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 →
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 →
Mary 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 →
Recent 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.
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.
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 →
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 →
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 and 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.
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 →
Hugh Barnett lived in four states but resided only in Madison County.
He was born in 1790, in the recently-formed Madison County, Virginia. Two years later Kentucky was carved out of Virginia to become its own state, and the county became Madison County, Kentucky. As a young man he moved to Madison County, Alabama where his children were born. And finally he led his grown family on a last move to Madison County, Tennessee in 1849. He died there in 1854.
Modern Google map showing the relationship and present driving distance between Madison Counties in Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee. Google doesn’t seem to offer a travel time estimate for horse-drawn wagon.
Hugh’s parents likely moved to the Kentucky frontier from Mecklenburg County, NC, where the Barnetts had a large presence within the Presbyterian churches of the area. Family stories identify them as part of the Scotch-Irish community – Continue reading →
From the misty legends of the 17th century come many tales about the ancestors of Pleasant Johnson. His surname is allegedly handed down from the lords of Caskieben in northern Scotland near present-day Inverurie, though his immigrant ancestor was far removed from lordship being the son of a litster (or dyer) in Aberdeen. One grandmother was from a family of Moorman’s – English Quakers who set sail from Barbados in 1670 with the party that founded Charleston, South Carolina but themselves continued up the coast to the established colony of Virginia. His other grandmother was descended from a Huguenot goldsmith who immigrated from Geneva, Switzerland. Much asserted but difficult to prove is descent from an illegitimate daughter of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and one of the eight Lord Proprietors of the land that eventually became North and South Carolina.
In 1818, the Chickasaw signed a treaty ceding the last of their territory in Tennessee to the United States – the area between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. Immediately, settlers from middle and eastern Tennessee, northern Alabama, and Kentucky began to move west into the newly available land. By 1821, there were enough new inhabitants to create local governments throughout the area, including that of Madison County. Among dozens of names on the petition asking the State of Tennessee to establish Madison that year was John Nelson, who was the great-grandfather of Edgar Luther Nelson and the original west-Tennessee Nelson in this family.
Map of Tennessee in 1818 before Chickasaw Cession. Compare to 1827 Map.
Despite much searching, the origin of John remains a Mystery. I love a good mystery, but only if I am eventually able to solve it, and this one so far has produced more frustration and less happiness. Even the John Paysinger mystery seems to have a closer ultimate answer, in part because the Nelsons suffer from the genealogical Curse of the Common Name. Both online and print-material searches for “John Nelson” – an unfortunately oft-used English name – provide many to pick from and little guidance as to relevance. Continue reading →