Along the Wagon Road

Great_Valley_Road_Map

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.

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Settled

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

The Work of Others

Bunn will extract

Extract from will of Jacob Bunn, Northampton County, NC, 1790

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

Dynamo

Mary Sue RaglandMary 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

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.

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Laying Bricks in Colonial Williamsburg

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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