Along the Wagon Road

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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

“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

Easley

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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

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

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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 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.

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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

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