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

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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

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.

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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

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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.

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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

A Wilderness Saint

In 1819, several soldiers arrived at a house in Stewart County, western Tennessee, not far from the town of Dover. They had with them a riderless horse and some very bad news to deliver to the young children who lived there. The children’s father Thomas Randle had drowned in the Chattahoochee River in Alabama while on his way home from fighting in what today is called the “First Seminole War.” He was crossing the river in an overloaded boat which responded to the safety issue by capsizing. Although Thomas was a strong swimmer, he was wearing a heavy coat with a large cape, and a struggling comrade grabbed hold and dragged them both under water.

This was the second great loss for the children, as their mother Nancy Davidson Randle had died three years before. An old relative and a servant were looking after them while their father was away, but now their situation was untenable. Fortunately, other family members lived in the area and came to their aid, but at the cost of splitting up the family. As one of the boys, John Randle, described to his granddaughter many years later:

Relatives of the family came and divided the property and children among them. Martha and Thomas were taken by Uncle Wilson Randle; a relative by the name of Williams took Richmond. Other relatives took George and Sally.

As they rode away from the empty home at twilight with my sisters and brothers, I was left in the deserted yard unchosen. Cousin Henry Wall, who married my cousin Martha Randle, looked back and saw me, a little lonely, motherless, fatherless boy, and called out, “Get up behind and come home with me John.”

But John and his siblings were fortunate in their remarkable sister. Continue reading

William and Ben – The Merchants

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William Harrison Thompson

Unlike many of the family’s 19th century Tennessee ancestors, when William Harrison Thompson left the family home near Maryville, TN and headed west, he did not simply find some untilled land and set up a farm. Instead, when he arrived in Henry County, Tennessee sometime between 1830 and 1838 he went into business. According to the book Tennessee and Tennesseans, William bought goods in Philadelphia and shipped them over the Pennsylvania canal to Pittsburgh where they were loaded on steamboats and flatboats to travel down the Ohio River and up the Tennessee River. Unloaded at Paris Landing, he then took the merchandise to Paris, Jackson, Trenton, or Dresden for sale. He was apparently very successful, as he invested the proceeds from this trade in land both in the city of Paris as well as in the farming community of Mansfield where William eventually established a plantation and factories for producing cotton yarn and chewing tobacco.

Then tragedy struck. Continue reading

The House

One of the oldest homes in east Tennessee stands at the edge of Maryville in Blount County. The log house has been in this spot for about 200 years as of this writing, first housing generations of the Thompson and Brown families, and then becoming a home for a variety of organizations. In 2016 it is the location of the Cades Cove Museum which preserves the memories of a community that was bought out and disbanded when Cades Cove became part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park just to the east.

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Thompson-Brown House in Maryville, Tennessee. 2009 photo by Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia

William Thompson and his wife Rebecca Wallace Thompson constructed the house. They are the great-grandparents of Susie Ben Thompson of Henry County, Tennessee, and thus represent the last of the eight families to be introduced in this blog. William was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia after the Revolutionary War. His mother was Mary Bowen Reese, an immigrant from Wales whose first husband died from injuries sustained in the war Continue reading