Reverend Francis Poythress — Family Ties — Closing in?

We have documentation from a study of records related to the establishment of Bethel Academy asserting that Rev. Francis Poythress, the Methodist pioneer in the late 18th century, was the uncle of Elizabeth (Poythress) Peniston.


“While in charge of Bethel Academy, (John) Metcalf married in 1795 a niece of his presiding elder, Rev. Francis Poythress. She was Ann (Nancy), daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Poythress) Peniston, (emphasis added) who lived near Lexington, Kentucky. Together they managed Bethel Academy until 1798.”

The two chapters below are the most specific to Francis Poythress and John Metcalf (also of Virginia). Chapter 3 provides a very readable and well researched biographical profile, although I would encourage those keenly interested to see the additional source information recently posted.  Eventually all of this will be compiled into an updated study of Rev. Francis Poythress.

PDF of Chapter 2_ The Bethel Academy Story

PDF of Chapter 3_ Important Men Related To Bethel Academy

This link will take you to the online magazine publishing the Bethel Academy Story.  This source should be used for future citation.

As outlined in the earlier post we have historical accounts seemingly establishing these additional clues — in summary form:

  • Francis was living with his sister, Susannah Pryor (widow of Luke Pryor), on her farm in Jessamine County, KY due to his mental health issues — by 1800.   This Pryor family links to Poythress allied lines in Virginia.
  • We know Susannah had considerable property, both in Virginia and Kentucky and that other members of the Pryor family migrated to the same region near Lexington, Kentucky, etc.
  • Elizabeth, his presumed other sister, was married to Thomas Peniston — they were running Bethel Academy by roughly 1800 — a project Francis Poythress was instrumental in launching (see chpaters above).
  • That several accounts attest that Francis lost his father at a young age and that he inherited a considerable fortune, which he may have squandered during an unguided youth.


Elizabeth’s presumed parentage is often shown as:

William Poythress was born about 1737, in Prince George County, the son of Robert Poythress and Elizabeth (Cocke?). He died before April 12, 1787. He married Elizabeth —— (1741-1783) and they were the parents of Elizabeth Poythress (1765-1818) who married Anthony Peniston (1764-1797). This William Poythress is the presumed son of Robert Poythress (1690 – 1743).

So, we have two presumed sisters of Rev. Francis Poythress both living in pretty much the same place at least by the 1790s — Elizabeth Peniston and Susannah Pryor.

This evidence might lead us to speculate that our Rev. Francis Poythress is the son of Lt. William Poythress.  Tempting, but we also have these inconvenient accounts in the source materials shared in the earlier posts:

  • That he was born circa 1744-5  based on his representations to his colleagues.  “Of Mr. Poythress’s early years little is known. He was born about the year 1745.” John Atkinson (1884). History of American Methodism.  


And we have another published account based on a statement that Rev. Poythress shared his age with a colleague:

A few years ago —I think it was in 1818 —Brother Poythress died, insane in Jessamine county, Kentucky, about twelve miles from Lexington, at the house of his sister, Mrs. Susanna Pryor, with whom he had lived, in a state of derangement for a considerable time. My acquaintance with him began in the forty-fourth year of his age, (as he told me in July, 1788.” (pg. 97)  The history of Methodism in Kentucky by the Rev. A. H. Redford, Nashville: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1868-70.

If he was born circa 1743-4 then he could not be the son of a William Poythress born circa 1737 and thus not the brother of Elizabeth (Poythress) Peniston.  It seems more plausible that (1) he was a brother or cousin of  William Poythress and (2) that Elizabeth (Poythress) Peniston (born 1765) was his niece rather than his sister.  If so, then Mr. Metcalf would have married the great-niece rather than the niece of his elder, Rev. Francis Poythress.  It certainly seems like a plausible error easily given the opaque records of the period.

This also suggests that his father may have died at some point between 1743 and roughly 1760 — he may well have been orphaned quite early in life since there seems to be a heavy focus on his unguided youth. 

  • That he was regarded by his colleagues as having been well-educated, gentlemanly in his manner and a gifted administrator worthy of consideration of appointment to high office.
  • That he may have spent at least one year in the Continental Army (1776-77)  – needs attention since this would suggest there may have been two Francis Poythress men serving, during this period.


We know that he had already started his ministerial career by the start of the war — presumably circa 1772  (age 27-28) since he shown to have interrupted his participation for one year.  If it is proven that he served in the Continental Army then he would have been in his early 30s at that time.

This presumed date of birth aligns with several other clues found in the Methodist literature:

  • That he may have lived with or been under the mentorship for some period of time with Rev. Devereux Jarratt (of Dinwiddie Co – Bath Parish) while studying religion.  We know from Jarratt’s autobiography that he came to Bath Parish in August,1763.

Francis would have been roughly 18 – 21 in 1763.

  • We have a clue from an allied family study that there was another Poythress family member with a connection to Rev. Jarratt.

In the Reverend Mr. Slaughter’s History of Bristol Parish (p. 206) there is this record: “Mary, daughter of Francis Poythress and Mary Peterson, married Randolph of Amelia County.” 

According to family tradition, his wife was commonly called Polly Peterson Poythress and in her stockings she knitted her initials “P.P.P.”

She had been reared in the family of the Rev. Devereux Jarratt and she was about 13 years of age when she married, her fiancee being about 10 years her elder.

She was quite wealthy as wealth was estimated at that time, owning 160 slaves, 80 of which she had inherited from her brother on his death unmarried (p. 81).” In Randolph, W. (1952). Henry Randolph I, 1623-1773 [sic] of Henrico County, Virginia, and his descendants: Preceded by short review of the Randolph family in early England and elsewhere. Memphis: Distributed by Cossitt Library.

As speculated earlier: If this family tradition is an accurate account, why would Mary (Polly) Peterson Poythress (born 1763) to Francis Poythress and Mary (Polly) Peterson Poythress be reared in the family of Rev. Devereux?  (note:  her date of birth circa 1763 coincides with the arrival of Rev. Jarratt in Bath Parish.)

This account would also mean that Rev. Francis Poythress and Mary (Polly) Peterson Poythress were involved with the Jarratt family during the same time periods — she was born in 1763 and was reared by the Jarratt family — reportedly married at age 13 (circa 1776) to Henry Randolph (who promptly joined the 15th Virginia Regiment – – this is the same VA Regiment showing a muster for Private Francis Poythress during the same year.   (The Francis Poythress joining the 15th needs examination). 

We know that Rev. Poythress was likely studying with Rev. Jarratt prior to his official engagement as a Methodist minister — prior to 1775.   If true then It is plausible/probable that both Polly and Francis were living in Bath Parrish; possibly both in the Jarratt household. during the late 1760s. Rev. Jarratt had a plantation of more than 700 acres, likely property belonging to his far more wealthy wife, Martha (Ravenscroft) Claiborne.  

  • The associations outlined above might be better understood with this additional clue recently posted to the mailing list:

From Claiborne of Virginia: descendants of Colonel William Claiborne: the first eight generations. John Dorman & Claiborne Smith, Gateway Press, 1995.

BURNELL CLAIBORNE (Leonard’, Thomas’, William’) married, after Sept. 1738,’ Hannah (Ravenscroft) Poythress widow of Francis Poythress and undoubtedly daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Hamlin) Ravenscroft of “Maycox: Prince George County.”

Rev. Devereux Jarratt married Martha Claiborne — daughter of Burnell & Hanna (Ravenscroft) [Widow of Francis Poythress (1707 – 1738] Claiborne.

[Hanna Ravenscroft – widow of Francis Poythress] was Rev. Devereux Jarratt’s mother-in-law.  The significance of having Mary (Polly) Peterson Poythress (Randolph) and Rev. Francis Poythress linked to Rev. Jarratt’s family needs further study.

Where does this leave us?

  1. We have reason to rule out William Poythress as Rev. Francis Poythress’s father — based on the age of Francis Poythress in the published Methodist literature.
  2. We have reason to believe that Elizabeth Poythress Peniston may have been his niece rather than his sister.  If true, then we have reason to explore the possibility that Robert Poythress may have been his father.
  3. We have reason to believe that Mary Peterson Poythress and Rev. Francis Poythress were involved with Rev. Jarratt in Bath Parish during the 1760s, if not sooner or beyond.
  4. We have reason to explore the significance of the Hannah Ravenscroft  Claiborne (widow of Francis Poythress) connection.
  5. We have reason to focus on wealthy Poythress men who passed away between the early 1740s and early 1760s as the possible father of Rev. Francis Poythress.
  6. Note: Randy Jones, a prolific contributor to the Poythress list has posited a different family tree.  While compelling I am not yet sure the ages align with family history outlined above.  

Randy’s Tree: Francis POYTHRESS and Hannah RAVENSCROFT were married. Hannah RAVENSCROFT63 (daughter of Hannah) was born between 1707 and 1715. She died after 1761. Francis POYTHRESS and Hannah RAVENSCROFT had the following children:

+97 i. Georgianna POYTHRESS, born in 1721; married Bernard CLAIBORNE.

+98 ii. Rev. Francis POYTHRESS of Dinwiddie Co., VA, born before 1729; married Mary PETERSON; died in 1818, Jessamine Co., KY.

99 iii. Elizabeth POYTHRESS22,64 was born on 11 Feb 1730 in Prince George Co., VA. She was baptized Apr 1730.