The original Joseph Motley must have been enterprising and good with money because records show he bought 400 acres of land in Amelia County, Virginia (in the southeastern part of the state near present-day Richmond).  He died in 1767, and my records show he had a son named Joseph, and no other children, surely a first in this fertile family! I could also be mistaken since family histories can be confusing. Joseph junior, who married Martha Ellington, made up for his father’s lack of children; he became the father of eleven. Obedience, my favorite, was born in 1768, the year after her grandfather died.

Joseph, junior, though I’m sure he wasn’t called that, was patriotic to the American cause and he became Captain of the county militia in 1770. The Revolutionary War was too long and complicated to explain in a few sentences. It officially lasted from 1775 to 1783, but the Boston Tea Party, disputes over taxes, and other skirmishes occurred a few years before the “war.” And Joseph was concerned about liberty for the colonies, especially Virginia, five years before future Americans took matters into their own hands.


Revolutionary War battle

Revolutionary War battle

Before the actual war, when Joseph the second was away from home, his absence created a tragedy for daughter Obedience and the whole family. Martha, the mother, was sick and lying in bed with one of her very young children  (I don’t know which one) when their home was invaded by a Tory (a British sympathizer) neighbor, who had been leading local guerilla action against American patriots.  No one was at home to defend the family, so the man deliberately cut an artery on the bedridden Martha’s arm. Obedience witnessed her mother bleed to death before anyone could help.

Obedience had her revenge a few years later when the murdering neighbor was very ill and mistakenly brought to the Motley home for help. She grabbed a container of hot coals by the fireplace and poured them on his head. There was no report of what the result was, alas! Hellish, no doubt.

It was said that, despite her coal-dumping incident, Obedience (Biddy, for short) always had an open door for strangers and orphans. When Biddy’s mother died, a slave named Rachel raised the Motley children. According to my geneaology report, obviously written by someone who was sensitive to the ills of slavery, at least on the surface, Rachel had been an African princess. Obedience shared the story of her beloved nurse with others.  Apparently, Rachel had been enslaved one day when she had been sent to drive away the birds from the rice fields somewhere in Africa. A bag was thrown over her head, and she was captured to be sold as a slave in America. To me, it sounds similar to the fate of Kunta Kinte from the book Roots, written by Alex Haley. My family history, however, was mailed to me years before that TV series was aired.


President George Washington, Father of our Country. My Motley relative fought with him.

President George Washington, Father of our Country. My Motley relative fought with him.

I’ve always enjoyed history, and before I knew of all this family history, I chose to obtain my college degree from the College of William and Mary in Colonial Williamsburg, which was founded in 1693, just before my Motley family arrived in the colonies.




  1. Isn’t it interesting how inter-connected we all are, especially if we bother to investigate.

  2. Mary Ellen Braneff says:

    I am very deeply into genealogy. I enjoyed your story concerning the murder of Martha Ellington Motley as Martha was my 4th great grandmother . Her daughter Amy was my 3rd. great grandmother. She married James Carter and they were the parents of Jesse Carter father of John Harmon Carter, father of Laura Ellen Carter who was my mother’s mother. John Harmon was in the 22nd. Texas Infantry and is in a book called Sons and Sires by Trevor Wardlaw. I included in that book a copy of a letter John Harmon wrote in 1862 to his parents Jesse and Jane while he was in Arkaksas at Camp Nelson. I have also visited the site of the camp where 5,000 died that winter of measles, mumps and pneumonia. Mary Ellen Roebuck Braneff

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