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History of Wesley Chapel & Capt. William Watson

Mystery Man Capt. William Watson Revisited

By Jackie Bartley

As you might recall in the Sept.-Oct. and Nov.-Dec. 2018 newsletters, I wrote a story about
Capt. William Watson, whose real name was Niels Hansen from Demark, the man who founded
my church, Wesley Chapel Methodist Church in Kathwood in 1873. This is how it all started. I
wrote the story because out of the blue back on April 19, 2018, I had received an email from
Jesper Christensen, age 55, who lives in Kumlebaek, Denmark, asking for information about a
relative named Capt. William Watson. He said he had seen our society's webpage and our
Historic Tour with Wesley Chapel on the (2nd Annual) tour in 2008 and had found out that a
Capt. Watson had founded the church. He said that he was a descendant of one of the brothers
of Capt. Watson and had been researching into his life, therefore, he was much interested in
the source of the information about Watson and the church and wanted to get in touch with
anyone who might know more about Watson and the early history of the church.

Well we emailed him back and told him he had the right person (me) because my mother's
mother's family, the Tavelles were one of the Kathwood families who had known Watson and
his wife Rosa and had started the church with them, and I have all that information including
their pictures. We sent him the information about the history of the church and the Tavelles
and how Watson got the land he lived on and donated 9/10 of an acre to the church and that
Watson's past was a mystery.

All we knew was that after the Civil War in 1873, a ship captain named William Watson and
his wife Rosa had come to Aiken County and had bought 50 acres around the present church
from another of my great-grandmother Sarah Louisa Wilson Tavelle's relative William Wilson,
son of Stephen Wilson, in 1875. They became neighbors to the Tavelles on Brownhill Road. A
William Watson is listed on the 1870 Hammond Township Voting District (includes Kathwood
and Beech Island) and he (age 62) and his wife (age 62) are listed on the 1880 census right next
to the Joseph and Sarah Tavelle family.

In another email, Jesper told us he had started getting interested in family history when he
was about 12 or 13. He had always heard family stories, but only one really interested him. It
sparked his interest especially. It was the story about a brother to his great-great grandfather
who had sailed to America and disappeared for many years and had married a mysterious lady.
He said in 1978 (over 100 years since Watson came to Kathwood), an uncle had died and from
him, he inherited some letters that provided a background to the stories he had heard. Also, he
had felt an obligation to find out as much as possible about Watson's wife, after whom one of
his relatives was named. He said he got very excited about the pictures of the Watsons that we
had sent.

He later told us he jumped up in the air when he got the pictures. In an email on June 4, 2018,
he said he gathered up his family - wife Jurgita and kids Julia and Jakob - to see the pictures and
also his sister-in-law who was visiting from Lithuania. All were subjected to the event, which we
performed in a proper mix of Danish, English and Lithuanian, he said.
The children had to listen to a lot about William Watson during the last half year, and the
kids have often been as interested in the old stories as teenagers are. However, they had to
listen to Daddy's story once again -- and seemed quite fascinated this time, initially by the fact that they are probably the first members of Niels Hansen's (William Watson) family to see him
since he left in 1836 or at least exchanged letters with his brother, Nicolaj in the end of the
1850s and indeed it is fascinating, he said.

He then sent us the translated transcripts of three of Watson's letters that Watson had sent
to his brother. Here is some of the information he sent us: Niels Hansen was born on Sept. 21,
1817, in the village of Nordenhuse as the youngest son of fisherman and small farmer Hans
Sorensen and his wife Dorthea Larsdatter. He received his Seapass (permission to be employed
on commercial vessels) in 1834 and passed the navigators exam at the Shippers Guild in
Copenhagen in 1836 and later that year went to America. Shortly after he settled in Savannah,
GA in 1840 under the name of William Watson and renounced his loyalty to the Danish king and
declared his intention to become an American citizen around 1841. In 1846, he married Rosa or
Rosetta from Maryland in the Methodist Church in Savannah. From his arrival until the Civil
War, he worked as a coasting captain. (More info on his life as ship captain was provided from
Charles Pearson, who had a great-great grandfather from Denmark and was also a coasting
captain with Watson. That info appears in the Nov.-Dec. 2018 newsletter.)
Nothing is known about Watson until he arrives in Kathwood. Maybe he was a blockade
runner during the war. What would explain someone having enough money to buy land after
the Civil War?

So four years pass, and out of the blue comes an email on Sunday morning Oct. 23 from
Jesper Christensen saying that he and his wife Jurgita were in Washington, DC, and wanted to
visit us, the society, the Watsons' graves and the church in two days, the following Tuesday. So
we said OK come on and visit, and they did. My husband Benny and I met them at the Visitors
Center and showed them Watson's original plats to his property and the church, our museums
and country store and then took them down to the cemetery and the Watsons' graves and the
church. The new church is actually the old one started by Watson in 1873 and completed in
1874 and was located in front of the cemetery and moved next door in 1953 and remodeled
and dedicated in 1954.

The Christensens then went to Savannah and Charleston retracing Watson's steps. In
Savannah, they found Watson's address listed as 140-142 Lincoln St. (now just 140) and went
there, and nobody was at home, and the house was for sale. The house was next to the Wesley
Chapel Church of Savannah which was closed in 1862 and where the Watsons were
married. The Christensens found the1874 Wesley Chapel Church had been moved in 1953 to it's current location.

Capt. William Watson & Rosa Watson