by Hart Tillett

Much has been written recently about the origin of the name “Crooked Tree.” The sources on which these opinions rest are good-natured but basically mere folklore. The one most often heard involves a supposed trio of settlers (Tilletts, Gilletts and Wades), labeled with a lust for “crooked” enterprises! Here’s what’s misleading about this myth.

The story assumes that these men were contemporaries. In fact, decades separated the first to arrive (Tillett), and the next (Gillett). Wades came even later.

Secondly, the Crooked Tree of 2020, is not what it was in the 1800’s when finding a name for the locality was an issue. At that time the entire Works was owned by one Peter Stain. When William Tillett, a native of Birkenhead, Wales, arrived in the 1790’s he and his wife Mary established themselves on a 90-acre plot having a 325-yd. water frontage on the Northern Lagoon. He called their parcel “Birkenhead.” (To this day we know it as “Birk-Head,” a corruption of the original.) The name Crooked Tree would later be applied to that sliver of land, never to the entire island.

The final miscue is that it was not “Tilletts, Gilletts and Wades,” but Tilletts and Rabons who first joined Mr. Stain on the island. George Rabon, a refugee from the American Revolutionary war, lived at nearby Revenge and the Tillett and Rabon children intermarried.

The Birkenhead Tilletts had 5 children. The 3rd child, William Jr., inherited the land after his parents died, William (1803) and (Mary (1832). William Jr. and his wife Mary Jones had 15 children. In 1844, a missionary visited the area and suggested that they named the village “Tilletton” as most of the 20 families there were Tilletts. William Jr. died in 1848 without following through with the priest’s idea. Mary inherited the land.

In 1868 she had it surveyed by Henry Maskall. When she died 2-yrs later she left it to her 4 surviving daughters. His survey credits refer to the map as “Crooked Tree (1868), aka Tilletton.” Tilletton appears in some official records (including birth records and census polls) till the turn of the century.

The main survey marker used by Maskall was a bullet tree in the center of the 325-yd coastline. The tree no longer exists but must have been a handy reference to identify Birkenhead. Bullet trees are mostly crooked.

P/S: A grandson of William Jr. married the grand-niece of Peter Stain and when Stain’s surviving relatives, to whom he had willed his vast land holdings (3 miles of river frontage) at Crooked Tree, died, the land passed to her. At her death in 1904 it was willed to her husband! “Crooked Tree” looked very different on the map after that.