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.
The Ragland family was introduced in a prior post, and is one of the eight families around which this blog is organized, through James and Mary’s grandson Samuel Emerson Ragland. The Easley’s are an important part of the Ragland family story for a couple of reasons. First, James Ragland’s marriage to Mary J. Easley earned him a spot in the family’s westward migration, since he and Mary accompanied the rest of the clan to Smith County and later to Butler County, Kentucky. It was from Kentucky that Samuel would eventually meet Susie Ben Thompson, and become part of the west Tennessee family story.
Second, the Easley’s have an out-sized representation in the family tree because they comprise half of Samuel Emerson Ragland’s grandparents and great-grandparents. How did that happen?
Mary J. Easley married James Ragland before the family left Virginia, as already described. Her sister Sarah was 8 years her junior, just a young teenager when the family moved to Tennessee. In 1844 she married another Virginia migrant named Byrd Farmer, and together the young couple struck out on their own to Haywood County, Tennessee, 200 miles west. Unfortunately, Byrd died only 2 years into their marriage leaving Sarah alone with a single child, a daughter named Susan after Sarah’s mother. Sarah returned to her father’s house in Middle Tennessee with the infant daughter, and shortly thereafter moved with him north to Butler County, Kentucky, following the rest of the family.
Sarah lived to be 81 years old but never remarried. Her sole daughter Susan Jones Farmer grew up surrounded by cousins. Then she married one of them – William Ragland, the son of James and Mary Ragland (Sarah’s sister). William and Susan were the parents of Samuel Emerson Ragland and – remarkably – nine other children by the time Susan died just before her 34th birthday. William then remarried to another cousin, Mary C. Easley who was the daughter of John and Susan Easley’s son Stephen. Confused? Here is a chart to help sort it out.
The Easley family’s roots stretch back into 17th century tidewater Virginia. Some family historians argue that the immigrant Robert Easley was a Huguenot because he owned land around the Manakin Town settlement, and point to supposed noble French roots. However, there is a contrary expert opinion. Virginia Easley Demarce is a family member and researcher who is a professional academic historian and a past president of the National Genealogical Society. She has found no evidence of the French connection, and notes that Robert Easley first appears in Virginia records in 1680, which is 20 years before the Manakin settlement. There is one other possible record that fits well into the timeline – prominent colonial citizen William Byrd received a large land patent in 1676 for transporting 122 people to Virginia, including a “Rob’t Estly.”
Demarce finds no specific information about Robert’s birthplace, but it would be reasonable to assume that it was somewhere in Britain given the time and means by which Easley immigrated to America. Robert shows up in several deeds and court papers in the late 17th and early 18th century, including a land deal on the frontier in which one of his partners was “Thomas Jefferson,” likely the grandfather of the future founding father and U.S. president. Robert also continued to have business dealings with the prominent Byrd family as demonstrated by a court case after his death, when William Byrd II sued the estate “for the sums of twenty four pounds Eighteen shillings and Nine pence and five hundred and thirty pounds of tobacco.” Robert’s widow Anne won the case.
The Easley family story has a tangential significance to those family members who live in North Carolina, where the name Mike Easley is well-known as a recent state governor. There is a connection: Halifax County, Virginia, where this story begins is just across the border from the North Carolina and not far from Nash County where Governor Easley was born. The governor is descended from a branch of the same Easley family that stayed in the area. The author of this blog is the governor’s fourth cousin, twice removed.
Genealogical and Other Assorted Notes
While there are many secondary sources of Easley genealogy on the Internet, the information and interpretation provided by Virginia Demarce Easley has the most credibility. Her information is posted in a family tree on Rootsweb entitled “Tentative Outline of U.S. Easley Lines“.
OldHalifax.com has a few virtual driving tours of historic structures in Halifax County, including many having an association with the Easley family. In particular many of the histories of preserved structures in the vicinity of Cluster Springs have an Easley attached to them. Find these on the “South of the Dan” tour, but also look at the “River Road” tour for Oak Circle and Brooklyn Store.
Note that the Oak Grove Plantation pictured at the top of the post is now (as of this post date) a solar-powered B&B owned and operated by a descendant of the family.
Here are a few useful links to family tombstones:
- Find A Grave Memorial #90874029 for Robert Easley, father of John and Thomas Easley at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston, Halifax County, VA
- Find A Grave Memorial #90874150 for Ann Stephens Easley, mother of John and Thomas Easley at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston, Halifax County, VA
- Find A Grave Memorial #162112840 for James Ragland at McKinney Cemetery in Sugar Grove, Butler County, KY
- Find A Grave Memorial #162112855 for Mary J. Easley Ragland at McKinney Cemetery in Sugar Grove, Butler County, KY
- Find A Grave Memorial #122012172 for William Henry Ragland at the Ragland family cemetery in Butler County, KY
- Find A Grave Memorial #122012374 for Susan Jones Farmer Ragland at the Ragland family cemetery in Butler County, KY
- Find A Grave Memorial# 122012357 for Mary C. Easley Ragland at the Ragland family cemetery in Butler County, KY
- Find A Grave Memorial #28120244 for Samuel Emerson Ragland at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Bowling Green, KY