“Prodigious Planter”

James Lee & Sarah Crafton Blakemore

James Lee and Sarah Crafton Blakemore

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 that this family name came to Virginia in 1672 attached to an indentured servant named Thomas Crafton who settled in the New Kent County area. This is a familiar story for the Nelson-Loeb’s 17th century immigrant ancestors, noted before when discussing the original immigrant of the Ragland family who arrived at a similar time and also settled in New Kent County.

Firm records begin to emerge with the generation of James and Kerenhappuch Crafton, who moved to Lunenberg County in southern Virginia in 1764, and whose children provide the organizational structure for the book. Of particular interest here is their son John, who was the key figure that both laid the foundations for the family’s prosperity and managed the move from Virginia to Tennessee in the early 1800s.

Of the seven sons of James and Kerenhappuch, Raymond Crafton deemed John “the prodigious planter” because of his large landholdings. By 1782, John had 522 acres in Lunenburg County, Virginia – more than twice as much as his next most prosperous brother. A year later he acquired another 672 acres bringing his total to over 1,200 acres. John raised cattle and horses on his large farm, along with growing tobacco and  food crops. He eventually established a mill for grinding grain, and purchased a very expensive still for distilling corn alcohol.

But he left. In the first decade of the 1800s, John and most of his grown children and their families pulled up roots and with many of their neighbors moved to Williamson County in Middle Tennessee, south of Nashville. While it is difficult to know exact motivations, Raymond Crafton points out that soil fertility in southern Virginia was in decline by the turn of the 19th century, and new land in Tennessee suitable for both tobacco and cotton was no doubt a strong lure for ambitious farmers. In 1808 John sold his land in Lunenberg County and purchased acreage along the Big Harpeth River. Williamson County farmland indeed proved very rich, so much so that the county was soon the third most wealthy in the state.

West Tennessee 1827

Portion of the 1827 Finley Map showing the counties of the western half of Tennessee, including Williamson, Gibson, Henry, and Madison

John lived for seven years in Tennessee before dying in 1815. Many of his children and grandchildren stayed in Williamson County, but one grandson – Daniel Wilkes Crafton – moved west to Gibson County  with his mother and step-father. It was Daniel’s daughter Sarah who married into the Blakemore family.

John’s skills as a farmer and businessman were passed down to Daniel, who left an enormous estate to his wife Mary (Bradford) Crafton when he died in 1860. As will be discussed in a later post, this fortune was decimated by the Civil War and its aftermath. Nonetheless, the Crafton/Blakemore part of the family was – along with the Thompsons – the wealthiest of all the 19th century ancestors in the Nelson-Loeb family tree.

One physical part of John Crafton’s legacy still remains. For those not yet tired of visiting historic family homes like the Thompson-Brown house in Maryville, the Hezekiah Alexander house in Charlotte, the Easley home in Halifax County, Carter’s Grove near Williamsburg, Harriton House near Philadelphia, and Harmony Hall in Maryland, you can hunt for the more obscure John Crafton house in Williamson County  not far from the Harpeth River. However, unlike most of the other historic family homes it is still used a private residence 200 years after construction, and is not marked for visitors. Thus it is likely to be more challenging to find!

John Crafton House

John Crafton House from National Register of Historic Places website,

Genealogical Notes

Gibson County marriage records show a Sarah King marrying James Lee Blakemore rather than Sarah Crafton. Sarah had an apparently unfortunate teenage marriage to Henry King, with whom she had one child prior to marrying James.

Raymond Crafton provides periodically-updated PDF addenda to his book at the website http://www.craftonbooks.com/. The addenda have valuable information about parts of the family mentioned above, including a correction and full explanation regarding Sarah Crafton’s  marriages, information about John Crafton’s military service during the Revolutionary War, and conclusive information on the family of John’s wife Elizabeth Foster.

Find A Grave Memorial #51436045 for Sarah Crafton Blakemore, Blakemore Cemetery in Gibson County, TN

Find A Grave Memorial #51436001 for Daniel Wilkes Crafton, Blakemore Cemetery in Gibson County, TN

John Crafton House National Register of Historic Places nomination and accompanying photos.


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