“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 Continue reading

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Easley

Oak Grove

Oak Grove near Cluster Springs, Halifax County, VA. Constructed 1825 by Thomas Easley, brother of John Easley. Photo via oldhalifax.com

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

Deep Virginia Roots

sunshine-fog-trees-1Tracing 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

From Whence They Came

Ship Image Nova BritanniaRecent 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.

Origin Chart 3-22-17

Estimated percentage of family origin by distinct ethnic/linguistic group. “British” refers to an origin on the island of Great Britain, including England, Scotland, and Wales.

Continue reading

With the Wind

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.

Gerald & Scarlett

Scarlett and Gerald O’Hara from the 1939 film. Image © Warner Home Video

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

Kraichgau

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.

1791-pa-map

Eastern Pennsylvania counties in the 1791 Reading Howell map. Adams County, where much of the family settled before moving to Franklin County, was formed out of the western portion of York County adjacent to Franklin in 1800.

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

Laying Bricks in Colonial Williamsburg

carters-grove

Carter’s Grove. 1995 photo by Melissa Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

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

The Revolution

yorktown

American infantry storm Redoubt #10 during the Siege of Yorktown

How many members of this family participated in the American Revolutionary War?

By the time the family history reaches the Revolutionary War generations, there are hundreds of potential ancestors to account for. While identifying these family members is not yet complete, there is already plenty to share. So without further delay, you may click here to obtain a PDF spreadsheet detailing the 39 direct ancestors who are known to have contributed to American independence. The spreadsheet includes summary information about military service, pension application numbers, and identifying numbers for both Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution records.

Seven of the eight families are represented, the only exception being the Loebs whose immigrant ancestors did not arrive in the country until the middle of the next century. The list is a mix of those credited with helping the cause, including those who served in either the Continental Army or state militias, those who contributed to civil government, and those who are identified by the Daughters of the American Revolution as having provided “Patriotic” service. These patriotic contributions included providing supplies, money, or other material aid, as well as a few whose only known participation was taking an oath of allegiance to the new country. Continue reading

Ahead of Their Time

In 1610, King James of England and Scotland made an effort to subdue and profit from his possession of Ireland by seizing land from the Irish and offering it up to some of his other subjects. Notably, many lowland Scots decided to jump islands and make a go of farming and herding on the new Ulster Plantation. They were fairly successful despite having to deal with justifiably surly dispossessed Irish natives. However, a century later the combination of unfortunate economic and religious policy from Great Britain combined with poor agricultural returns sparked a mass migration of these Scotsmen out of Ireland. They headed for a new adventure in America, where collectively they became known as the Scotch-Irish in reflection of their dual heritage.

banyan

A banyan tree. An actual descendant of the Wallace-Alexander-McKnitt family is in the branches of this “family tree!”

From 1717 until the American Revolution, the Scotch-Irish were a significant component of American immigration and appear in large numbers within this family as with many others, bearing names like McRee, McNeely, and Barnett. But the most influential Scotch-Irish in the family arrived well ahead of the big wave of immigrants. “Influential” is here meant two ways: these members of the family were quite important in their communities and rose to prominence and leadership particularly during the War for Independence. However, they were also influential in their large presence within the overall history of the family. For this part of the family tree, think banyan. Continue reading

Fair Wilderness

llwyngrwil

The coast of Wales near LLwyngrwil

There are many family stories so dramatic that they could be written into compelling works of historic fiction. One story actually was.

george-fox

George Fox, via Wikimedia Commons

The tale begins in the middle of the 17th century in Britain, when an inspired young man named George Fox added to the religious and political foment of the era by preaching a new  understanding of Christianity emphasizing “that of God in everyone” and the individual’s direct access to the divine, leading logically to the conclusion that the Anglican clergy – or any other religious leaders or bureaucracies – were unnecessary. Fox traveled throughout the country to preach his faith, and won over many listeners particularly in northern England and Wales. Typical of his converts were members of the Humphrey family, small landowners who hosted Fox at their home Llwyndu, located where mountains meet the sea along a stunningly scenic section of the Welsh coast at LLwyngrwil. Ultimately Fox and his followers established a new denomination, the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. Continue reading