Sometimes much has been recorded and written about heads of families, especially when they are considered pioneers who settled on the American frontier, like our Henry Moon (born before 1760) for example. Old land warrants and census records enable historians and genealogists to establish a solid line to the present. Oh, don’t get me wrong; there are still plenty of research questions to ask and information yet to discover about family like this mysterious, almost mythical patriarch, Henry Moon, and this quest is what spurs me, now in my semi-retirement years, to get out of bed in the morning. But, on the other hand, I occasionally come upon quiet characters, such as our Hope Watson, the subject of this piece. She was the wife of Daniel Cooper Fleming (b. 1810), Henry’s grandson Joseph, Jr.’s father-in-law. If that sounds complicated, all you have to know is that she was my three-times great grandmother on my dad’s maternal side. I “hope” you click on a tree link to visualize her place. About all we know of Grandma Hope is that she was born in Ireland, probably Ulster, around 1819, almost a decade after her husband. Hardly worth bothering with, so you say. Well, after some investigation into the origins and other persons bearing the Watson surname, and realizing that these Watsons and Flemings of Venango County, PA, were just as much brave pioneers as Henry Moon was, I wanted to build a “portrait of Hope.” Not only do I carry her and her ancestors in my DNA, but I figure that I should at least try to know a little bit better anyone with the name, Hope. So there, that’s what this article is about. Come along with me and maybe you will learn something too.
The surname “Watson” comes from the name “Watt,” somewhat familiar, I’m sure. Obviously, Watson was the son of a Watt, which is an English form of the Germanic “Walter,” meaning “rule” as in “army.” Other common variations of these monikers are Walters, Walterson, Waters, Waterson, Watkins, and Watkinson, to name a few. Our Northern Irish Watkins came originally from Scotland, and Watson is the 20th most common name there. In fact, as early as the 1300s there was such a family living in Edinburgh, and a Robert “Watsoun” lived in Aberdeen in 1402. Their descendants became landowners, presbyters, burgesses, magistrates, and mayors. Within 200 years, the Watson name was more frequently found in the Scottish Lowlands and along the northeastern coast. It is said that in one tiny fishing village alone, Banffshire, 225 of 300 persons had the name Watt. These are only a few of the more famous Watts and Watsons:
- George Watson (b. 1654) – a successful banker in Edinburgh left money to establish an orphanage that later became a college named for him.
- James Watt (b. 1736) – the Scotsman who developed the steam engine. The unit of power “watt” is commonly used today.
- Thomas A. Watson (b. 1854) – assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, who famously summoned him via the first telephone, “Watson . . . “
- Thomas J. (b. 1874) and Thomas J. Watson, Jr. (b. 1914) – first two presidents of IBM, for whom “Watson, the Jeopardy game show supercomputer was named.
- Robert Watson-Watt (b. 1892) – developed radar, which helped the allies win WWII. Try to imagine aviation or meteorology today with his invention.
- Doc Watson (b. 1923) – American musician
- Bubba (b. 1978) and Tom (b. 1949) Watson – American pro golfers
- Emma Watson (b. 1990) – English actress from the Harry Potter series
The Watson clan motto is, “Insperata floruit,” which means, “It has flourished beyond expectation.” Considering all of the above accomplishments and more, we can certainly understand how this badge of honor has been realized.
One of the most popular books on family history is entitled, The History of the Watson Family in America (1760-1914), by Clayton Keith. However, it traces that branch from Scotland to County Tyrone, NI, to South Carolina, USA. We suspect that our Hope may be instead a product of the Watsontown, Northumberland County, PA, family. Like the Flemings, Coopers, and possibly other of our Venango families, the Watsons may have followed the Susquehanna River Valley from the Lancaster Pike and Cumberland County northwest through Centre County to the western Pennsylvania frontier. Several Revolutionary War figures are found in Lancaster County, having come from Donegal in Ireland: John (b. 1705), Col. James (b. 1743), and John (b. 1769). We also find a William Watson who died there in 1770, but establishing any relationship to any of these men would be speculative. Watsons are listed as one of the “typical Scotch-Irish families of the Cumberland Valley” in a book by the same name. A reference to a Watson family living in the village of Snowshoe, near Milesburg, is found in the 1890 History of Centre County. We know that Hope and Daniel, 9 years her senior, were married there sometime between 1834 and 1837. If the earlier date is true, Hope would have been only 15 years old, not necessarily unusual on the frontier. We assume then that the young couple, continued on west to Venango with his family, the Flemings. Hope’s brother Thomas married a Mary Fleming. Was this a relative of Daniel? We continue to investigate.
There is a Watson Family Cemetery, also known as the Balltown Cemetery on Watson Farm Road, located in Forest County just to the north of Forest Chapel Cemetery, in Venango County, where many of our early Flemings are buried. Tax records from 1860 indicate an Isaac Watson family lived in Howe Township, Forest County. At this time we unaware of any connection to that family. We don’t even know where our Hope and husband Daniel are buried. But, research continues. These Watson families are so close geographically that there may be a genetic link.
Daniel Cooper Fleming had been born back east in Columbia County in 1810, but after having married 20-some years later, he and Hope spent their remaining years farming in Sugarcreek Township, Venango County. According to the 1860 census, they had 9 children, including a Daniel Cooper, Jr. (b. 1844) who named a son and a daughter after his grandparents. This was a Scots-Irish tradition. Incidentally, we believe that our Hope was christened without the diminutive “ie” or “y,” although she may have been called Hopie or Hopey as a nickname. The succeeding generation, however, Daniel, Jr. and wife Susan Webber, baptized their daughter as Hopey J. Fleming. That family had moved to Kansas before she was born.
Ironically, there is at least one other Daniel Fleming, appearing in the colossal work, The Oil Creek Flemings of Venango County, PA. This caused some confusion earlier as I researched our Flemings of Sugarcreek, who are cited in the book as being a different family. The Oil Creek Watson family, connected to the other Flemings, also apparently a different family, began with Robert (b. 1780), of Ulster ancestry. His name appears as early as 1805 on tax records for Venango County, sometime before any of our Flemings and Coopers arrived. Hope’s name does not appear in Robert’s descent. How did he arrive on the frontier and is he related to our Hope? That’s a great research question.
Despite an apparent lack of information on our Hope Watson Fleming, we have managed to complete this article. We’ve probably raised more questions than provided answers, but as I tell my writing students, a good thesis begins with a good research question. I certainly have a framework now to continue the search for Hope’s ancestors. Perhaps her given name came from a parent or grandparent’s first or last name, after our ethnic naming practices. Perhaps as the Puritans and Quakers, she was simply named after a biblical virtue. In either case, we’ve managed to open yet another door to the past. Would you like to join our “hunt for Hope”? Please share your findings with the world through this webpage.
“Clan Family Histories – Watt/Watson”
“Johnson Genealogy Data Page 38”
“Oil Creek Watsons”
“Watson Family Cemetery”