The first well-documented ancestor of the Wills family of Charles County MD is John B. Wills, Sr. who was born c. 1740 and to whom all of the local 19th century white descendants of this name can be traced.
Before him the name is scarcely attested in Southern Maryland and it seems hardly a coincidence that it those earlier attestations are mostly in the area around Port Tobacco where John B. Wills lived. There we find at least 2 earlier generations of people named William Wills that lived near Port Tobacco on or near the property of the Greens, Roziers, and Hansons. There are a few earlier references to a Thomas Wills and a William Wills in St. Mary’s County in the 1600s, in documents concerning the Greens and Benjamin Rozier, and it is possible (but probably impossible to prove) that the Wills family of Charles County is descended from them.
Since John Baptist Wills, Sr. married an heiress of Green property, since the Wills name is not common, and since JBW and most of his children named children “William”, there is circumstantial reason to assume JBW was the son of one of these William Wills. Unfortunately, there also seems to have been at least one William Wells in Charles County and separating William Wells from William Wills in the records is not easy. The relative lack of mention in public documents, deeds, and testaments over the course of a century implies that these William Wills were not particularly prosperous or blessed with large families.
The religion of the Wills progenitors before John B. Wills, Sr. is not known, but his wife was Catholic and his given name suggests a Catholic line, perhaps maternally. Unfortunately the colonial Catholic parish records of Charles County are not extant.
Ongoing research on the maternal lines of John B. Wills is exploring the source of his given name “John Baptist”. This name is not common in the English world, and there is every reason to assume that it comes into Southern Maryland from a French immigrant or an Irish one. Unfortunately by the mid-1700’s there are several scattered families in the area using this given name and no clear track yet of an available daughter who might have married into the Wills family.
PLACE OF ORIGIN UNKNOWN: There are early settlers by the name of Wills in Virginia and it is possible that this family came from there, but the evidence suggests the family was already in Charles County or St. Mary’s County in the 1600’s. There is no evidence yet to connect these William Wills with any persons or places in England.
PROBABLY RELATED: Of the four sons of Justinian Wills (1735-c.1805) of Caroline County and then Bedford County, Virginia, three have names identical with the children of John B. Wills, Sr. of Port Tobacco: William, John B., Ignatius. In particular, Ignatius is a very unusual name outside of the Jesuit missions. Likewise, it should be noted that Justinian (an unusual name in Southern Maryland) was the given name of two of John B. Wills, Sr.’s grandchidren. The age of Justinian Wills makes him a possible candidate to be the brother or cousin of John B. Wills, Sr. of Port Tobacco.
Justinian Wills was from Caroline County, Virginia (about 40 miles south of Charles Co, Md), where he appears in the court records from 1756 on. Nov. 10, 1768, the grand jury issued a “presentment” against a Justinian Wills, James Chick, and several others, for not paying tithes and not frequenting their parish church of Drysdale Parish on the east side of Caroline County (a possible sign of Catholicism). On March 10, 1769, Justinian Wills, James Chick, and John Pruett failed to appear in court to answer the presentments, and were each fined 500 pounds of tobacco. (Caroline County Orders 1768-1770, pp.273, 306.). Justinian Wills m. Elizabeth Chick (possibly James Chick’s daughter?) on Nov. 22, 1768, Caroline Co., VA. They moved to Bedford or Campbell Co., VA, around 1771 (they are found in records of both counties). In 1780 he received a land bounty certificate in Bedford County for his service as a Sergeant-Major in Col. Byrd’s regiment during the French and Indian War in 1758. Most of his offspring moved to Kentucky or West Virginia.
By the mid-1700s, numerous young men or even families moved westward from Tidewater Virginia and Maryland, seeking new and better land —Justinian was one of those settlers. But the loss of the Caroline County courthouse records makes him hard to track, and other than the coincidence of names there is no evidence yet to demonstrate a connection.
UNRELATED: There is clearly no relationship between the Wills family of Southern Maryland and the benefactor of the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia—the benefactor’s father James Wills was born in England in 1760 and came to America many years after the ancestor of the Wills of Southern Maryland. Likewise there is no connection with the Scotch-Irish Wills families which settled in Chester and Cumberland Counties PA in the 1730’s and thereafter. Even those by the name of Wills in Baltimore or other parts of Maryland around 1800 generally have documented immigration patterns that make a connection to the Wills family of Charles County unlikely.
WELLS: The name Wills is often confused with Wells by transcribers and all mentions of otherwise unattached persons should be checked in the original documents and confirmed by another related document if possible.