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

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Man of Many Madisons

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.

madisons

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

Pleasant

NPG 3893; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, painting in the National Portrait Gallery in London

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.

The Quaker part, at least, is known to be true. Continue reading

Mystery Man of Madison County

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_1818

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