Governor Harris

While enthusiasm for the southern cause during the Civil War was lukewarm among family household leaders like Thomas Alexander Paysinger and Benjamin Peeples, their children, siblings, cousins, and other relatives were sometimes much more motivated and involved. No family member embodied belief in the Confederacy more than cousin Isham G. Harris, the governor of Tennessee who led the state to secede from the United States at the start of the war.

Senator Isham G. Harris

Isham G. Harris while serving as a U.S. Senator late in his career. Library of Congress photo.

The Harris family was tightly wound up with the Randle, Davidson, and Thompson families. Continue reading

The Smell of Sulphur

In 1821, Major John Randle and some of his family were prospecting for salt at a historic salt lick in Henry County, Tennessee. They dug a well down 16 feet or so, and then hit a solid layer of marble. Undaunted, they began drilling. Three-hundred and seventy-four feet later, a gush of water “with enough force to turn a mill” erupted from the hole. But it wasn’t salt that was a notable feature of the new artesian well, but white sulphur water. The new spring soon became a destination for health-seeking Tennesseans, and a resort grew up on the spot. It proved particularly healthy for those Memphis residents who fled the city in 1873 to avoid a yellow fever outbreak. However, the site now lies beneath Kentucky Lake which the Tennessee Valley Authority filled in 1944.

Sulphur Well 2

Guests at Sulphur Well, date unknown. Sulphur Well was an important tourist destination in western Tennessee until it was submerged beneath Kentucky Lake.

Sulphur Well was likely the last major project in Major John Randle’s adventurous life. Continue reading

Letters

LettersOld family letters are a precious find, providing more insight into the people of our past than any number of government records. Letters from the 19th century are particularly scarce as literacy was far from universal and the passage of time with its attendant wear-and-tear has consumed fragile paper.

Somewhere, however, there is a cache of letters from the Thompson family of Maryville, TN. The files of Mary Sue Ragland Nelson contained photocopies of two of them, one written in 1836 from the merchant William H. Thompson of Paris, TN, to his father William living in Maryville, the other written in 1837 to William H. from his mother Rebecca. Continue reading

A Peeples Minister

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Reverend Benjamin Peeples

While most rural 19th century American men were farmers, there were some other important occupations available. Physician, judge, land surveyor, miller, and minister were among the choices. Benjamin Peeples chose them all.

An earlier post briefly described Benjamin Peeples as an early Methodist minister in Tennessee and the husband of Martha Davidson Randle. However, that thumbnail description did not adequately describe this well-known Henry County pioneer. Mary Sue (Ragland) Nelson was fortuitously a great collector of information about her great-grandfather Peeples, and this mini-biography draws heavily from her files.

Benjamin Peeples was born in 1797 in Carter County, Tennessee, at the eastern edge of the still-new state. His parents died when he was young, and he finished his childhood in the house of an uncle. At the age of 16, he converted to Methodism and became a minister. At the time, the Methodist Church was proselytizing in the new communities of Tennessee and sent itinerant ministers out to carry the faith from town to town. This is the work that Peeples chose, and after riding circuits in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, in 1821 he was assigned to the area west of the Tennessee River which had just been ceded by the Chickasaws. His strengths as a preacher were attested to many years later by his youngest son Samuel, who in 1919 wrote, “My father had a stronger mind than any boy he had. I was the youngest and used to ride behind him and it was nothing uncommon for him to get off his horse and begin to talk, and a great circle of people would gather around him.” Continue reading

The Work of Others

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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

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

The Revolution

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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