Archibald Douglas and the Legend of the Signet Ring

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The following is extracted from "Dubh Ghlase", the newsletter of the "Clan Douglass Society of America", September, October 1985 issue, Volume XI, No. 2, pp. 22-24



History of the Douglass Family of Abbeville, South Carolina (Taken from the Abbeville Press and Banner, dated September 1, 1924) Recopied by Pauline Young, 14 Langley Street, Abbeville, South Carolina.

George C. Douglass, City Clerk and Treasurer of Abbeville, South Carolina, armed with a pick and shovel, started out last Sunday to dig up the remains of his great grandfather, Archibald Douglas which lie buried in a small neglected graveyard near Verdery.

The elements seemed to disapprove of the remains being disturbed however, as black angry clouds arose accompanied by lightning, thunder, wind, and a heavy downpour of rain, all coming on so suddenly it was decided that the occasion digging was abandoned, according to Mr. Douglass.

It is not known if any further attempt will be made to exhume the late Archibald, as Frank Hodges of Abbeville another descendant, upon hearing of the attempted disinterment warned Mr. Douglas to "leave the old fellow alone, lightning struck my chimney while you were down there trying to dig him up".

It is a fact that lightning did strike the chimney of Mrs. J. C. Ellis, a sister of Mr. Hodges, with whom he lived, on this same afternoon and another strange coincidence was the fact that all the lights in the city that night was out though the residences adjoining remained lighted. Services had to be called off on account of no lights and the superstitious might be able to connect up these incidences with the wrath of the Gods.

The disinterment Sunday was to be accomplished with a view to finding the will of Archibald Douglass. This will, after being probated was, with other papers and keepsakes, sealed in a copper pot, and buried with the remains of the late Archibald Douglass, so Mr. Douglass, the City Clerk, has been informed. It is also believed that a certain ring, presented some 300 years ago, along with "We=Wyn-We" Castle and other properties, by his most Gracious Majesty, King James of Scotland and England, to one James Douglass of Scotland, is also buried in this pot.

Upon the finding of this grave and other data is said to have hinged, for many years, on the disposal of an immense fortune consisting of some millions of pounds Sterling in cash and Gilt Edge securities. In addition to an immense Castle and vast estates held by the Chancery Court of England for the heirs of James Douglass, who was known as "James of Virginia".

The grave in question is almost unfindable, deep in a pine thicket some 200 to 300 yards to the left of the highway, doing from Verdery to Bradley and about halfway between these two towns.

On the tombstone are these words, "to the Memory of Archibald Douglass, who was born March 10, 1770, and departed this life March 27, 1815, Has Left a wife and six children to lament the loss of an affectionate husband and a tender parent".

(page 23)

Just at the head of this grave and in direct line therewith, from head to foot, is the grave of his first wife, of the tombstone of which is inscribed "Sacred to the memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Douglass who departed this life on the 27th day of September 1809, aged 33 years".

It is said that his second wife, "for good and sufficient reasons of her own" as she expressed it, had Archibald buried at the feet of his first wife and had "Douglass" instead of "Douglas" inscribed on his tombstone.

Strange as this may appear, stranger still is the fact that the second wife, with an only child, David, disappeared about this time leaving no trace whatsoever of themselves, even to this day.

To obtain the immense fortune in Scotland it is necessary for the descendants of Archibald Douglass buried near Verdery to establish the fact, not only of their relationship, but also that Archibald Douglass was heir to James Douglas of Virginia. Was he an only child?

Going back some 300 years, the descendants claim James Douglas of Scotland, came into the possession of We-Wym-Wye Castle and the lands attached thereto through the generosity of His Most Gracious Majesty, King James, King of Great Britain, Ireland and France, Defender of the Faith, etc., etc., who as was in the custom in those days, presented this castle and lands to James Douglas, his heirs, assigns, etc., to have and hold as freehold property forever and in perpetuity, in consideration of most valuable, valiant and glorious service rendered His Majesty King James by the said James Douglas who with a mere handful of faithful followers, put the quietus to several thousand of the King's enemies.

And further, that on this occasion, King James placed the utmost faith and confidence in the honor, loyalty and fidelity of his most worth subject, James Douglas, did present unto him, the said James Douglas, as signet ring.

According to the records, hundreds of years prior to this James Douglas, another James Douglas, on returning from fighting in Palestine, fought for and assisted in establishing Robert Bruce on his throne, and "The Bruce" presented this James Douglas of Castle Dangerous with vast lands.

James Douglas of Scotland enjoyed the peace and quiet of beautiful We-Wym-Wye for many years. He married and had one son, Archibald (Archibald of We-Wym-Wye). Archibald grew to manhood, married and had two children, both boys, James and Archibald. James, the elder, was wild and reckless and kept his father in hot water most of the time. Archibald the younger was of a quieter nature and disposition and was his father's favorite.

James, the elder son, fell desperately in love with his brother Archibald's promised wife and was on the verge of eloping with this lady, who returned his love twofold, when his father who had made other plans for a wife for James, hearing of this plot, had James brought before him.

(page 24)

Father and son had a quarrel and James was thrown into the Castle dungeon. The father determined to disown and disinherit James and leave the immense fortune, which he had accumulated to the younger, and favorite son, Archibald.

Accordingly, and with this end in view, the father had James smuggled forcibly and in chains aboard a sailing vessel bound for the Colonies (the 13 original) trusting that if James wasn't lost overboard, the ship didn' sink, he didn't die of some disease, the red men or some varmint didn't get him, didn't get lost in the swamps or freeze or starve to death, James would remain and die in his chosen Country and never return to Scotland.

The lady in the case, hearing of the fate of her lover, threw herself over a cliff and was lost at sea. This was a great shock to Archibald and he never married.

James duly arrived in America and settled in America where he married and reared a family. He became known far and wide as James of Virginia and it is his eldest son, possibly his only child Archibald Douglas, who is buried near Verdery. The date and birth on the tombstone establishes this fact beyond a doubt, the City Clerk of Abbeville believes that Archibald of We-Wym-WyeWym-Wye died and his remains were laid to rest alongside his father in the Ivory Chapel at the Castle.

The property not being claimed by James, the elder son, upon the death of his father, had passed to Archibald, the younger. This Archibald died without issue. He left a will that was not to be opened for 50 years after the death of his brother, James, bequeathing the property of the estate to the heirs of his brother, James.

The Archibald Douglas buried near Verdery, South Carolina, claimed by his descendants to the only child of the elder brother James of Virginia, married Miss Elizabeth Cochran of Cokesbury, and to this union were born five children: Donald, Rebecca, Phoebe, John and Thomas Jefferson.

Donald Douglas, the eldest child married Drucilla Hodges and had five children: Fannie, Matilda, Celeste, Mary and Elizabeth.

Rebecca and Phoebe were carried off by the Indians, but after months of hardship among the red men, got away and returned home and were afterwards happily married. Rebecca married General George Washington Hodges and Phoebe married Gabriel Hodges. Washington, Gabriel and Drucilla were brothers and sisters. Frank Hodges of Abbeville whose chimney was struck by lightning is descended from Rebecca.

John Douglas went to La Grange, Georgia, where he married and reared a family.

Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Douglas' first wife was Matilda Lomax and they had three children: George Archibald "Arch", Thomas Dilworth, and Elizabeth. His second wife was Emily.

(page 25)

Adkins and to them were born several sons and daughters, three of whom are still living: Mrs. Ida Douglas Fell of Verdery, Mrs. Emily Agnew of Greenwood and Thomas Lucien Douglas, also of Greenwood.

The City Clerk of Abbeville is a grandson of Thomas Jefferson and a son of the late George Archibald, known by his friends as Arch Douglas.

Mrs. Rebecca Douglas Lowe, then of Atlanta, daughter of John Douglas, some 25 years ago with her lawyer, visited and searched in vain over the State of South Carolina, in an endeavor to locate the grave of her grandfather, Archibald Douglas, with a view to obtaining the fortune in Scotland. Mrs. Lowe at that time, possessed practically all the data, records, etc., necessary to secure the fortune for the descendants of Archibald Douglas. All that was lacking at that time being the grave. Other descendants have spent much time and money in fruitless searching.

The grave however, was not located until some 15 years later after Mrs. Lowe's visit and strange to relate it was a great grandson Archibald Fell, now of Augusta, Georgia, who had never joined the search or interested himself in any way in the grave or fortune, who was the finder.

Mr. Fell accidentally stumbled over the grave while going over an old farm he had rented and he says it is a mystery to him in the "first off" how anybody ever found the out of way place on which the graveyard is located.

A peculiar coincidence is the fact that Mrs. Rebecca Douglas Lowe died on the same day that the grave was found. It is not known what became of the numerous data, records, information and so on that Mrs. Lowe collected.

Mr. John Boozer of Denmark, South Carolina, a great grandson of Donald Douglas and other relatives have secured the services of a lawyer in Washington, D. C. who expects to go to Scotland to look into the matter for descendants.

Articles in the newspapers recently regarding the finding of the grave near Verdery have started a deluge of letters to postmasters, preachers, judges, doctors and others from claimants who Mrs. Douglas states are as numerous as Grasshoppers seeking information as to Who's Who and Why.

From "Bee" Lane, #0033, Route 7-B, Bluffton, South Carolina 29910

This newspaper article was found in the collection of genealogical records of the noted genealogist Leonardo Andrea of South Carolina. After his death his collection was put on microfilm. I read the microfilm at the Library of the Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia, and secured a photocopy of this article as typed by Pauline Young. I, in turn, retyped it as I found it, not making any corrections except in the typing errors. Evidently, Mr. Andrea did not do any research for this Douglass family, as only this article was found in this file.

A slightly different version of the above legend can be found on page 215 of "Greenwood County Sketches" by Margaret Watson. The following is verbatim from page 215.

Archibald Douglass, 1770-1815, and his first wife, Elizabeth Cochran Douglas, 1776-1809, are buried on a family cemetery just off Highway 221 about 1 1/2 north of Bradley. Their home must have been in that area. Archibald Douglass was the son of James Douglass who immigrated to Virginia from Scotland. James was a brother of Margaret, Duchess of Douglass, and that link had some of the descendants interested in sharing an inheritance in Scotland, but their efforts were futile.

It appears that Duchess Margaret set up entailed property designated "Douglass Support" for the benefit of children of her brothers and sisters. There is no record that Archibald Douglass made any effort to claim his share of this property. He may not have known the inheritance existed, and the family in Scotland apparently did not know that he had six children as "Burke's Peerage" official register of noble families in England and Scotland, says that Archibald Douglass, son of James, died in America unmarried or without issue. The "Douglass Support" property in and around Glascow went to children of Lady Margaret's two sisters and became quite valuable. In 1921 Douglass descendants in Georgia came to this area seeking the grave of Archibald Douglass to start establishing a claim to the Scottish property. They believed that a necessary part of the identification was a family seal ring, which Archibald was known to have owned, and tradition was that the ring had been buried with him. Church and family cemeteries in much of Abbeville and Greenwood counties were checked without success. Some months later, Andrew Fell of Verdery, a Douglass descendant, found the family cemetery, notified two other descendants, L. C. Douglass and McNary Cochran. When those latter two men visited the site they found the grave of Archibald Douglass had been opened, and there was no sign of a signet ring.

In the meantime, information was obtained that under Scotch law an inheritance could not be pursued after a family had peaceful possession for 20 years and since the American Douglasses had made no claim in more than 120 years, further effort was not advised. A suggestion was made that the family might pay the required fee, "possibly several thousand dollars" to secure the right to assume the coat of arms matriculated by Margaret, Duchess of Douglass, with the Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh. So far as is known no one pursued that suggestion.

The name of Archibald Douglass's second wife is not known. There was one child, David Douglass who sent West and nothing further was know of him by relatives here.<sic>

Lillie Ann Simmons Griffin believes that the story about the two daughters being kidnapped may well be untrue. At about the same time Dorothy Hodges (Rosamond) was indeed kidnapped by the Indians and she had a son by one of them. Permitted by her Indian captor to return home for a visit, she extended the visit to a permanent stay. He son returned to the Indian father and was not heard from again. Ann thinks it very likely that these two stores were confused over the years.

The following abstract of estate administration of Archibald Douglass RN 126 provided by Erline Black Wilkerson 330 Irene Bridge Highway, Hickory Grove, South Carolina 29717 on 10 Jul 1990 with the notation that it comes from page 88 of "Abstracts of Old Ninety Six and Abbeville District Wills and Bond" by Pauline Young.

"Douglass, Archibald - Box 27, Pack 607

Est. admin. April 25, 1815 by Nancy Douglass, Jno. Cochran, Jno. Donald, Andrew Gray, Jas. Pettus, Wm Cochran bound to Moses Taggard, Ord. Abbeville Dist. Sum $20,000. Cit to acct. on petition of Wm. Cochran a distributee of est. of Phepe Hearst alias Phebe Cochran, July 8, 1816 Pd. Nancy Douglas $510.00, Jan 16, 1817 paid Jno. McGee for schooling and boarding Jno., David Douglass 1 yr. $96.00, decd. $24.44 Apr 12, 1817 paid Joseph Foster for boarding Phebe Douglass to school $27.50."

Mrs. Erline Black Wilkerson, same date as above states:

"Dr. Alexander Donald of Opelusas, La., wrote in 1861 that Lydia Donald had a m. first Archibald Douglass and second William Morrow. Dr. Donald said that Nancy had not married. He was writing from memory and should have said that Lydia never married."

Mrs. Erline Black Wilkerson, in a letter dated February 21, 1991 provides abstract of will of Alexander B. Donald RN 33834 which mentions Archibald Douglass as follows:

"Alexander Donald - Box 106, Pack 2775 - will dated 5 July 1803 in Abbeville Dist. {SC} Rec. 2 March 1806. "A tract of land lying in Chester Co. which my son James Donald had in his possession when he died." "Grandson: Archibald Douglass land lying on Bever Creek in Fairfield Co. {SC}" "Great Grandson: Donald Douglass land on Bever Creek in Fairfield Co. {SC}" p. 393"

Added by David W. Thomson III, 5 Dec 2019: Archibald did have a brother, John Douglass, who lived near him at Abbeville, South Carolina during the 1800 and 1810 censuses.





Sources for this article include:
  • Abbeville Press and Banner
  • "Dubh Ghlase", October 1985

  • Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


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