This website contains a family history published as a series of blog posts. Scroll down on the Home page to see the posts Continue reading
Most American genealogies justifiably celebrate the accomplishments and deeds of ancestors, recalling how they experienced or participated in the historical events of their times. However, genealogies of white southerners often omit reference to a group of household members that contributed significantly to their family enterprises: that is, those household members held in slavery prior to the Civil War. Yet much as slavery was impossible to ignore in antebellum southern society, it is impossible to ignore within the primary documents of the era. Particularly disturbing is reading wills, where “Negroes” are parceled out to heirs along with livestock and household furnishings. One common formulation reads like that in the 1790 will of Nelson ancestor Jacob Bunn, of Northampton County, NC: “I give unto my grandson Elias Lewter one Negro woman by the name of Edy and all her issue to him and his heirs forever.” Thus does one man expect to condemn a woman and all her descendants to slavery in perpetuity.
No one in the family handed down stories of slavery, but a few, usually tragic glimpses remain in the historical record. Continue reading
Nowhere does the family tree encounter more uncertainty than in the branches of the Indiana family of Mollie Caldwell, Lizzie Fohl’s mother.
Mollie married John R. Fohl in Henry County, Indiana, in 1867, just after the conclusion of the Civil War. Her parents were Hannah Canutt and Franklin Caldwell; Hannah’s parents in turn were John Canutt and Mary Magdalina Landis while Franklin’s were Mary Loder and someone completely unknown and – at this distant date – perhaps unknowable.
What happened to Franklin’s father? Continue reading
Mary Sue (Ragland) Nelson is remembered as one of the most energetic and capable recent members of the family. Born in 1907 as the granddaughter of prominent Henry County businessman Ben Thompson and great-granddaughter of the pioneer Methodist minister Benjamin Peeples, she lived her entire life in Paris, Tennessee, excepting only the years she spent earning a degree at Randolph Macon Women’s College in Virginia (she was the second of three generations of the family to attend this school).
Mary Sue was raised by her mother and grandparents in the spacious Thompson house in downtown Paris. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her father returned to his family in Kentucky where he remarried. Later in life Mary Sue rejected his overtures Continue reading
Among the families that settled in West Tennessee following the 1818 Chickasaw Cession of lands west of the Tennessee River, the Thompsons made their home in Henry County and the Nelsons in Madison County while the Blakemores settled in between, in Gibson County. There, James Lee Blakemore, the middle son of William and Frances Blakemore (and the descendant of both John and Joseph Blakemore of Fort Blackmore), married Sarah W. Crafton in 1849.
Like the Blakemores, the Craftons were another Virginia family whose American roots stretched back into the 17th century. Crafton genealogists benefit from the extensive work of Raymond G. Crafton whose book Origins and Lives of the Craftons of Virginia provides a very thorough examination of Crafton records starting in Britain prior to immigration. While there are no firm documents establishing the original Crafton immigrant in this family, the author makes a strong case Continue reading
Every family story starts in the middle.
In the early 1830s, the extended Easley family was comfortably settled in Halifax County, Virginia, on the border of North Carolina. Their prosperity is evident in the number of preserved historic structures associated with the family that were built from the 1820s to 1850, including the Oak Circle house and Brooklyn Store along River Road and Oak Grove and Elmwood near Cluster Springs.
It would be interesting to know why John Easley (brother of Thomas Easley of Oak Grove) and his wife Susan decided to leave their extended family and head west to Tennessee in about 1832. They were not youngsters striking off to make their fortune; they were both around 50 years old and had five children, two of whom were already adults. Their son Stephen was in his early 20s when the family moved, and the eldest daughter Mary was already married to James Ragland who was from another established Halifax County family. Their destination was Smith County, Tennessee, which had been settled for about 40 years and was no longer the edge of the frontier, perhaps making the process a little less daunting. Unfortunately, the compelling reasons for such a late-in-life migration are unrecorded, but the risks were starkly illustrated when Susan died within a year of their arrival. Continue reading
Tracing this family’s history in North America is like following a path from a well-lit meadow into an increasingly dense and dark forest. At the beginning, the path is wide and well-groomed, with occasional side trails paved in sturdy stone splitting off to Alsace, Hungary, and Ireland. A little ways further along there are rough but distinct pathways branching off to Germany, France, northern Ireland, and England. The main path keeps going deeper into the forest, but starts to splinter into dozens of poorly defined trails all of which eventually run into a colonial Virginia fog bank where not only does the researcher lose visibility, but the 17th century walking surface itself dissolves into nothing but air and vapor. Thus the cloud of unknown and possibly unknowable 17th-century family history in tidewater Virginia.
While flailing around in the mist occasionally a foot will locate a firm hold, providing a solid if tenuous path to follow both backward and forward. Usually this is the result of finding a well-known and well-documented individual. Such is the case with Abraham Wood, one of the progenitors of the Thompson family.
Abraham Wood was only 5 years old when he arrived in the Virginia colony in 1620 Continue reading
Recent posts have highlighted this family’s ancestors who were Scotch-Irish, French Huguenot, German, and Irish. And of course, there are the earliest posts that described the origin of the family’s surname amidst the European Jews of France and Hungary. While the family’s European antecedents include a diversity of influences, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that overall our origins were mostly British and more particularly English.
Using the the framework of the eight families representing the author’s great-grandparents, here are the estimated origins for each.
If there is an archetypal image for an Irishman in the rural south before the Civil War, it would have to be Gerald O’Hara. He is a fictional character, of course, depicted as a colorful, hard-drinking owner of a Georgia plantation worked by slaves, married to an American wife, and father of three American-born daughters. His eldest daughter is much more famous than he: Scarlett, the fiery protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.
The Tenery family has its own Gerald and Scarlett. John Hockshaw and his wife Catherine emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the years prior to 1827 when their two eldest daughters – Isabella Jane and Mary Margaret – were born in South Carolina. John and Catherine had two more daughters born in 1830 and 1832; sometime between the two births the family moved to Giles County, Tennessee. Continue reading
Lizzie Fohl‘s father was German.
John R. Fohl (son of Reverend John Fohl) was not from Germany; in fact, no one from his family had immigrated from Germany in 4 generations. But every last one of his ancestors were German, migrants from the Rhine River valley to the colony of Pennsylvania who settled in an arc of counties to the north and west of Philadelphia – Northampton, Berks, Adams, York, and Franklin.
There were a surprising number of pre-Revolution German immigrants to the American colonies, about 84,500 in the first 75 years of the 18th century, compared to 66,000 Scotch-Irish, 35,300 Scots, 44,100 English, and 29,000 Welsh during the same time period (all were individually dwarfed by involuntary African immigration of 278,400). Most arrived in Philadelphia before spreading out to western Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Continue reading
Overlooking the James River not far from Williamsburg stands a beautiful mansion called Carter’s Grove, built between 1751 and 1753. Carter Burwell, the grandson of one of colonial Virginia’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen Robert “King” Carter, paid for its construction on property purchased by his grandfather. It is a structure routinely included in books on architecture in early Virginia, and happens to be one of the few mansions of that era still standing.
Famous legends inhabit the walls. There are sword cuts on the wooden railing of the great stair allegedly made by Banastre Tarleton during British occupation of the house, when he rode his horse to the second floor as a dramatic method of wakening his sleeping soldiers who were quartered there. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Continue reading