and William M. Rainwater murdered their father, William Rainwater


Here are the facts. In June 1866, Joseph Loper took into his custody George and William Rainwaters, and presented them to a local enforcement officer. The two men were charged with murder, to which they admitted, saying they had been hired to do the job.

Everyone agrees that George and William were the sons of William Rainwater and his second wife, Sidney (or Sedy) Farmer Rainwater. Everyone agrees that the pair apparently escaped prosecution and went to Texas, changing their surname to Randle. Everyone agrees that their sister, Mary Rainwater Hayes, later joined them in Texas.

The point of the disagreement is who they killed. And the cause appears to be the work of a sloppy newpaper typesetter.

The story of the brothers apprehension originated in The Handsboro Democrat, Handsboro, MS. According to the Mississippi State Department of Archives and History, the 1866 editions of this newspaper have been lost. However, the story was picked up by two Louisiana papers, The New Orleans Times printed the story in their 26 June 1866 edition and The Thibodaux Sentinel printed it in their 7 July 1866 edition. Both papers credit The Handsboro Democrat as the originating paper.

The New Orleans Times story says “Joseph Loper arrived in town with George and William Rainwaters, the young men who brutally murdered his old father some time in April last in Wayne County.

The Thibodaux Sentinel story reads identically, but for one word: “Joseph Loper arrived in town with George and William Rainwaters, the young men who brutally murdered their old father some time in April last in Wayne County.

Clearly someone was murdered. But was it patricide or just plain murder? It's even a possibility that the brothers were falsely accused and that the story of their confession is just plain wrong. For me, this remains unresolved in the absence of either the original Handsboro Democrat story or court records. Sadly, the Wayne County, MS court records of that era are also missing, according to the Mississippi State Department of Archives and History. [2454], [2456]

View the two versions of the story in the original.

Thanks to Glidie Rainwater Mobley, David Sprinkle, and Ross Cameron for their contributions of research on this subject.

Sources