By Richard Gwynallen

Andrew MacAllister
(c. 1680 – 1704)

Hannah Roberts
(c. 1668 – ?)

Relationship to Fawn: 8th great grandparents

Andrew MacAllister was an immigrant ancestor arriving in the American Colonies in the 17th century, but mystery shrouds much of the relationship between Andrew and his wife, Hannah.

When I first came upon this line of the family it seemed fairly straightforward. Looking at the research already put together by many others I found Andrew MacAllister married to Hannah Roberts. And we were descended from one of their daughters, Sarah MacAllister, who married Abraham Cooke. Andrew and Hannah seemed to have immigrated to the American Colonies with their daughters, Sarah and Rachel, with our family being descended from Sarah. However, as I read more writings about this couple by other researchers it became more interesting, not so straight forward, and a bit shrouded in unknowns and mysteries.

Starting with Andrew McAllister:

There is not much documentary evidence about Andrew MacAllister. When I first found Andrew and Hannah, I found an online Passenger and Immigration Lists index showing Andrew and Hannah MacCallister arriving in Virginia in 1701. However, a 1699 Virginia record I discuss below indicates that Andrew was already in the colonies. If this is accurate the only indication that Andrew and Hannah even knew each other, much less be married, when they individually arrived in the colonies disappears. Further, the dates for Sarah’s and Rachel’s births vary, and a marriage record shows Rachel marrying in 1710. Other family tree researchers seem to agree that Sarah married Abraham Cook in 1713. All in all, with Andrew assumed to be born about 1690 it began to seem more likely that Sarah and Rachel were his sisters, though it is possible that Andrew’s assumed date of birth is wrong.

Beyond the immigration index card mentioned above, there are only two records mentioning Andrew that I have seen so far, including in the work of others who have researched him more deeply than I. One is a June 1699 report from a committee appointed to resolve the question of ownership of land in Pamunkey Neck, and the second a land patent recorded in 1702. These records place him in Pamunkey Neck, Virginia.

The following is a brief description of the area in which our ancestor settled, for which I am grateful to Randy and Julia for preparing and posting the following on the Hervey Family Tree.

“The Pamunkey Neck[1] was originally Indian land in which white settlement was forbidden by a 1625 treaty with the Pamunkey King.  Beginning in 1679 the Pamunkey Indians leased land to a few enterprising whites, who then subdivided their rights into smaller parcels and sold them to other settlers.  In addition, because the Crown had neglected to formally issue a patent to the Indians, claims within the Pamunkey reservation began to be surveyed for settlers by 1694.  The confusion over title, and a desire to clarify quit rent obligations, resulted in the formation of a committee to resolve the question of ownership of land in Pamunkey Neck.  In its report of June 1699, this committee noted that Ralph Yarborough, an Indian interpreter and trader, was among those who held a 99-year lease with the Pamunkeys, evidently obtained sometime after 1679.[2]   Among those claiming rights to this land was “Andrew Mackallaster”, who had purchased 100 acres from Yarborough.[3]   [Note that it is uncertain when this land was sold to McAllister, only that he claimed a right to it as of June 1699.]  The Governor recognized the rights of the settlers,  requiring that they obtain patents to perfect their titles.  Each of the settlers claiming land from Yarborough applied for grants, and over the next few years were issued patents for their land.”

In the description above is noted the first document mentioning Andrew MacAllister.

The second document mentioning Andrew MacAllister is a patent issued to him for, presumably, the same land, which is described in the patent as 86 acres, on 24 October 1701 for importation of himself and his wife Hannah.[4]  The patent describes the land as “bordered by the south bank of the Mattaponi River, the courses of branches of Fort Swamp, the land of William Rawlins[5] , and “old Richard Yarberough’s whole tract leased of the Pamunkey Indians.”

As an interesting side note, the Yarborough family referenced here, the Indian interpreter and trader, Ralph Yarborough, and Richard Yarberough, become related to us when Frances Yarborough marries Claiborne Cooke in 1788.

Though we do not have documentation of their marriage, we know that Andrew and Hannah were married at the time Andrew obtained the land certificate, which was presumably after the committee’s 1699 report.  Therefore, it is safe to assume they were married by 1699, for the certificate was probably obtained and the patent applied for shortly after the June 1699 committee report.[6]

The patent refers to only one head right, that of Hannah McAllister. The “headrights” system authorized the grant of 50 acres for every individual brought to Virginia.


Hannah’s Unique Position

However, on 14 October 1704, the King William County Deed Book 1 (p288) cites: “Hannah Mackallister wid’w”, of King William County signed a power of attorney to “my loving son in law Abraham Cook of St. Paul’s Parish in New Kent County” to recover all debts due to her “within the Colony of Virg’a” and to sell or lease “my plantation.”[7] Hannah was presumably the widow of Andrew McAllister, and the plantation was presumably the 86 acres patented by Andrew McAllister in 1701, though neither he nor Hannah appear on the 1704 quit rent rolls for King William County.

Quit rent originated in feudal law and was used in the British colonies. It was in effect a tax imposed on freehold or leased land that allowed the occupant full enjoyment of the rights of the land. For one who held land under feudal law it relieved the tenant of other services obligatory under feudal law.

This 1704 citation is the beginning of a mystery surrounding Hannah. It clearly implies she owned the land since she authorizes Cook to sell or rent it. In the American Colonies of the 18th century a woman did not hold legal title to land unless it was willed to her. The usual custom was to leave the wife a dower interest; that is to say the lifetime right to live in the house and the full enjoyment of the property, which could not have been leased or sold. Title would have been vested in a male heir and full possession transferred to the heir at her death. Her obvious legal ownership implies the possibility that a will existed that is not currently found, and that they had no male children.

A further indication that perhaps they had no children at all is that 86 acres was a very small landholding for a man with a family.  There was plenty of land available in Pamunkey Neck at that time. Yet, he claimed only enough land to support a single male worker. The economics of tobacco cultivation required about 50 acres of usable ground to employ a single person for twenty years – only a few acres could be cultivated by a single person, playing it out in two or three years – after which the land would be nearly worthless for the purpose.

On the other hand, only two headrights were needed to claim the 86 acres, and any other rights he may have had could have been used for other property for which we have no records, or assigned to others.

Further, Hannah refers to Abraham Cook as her “son in law.” This doesn’t help establish the relationship of Sarah to Hannah. In those times this phrase was used in a much broader sense than today.  Generally speaking, it meant any relationship created by a legal event (such as a marriage or adoption) rather than by a natural event. The term “son-in-law” was applied to a stepson, the husband of a daughter, or even the husband of a stepdaughter.  And, of course, any of these relationships could have been created by a prior marriage of Hannah’s.



There are those that believe the Abraham Cook referenced in the1704 document was not the Abraham Cook who married Sarah MacAllister, but his father, also called Abraham Cook. The reason for this is it would seem that the Abraham Cook who married Sarah would have been too young in 1704 to have been person referred to as “son-in-law,” even if we assume the1713 date of Sarah and Abraham’s marriage is inaccurate. If the father was who Hannah meant as “son-in-law,” how was he in fact an in-law relationship? This has led to the idea that Hannah McAllister-Roberts might have been married to a Cook and was widowed prior to her marriage to Andrew. Abraham Cook, Sr. was married to Martha Clayton. Some speculate that Martha was the daughter of our Hannah by another marriage. This is based on the belief that Martha was a daughter of William Clayton, who died by 1680 leaving a widow named Hannah.

It’s all very complicated, but there are several theories about the Hannah McAllister-Abraham Cook relationship outlined on the Hervey Family Tree, which I reprint below:

  1. Abraham Cook, Sr was her stepson.  This would be possible if Hannah McAllister had previously been married to a Cook with children of his own.  That is, if she married a Cook widower with children, was widowed herself, and then remarried to McAllister, then Abraham Cook would literally be her “son-in-law.”   However, this makes it quite unlikely that Hannah McAllister and Hannah Clayton were the same person, since it not only introduces another marriage for her but also requires that the Cook marriage took place earlier than 1665 when her son William Clayton was born.
  2. Abraham Cook Sr. was married to a McAllister daughter.  If this is the case, then Hannah Clayton and Hannah McAllister cannot be the same person.  Further there is no evidence at all that McAllister was in Virginia, much less Old Rappahannock where Abraham Cook, Sr. was when he married.
  3. Abraham Cook, Sr. was married to a Clayton daughter.  This requires that Hannah McAllister and Hannah Clayton be the same person, and that the Abraham Cook of Old Rappahannock and the Abraham Cook of New Kent be the same person.  The theory that Hannah Clayton and Hannah McAllister were the same person is plausible, and supported by the appearance of “Clayton” among the names of Abraham Cook’s grandchildren.


Final Thoughts

In the end, it’s all speculative – much too complicated for me – and we remain left with a mystery. We know only that in 1704 Hannah MacAllister held title to MacAllister land, considered Abraham Cook (Sr. or Jr.) her son-in-law, and authorized him to lease or sell her land, that Abraham Cook, Jr. and Sarah McAllister (Hannah’s daughter or sister-in-law) married and produced the line of descent that is a branch of our family, and the Yarboroughs who Andrew and Hannah knew would in the course of time also become connected to our family. In their wanderings and interactions we have Pamunkey Neck, Virginia as another cradle of our family.


The Origins of the MacAlisters

Before signing off though I’ll leave some general information about the origins of the MacAlister clan.

We do not know where Andrew McAllister came from. The name certainly suggests Scotland or the north of Ireland, but several family trees speculate that he was born in France. Scots of the 17th century ended up in France sometimes because they were Jacobites and fled there to escape persecution when the Stewarts were not in power, and sometimes because Paris was a center of learning and they went to study.

Whatever might be the case for Andrew’s place of birth, the MacAlister clan is descended from Alisdair Mor, the son of Donald of Islay, forefather of Clan Donald, and great-grandson of Somerled, King of the Isles. In the Annals of the Four Masters in1299 he is referred to as “of Antrim.” Alisdair Mor’s descendants settled in Kintyre, where they proliferated, expanding onto the islands of Bute and Arran in the 15th and 16th centuries, and from there further inland. The MacAlister’s remained Jacobites and suffered losses from their loyalty to the Stewarts, but at the end of the 18th century, the MacAlister chief married the heiress of Kennox in Ayr, restoring some of the clan’s fortunes, and the clan seat has been in Kennox ever since.

For any family member reading this, it is interesting to note that in addition to this MacAlister line on my father’s side we also have a significant MacAlister line on my mother’s side, which is a story for another day.


[ 1] The Pamunkey Neck encompassed the area between the Mattapony and Pamunkey Rivers, which nowdays encompasses  King William County, the southern part of Caroline County, and southern Spotsylvania County.  It was administratively part of New Kent County until 1691 when it became part of King & Queen County.  When the Pamunkeys subjugated themselves to the King in 1701, it became King William County.

[2] English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records, Lewis des Cognets, Jr.,  (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981), pp 57-66 duplicates this committee report.

[3] Des Cognets, p59.

[4] Virginia Patent Book 9, p386.

[5] The patent to William Rawlins is at VPB 9:505.  William “Rawlings” will was dated 27 May 1704 and proved 20 June 1704 in King William County.  This may explain why he is not listed among the 1704 quit rents.  See King William County Record Book 2, part I, p30, etc.

[6] No method existed for verifying that an importation actually occurred or that a headright had not already been used.  The result was that the headright system was rife with corruption by the late 1680s.  All that was necessary was to convince a county court to issue a certificate.  The certificate was then used like a warrant, with the names of the headrights copied from the certificate into the patent.

[7] King William County Deed Book 1, p288.