A plaque by the Delaware River commemorates the founding of Burlington, NJ, and the arrival of the ship “Shield.” The monument inspires comparisons to Plymouth Rock.

Many of the earliest English settlements in North America were initially desperate and impoverished affairs which settlers and their communities barely survived (or did not survive in the case of the first such settlement at Roanoke, NC). But there is still a certain thrill to know that one’s ancestors were there, at the beginning.

For this family, such is the case with founding of the Quaker community of Pennsylvania. While most histories of Pennsylvania begin with King Charles II granting William Penn land for the colony in 1681, in fact there were already Quakers living along the Delaware River before that year. In 1677 there were settlers on the east side of the river at what became Burlington, New Jersey. They were joined by passengers of the ship “Shield” which managed to sail upriver to the site in October of 1678. Tying up to a tree for the night, passengers were amazed the next morning to find a deep chill had frozen the river solid, and they were able to walk ashore on the ice. Continue reading

Frances & Charles

Genealogists are accustomed to following the surnames of individuals through past generations, those names providing guideposts from son or daughter to father to grandfather to great-grandfather and so on, until in the depths of history a generation without consistent surnames is reached (see for examples the history of the “Loeb” or “Ragland” names). Less commonly, it is possible to follow forenames – “first names” – along a similar path.

FLP Portrait

Frances Louise Paysinger

Frances Louise Paysinger was born July 15, 1907, in Pulaski, Giles County, near the southern border of central Tennessee. Her parents Charles and Lola Belle had temporarily returned to the place of their births between residences in Oklahoma and Alabama. As related in a prior post, the family would eventually move from Alabama to Nashville where Frances would spend the rest of her long life. She married Nashville native Ben Fohl Loeb there in 1930.

Frances and Ben had two children, a Ben Fohl Loeb Jr. and a daughter who was named Frances Paysinger Loeb for her mother. However, perhaps to avoid confusion when addressing family members, the children were rarely called by these given names at home, the nicknames “Buster” and “Snooks” applied to the boy and girl respectively. Continue reading

Along the Wagon Road


Route of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road which many Scotch-Irish and German immigrants followed to new homes on the frontier of Virginia and the Carolinas. It is superimposed over a modern county map.

The second of five major waves of Scotch-Irish immigration arrived on America’s shores starting in 1725. Fleeing exorbitant rents, English suppression of Irish trade, and the resulting poverty, the descendants of the lowland Scots who had emigrated to Ireland in the early 17th century sought better fortunes across the Atlantic. Most landed in one of the port cities along the Delaware River, encouraged by Quaker Pennsylvania’s religious tolerance. Finding much of the farmland proximate to the coast already claimed by earlier immigrants, the Scotch-Irish arrivals headed inland, west through Pennsylvania and then southwest into Maryland and Virginia. The previously established settlers – although concerned that the large number of immigrants would threaten the existing order – were delighted to have a buffer between them and the occasionally hostile Native Americans on the frontier.

John Dickey was one of those Scotch-Irish helpfully buffering the coastal settlements. He and his wife Martha McNeely immigrated from Ireland, and in 1737 made their way to the frontier Virginia county of Albemarle, although it wasn’t until 1747 that he acquired land along Mechum’s River with a view toward Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Albemarle was still a young county; the first land patent was granted in 1727, and the first settlers only arrived in the 1730s, so John and Martha were among the earliest in the area. Continue reading

The World Turned Upside Down

It is fairly certain where John Jones could be found at 2:30pm on October 19, 1781. He would have been standing in one of three rows of soldiers on the west side of Hampton Road, just outside of Yorktown, Virginia. Across the road were similar lines of French soldiers dressed in fancy uniforms distinguished by colorful lapels, collars, and buttons that indicated their regiments. By contrast, the American soldiers of the Continental Army similarly stood at attention but wearing well-worn blue uniforms that had not recently been laundered. As for John Jones’s Virginia militia compatriots, they wore more-or-less what they always wore: leather hunting shirts and breeches, perhaps with an old uniform piece or two, quite the contrast to the French professionals.

A French military band played to entertain the the soldiers. The British were late.

Continue reading

Governor Harris

While enthusiasm for the southern cause during the Civil War was lukewarm among family household leaders like Thomas Alexander Paysinger and Benjamin Peeples, their children, siblings, cousins, and other relatives were sometimes much more motivated and involved. No family member embodied belief in the Confederacy more than cousin Isham G. Harris, the governor of Tennessee who led the state to secede from the United States at the start of the war.

Senator Isham G. Harris

Isham G. Harris while serving as a U.S. Senator late in his career. Library of Congress photo.

The Harris family was tightly wound up with the Randle, Davidson, and Thompson families. Continue reading

The Smell of Sulphur

In 1821, Major John Randle and some of his family were prospecting for salt at a historic salt lick in Henry County, Tennessee. They dug a well down 16 feet or so, and then hit a solid layer of marble. Undaunted, they began drilling. Three-hundred and seventy-four feet later, a gush of water “with enough force to turn a mill” erupted from the hole. But it wasn’t salt that was a notable feature of the new artesian well, but white sulphur water. The new spring soon became a destination for health-seeking Tennesseans, and a resort grew up on the spot. It proved particularly healthy for those Memphis residents who fled the city in 1873 to avoid a yellow fever outbreak. However, the site now lies beneath Kentucky Lake which the Tennessee Valley Authority filled in 1944.

Sulphur Well 2

Guests at Sulphur Well, date unknown. Sulphur Well was an important tourist destination in western Tennessee until it was submerged beneath Kentucky Lake.

Sulphur Well was likely the last major project in Major John Randle’s adventurous life. Continue reading


LettersOld family letters are a precious find, providing more insight into the people of our past than any number of government records. Letters from the 19th century are particularly scarce as literacy was far from universal and the passage of time with its attendant wear-and-tear has consumed fragile paper.

Somewhere, however, there is a cache of letters from the Thompson family of Maryville, TN. The files of Mary Sue Ragland Nelson contained photocopies of two of them, one written in 1836 from the merchant William H. Thompson of Paris, TN, to his father William living in Maryville, the other written in 1837 to William H. from his mother Rebecca. Continue reading


Lula Mai & Edgar Luther Nelson

Edgar Luther Nelson and his wife Lula Mai (Blakemore)

Edgar Luther Nelson died in 1969 less than a week before his 86th birthday. In all those many years, he never lived more than 2 1/2 miles from the small town of Humboldt in Gibson County, western Tennessee. His was the fourth generation in west Tennessee; his grandfather and father had made only a small move from the adjacent Madison County to Gibson sometime after the Civil War. The western migration for this part of the Nelson family was clearly over after his great-grandfather John arrived in the early 1820s.

Edgar grew up amidst tragedy and the memory of tragedy in his immediate family. Continue reading