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This is the work of Joyce Hetrick


Chapter I

The Johnsons

Although the JOHNSON family was not the earliest of VIRGIE’s ancestors to come to Sumner County, Tennessee, we will start with them. As each new family married into the line, we will trace them back to the earliest possible ancestor of that line, before proceeding with the JOHNSON line. This will eventually lead us back to the JOHNSONs, about the beginning of the twentieth century, when they moved to Arkansas.

RICHARD JOHNSON-2 was the first of this surname-line to come to Tennessee, and from deed records, we know he moved from Louisa County, Virginia, around 1806 and purchased lands in Sumner County. He also received a land warrant for his Revolutionary service. His parents were JAMES-1 and SARAH [TEMHAM?] JOHNSON from Louisa County, Virginia. Wills and deed records there outline the family connections. Marriage records in Virginia, and her tombstone in Sumner County, Tennessee, assure us that RICHARD’s wife was LUCY HUNTER, the daughter of GEORGE HUNTER and his wife, MILDRED AUSTIN. Her father, GEORGE HUNTER-2, was shown by his father’s will to be the youngest son of ANDREW-1 and JANE [maiden name unknown] HUNTER.

James-1 & Sarah [Temham?] Johnson

Louisa County, Virginia

JAMES JOHNSON-1 of Louisa County, Virginia, was apparently a yeoman farmer or planter and, like many of his neighbors of that day, probably derived much of his income from growing tobacco. At the time of his death, he probably owned about 240 acres of land. [He may have previously owned more, which he had distributed to his children before his death.] The figure of 240 acres was derived from the size of his widow’s estate dower of 80 acres, which would have been the legally mandated one-third of the lands he owned at the time of his death. This was an average-sized plot for a man of “middlin’ means.” He was neither poor nor among the rich elite. Most of the land was likely unimproved.

He was married to a woman named SARAH, who was possibly the daughter of Robert Temham-1, of Louisa County, Virginia. One piece of evidence the author has in this case is the will of Robert Temham, found by Erick Montgomery, which mentions his daughter, Sarah Johnson. This document is presumptive evidence, but not conclusive, without additional evidence. Robert Temham was also connected to the Hanover County, Virginia, Johnson family in some way, as evidenced by his will. Erick Montgomery has done the bulk of the research on the Louisa County families. He is not yet 100% convinced that we have enough evidence to conclusively say that SARAH’s maiden name was Temham. This name is also seen as “Tenham” with an “N” instead of the first “M.”


The children of James-1 & Sarah [Temham?] Johnson


  1. RICHARD- JOHNSON-2, born about 1760, was our ancestor. He married LUCY HUNTER-3, the daughter of GEORGE HUNTER-2 & MILDRED AUSTIN, February 21, 1783. LUCY’s father, GEORGE HUNTER-2, was security. [Louisa County Virginia Marriages, pg. 22.] RICHARD JOHNSON-2, according to his obituary, was a Methodist minister and farmer, and deed records show he moved to Tennessee about 1807, where he died in 1849.

  2. Thomas Johnson-2 received a division of the estate in 1793

  3. Isham Johnson-2 received a division of the estate in 1793

  4. William Johnson-2 received a division of the estate in 1793

  1. Sarah Johnson-2 unmarried in 1793, mentioned in Mother’s will in 1797

  2. Nancy Johnson-2 unmarried in 1793, mentioned in Mother’s will in 1797

  3. John Johnson-2 mentioned in mother’s will in 1797

  4. James Johnson-2 mentioned in mother’s will in 1797

  5. Rebecca Johnson-2, married William Moss alive at time of father’s death.

  6. Elizabeth Johnson-2, married William Powers on November 29, 1774.

[Thanks to Erick Montgomery for this research information taken from the estate of James Johnson, Louisa County, Virginia.]


We aren’t sure of the names of the siblings of JAMES JOHNSON, Sr.-1, but a will written July 9, 1766, and probated August 11, 1766, [Will Book 1, page 84, Louisa County, Virginia] found by Erick Montgomery, mentions possible siblings. “Will of John Johnson, to sister Susanna, brother Richard, and brother James, signed John, and witnessed by James and Richard Johnson.” It is possible that these are siblings of our JAMES JOHNSON-1, and the James who witnessed the will was our ancestor. Since there were several Johnson families nearby, however, it is not conclusive.

In Louisa and Hanover counties in the 1730s, and after, there was a thriving community of Quakers that contained several families named Johnson. We don’t know that they were connected to our JOHNSON families, but it is quite possible that some members of our families were among these Quaker Johnsons. One clue, which shows that the Quaker Johnsons at least lived near ours, and near John Boswell, is a will published in Louisa County, December 28, 1754, by Benjamin Johnson, who may have been connected to the Quaker families. One of his daughters mentioned in the will was Sarah Terrell, The Terrells were prominent in the Quaker movement. The witness to his will was Thomas Moreman, who was also affiliated with the Quakers. Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy mentions several men named Johnson in the Quaker records and one of these is Benjamin Johnson.

We are also not sure who the parents of JAMES JOHNSON-1 were, but there was an interesting family in the vicinity that will be explored in greater depth. Future research may find a connection to our JOHNSON family.

The will of Robert Temham-1, who is possibly JAMES JOHNSON’s father-in-law, of St. Martin’s Parish, Louisa County, Virginia, was written on October 9, 1769. It lists five daughters; Mary [Temham-ii] West, Eliza Temham-ii, Rebekah [Temham-ii] Walker, Sarah [Temham-ii] Johnson, and Ann Temham-ii. The will was not proven, however, until December 20, 1778. The executors of Robert Temham’s will were connected to the most prominent families in Louisa and Hanover Counties. The executors were: John Boswell of Hanover County and Thomas Johnson, Jr., son of Nicholas Johnson, of Louisa County, dated December 23, 1763. The will was witnessed by Pouncey Anderson, Robert Wilson, and Elizabeth Anderson, and recorded October 9, 1769. [Woodall, “Benjamin West of Louisa County, VA”; & Louisa County Will Book 2, pg. 65-66.]

The fact that these prominent men were named executors of Robert’s will underscores the belief that there was some connection, however remote, to the family by blood or marriage.

Robert Temham is also on the tithe list for 1767 in St. Martin’s Parish, Louisa County, Virginia, with 200 acres of land. No slaves are named. This is the area in which JAMES JOHNSON-1 lived.

Robert Temham’s daughter, Mary Temham-ii, married Benjamin West, of Louisa County, before her father’s death. On September 1, 1770, Benjamin West bought 200 acres of land from John Boswell, who would be the executor of her father’s estate. The land was located near the South Anna River. [Woodall, “Benjamin West of Louisa County, VA.”]

Nicholas Johnson-iii, one of the executors of Robert Temham’s will, was the son of Thomas Johnson-ii, who died in 1734, and his wife, Anne Meriwether. Ann was the daughter of the very wealthy Major Nicholas Meriwether of adjoining Hanover County. John Boswell was the business partner of another man named Richard Johnson-iii, who was the grandson of Nicholas Meriwether, and also the son of Ann Meriwether Johnson. [Virginia Migrations, Backhouse Lawsuits, Hanover County, Virginia.]

What the exact connection our JOHNSONs and Temhams had to this Hanover County Johnson family is unknown at this time. The fact that the families had connections of some sort is reasonably well proven by the above wills, as well as other documents and business dealings. It is reasonable to assume that the Hanover Johnsons and the LouisaCounty JOHNSON families shared a common ancestor not too distantly. Where this connection [if any] lay, however, is unknown to this author at this point in time.



The tithes for St. Martin’s Parish, Louisa County, Virginia, in 1787 list two men named James Johnson. We are not sure which one of these listings applies to our JAMES. One man owned six slaves, and the other owned none. We have no indication that our JAMES JOHNSON owned slaves, so the one without slaves might be ours. The records also list duplicate entries for Richard Johnson, who owned a slave named “Sango and 192 acres of land” Another, apparently duplicate, listing named Richard Johnson and “Sango” and another slave named Tom, and 192 acres of land. These entries could be, but are not proven to be, for our RICHARD JOHNSON-2, who would have been about 26 years old that year.


James Johnson’s Estate

The estate of JAMES JOHNSON-1, the father of our RICHARD-2, is listed in the Louisa County probate records in 1793, when the “account of sale” was returned. The amount of the sale for his personal property was for a little over 165 pounds. The “account of the sale” lists RICHARD JOHNSON-2, Nancy Johnson-2, Thomas Johnson-2, Sarah Johnson-2, Benjamin Johnson, John Johnson-2, and William Johnson-2, as buyers. Interestingly, another connection to the Hanover Johnsons, Thomas Meriwether, was present at the sale. We will explore some of the data about this Hanover County Johnson family in greater depth. [Copy of the estate of James Johnson in author’s collection was obtained from Erick Montgomery.]

The usual custom in Virginia was for the deceased’s estate to be sold at a public auction, and the proceeds were first used to pay debts and then to satisfy any legacies. Most of the time, the buyers listed in the “account of sale” would be near-neighbors and relatives. Even the most minute item would be sold. A list of all items sold, their prices, and the buyers, has survived for many estates. These lists are quite interesting because many times they list almost the entire contents of the deceased’s household, including clothing, furniture, tools, and other items that give us a “snapshot” of our ancestor’s home.

The estate of a yeoman of middle age or older, most of whose children were adults, might have been reduced by the marriage or majority gifts to these children. It was not uncommon for daughters to be given their portions of the parents’ estates at their marriage, and young men given their shares at the time they reached their majority or at the time they married. When the estate was eventually settled after the death of the parents, the “advances” to each child would be considered in the final division of what was left.

Shortly after the death of JAMES JOHNSON-1, there was a report of SARAH JOHNSON’s dower being set apart “On River adjacent Overton, Anderson Shelton, 80 acres, dated January 23, 1793.” A dower was the legally mandated portion of a man’s estate left for his wife. This amount was set by law. A woman had a portion of the husband’s estate set aside for her for her lifetime only. At her death, this portion of the estate would revert to her husband’s heirs. Any lands owned by a man at his death would be included in the wife’s dower. Personal property, depending on the area and era in which the deceased lived, would also be included or not, as the law of the time decreed. Sometimes, she might be given a title in fee simple to part of the personal property. That meant she could sell of or dispose of that part of the property, or keep it if she remarried. At the time of JAMES’ death, SARAH’s dower would have been one-third of the land.

Any person who inherited or bought the portion of a man’s estate that contained “dower lands” could not take possession of that land until the woman died or, in some cases, remarried.

In March of 1793, SARAH JOHNSON filed her bond as administrix of the estate of JAMES JOHNSON-1, and her securities were Will Johnson-2, Wm. Powers, RICHARD JOHNSON-2, Wm. Moss, and John Johnson-2, in the amount of 3,000 pounds. She signed with a mark, as did Wm. Moss. The rest of the men signed with a signature. The security bond for an estate was usually at least equal to the value of the estate, or up to three times the value of the estate. Using the bond as a gauge of the worth of the estate, we may say there was probably at least a value of between 1,000 and 3,000 Pounds “current money.” After the Revolution, though, the value of currency had fluctuated to such an extent that there is no way at this time that we can be sure if it was a large estate or a small one! Inflation had played havoc with currency, and until well after 1800, there was no one currency in circulation in the Continental United States. The fact that several bondsmen were needed for the bond may indicate that none of them was very wealthy, and it took all of them to come up with the amount of bond necessary. All of the bondsmen were sons or sons-in-law of SARAH and JAMES JOHNSON-1.

JAMES JOHNSON’S son, RICHARD-2, had some education, as later evidenced by the fact that he became a minister and by samples of his script. By the time of the Revolution, education was becoming more common among the citizens of the Colonies, but universal literacy was not even a dream. There were no “free public schools.” At this time and place, each parent had to pay for his child’s education. This would indicate that JAMES JOHNSON-1 was able to pay for his sons to receive at least a basic literacy. Planters would sometimes hire a schoolmaster to stay at their plantation and educate their children. A male apprentice could expect about a year of schooling at about age 15, which might give him the ability to add and subtract simple sums and maybe sign his name or read a few words. Even wealthy landowners frequently signed with a “mark.”

If he adhered to the custom of the times, JAMES JOHNSON-1 had probably already given part of his estate to his children at the time of their marriages.

Most yeomen of the author’s family lines seemed to split their estates with all their children, rather than the oldest son getting the bulk of the estate. Where a man was able to do so, lands were provided for the sons, and marriage portions for the daughters, including household items and livestock. Most cash-strapped yeomen were not able to provide a great deal of money to their children, but they provided items which they could grow [livestock and produce] and land which could be had relatively cheaply. In some cases, they also provided slaves to help work the lands. Most slaves appear to have been kept in the family for multiple generations in the estates of the author’s ancestors.

In December of 1793, the estate of our JAMES JOHNSON was divided. Lot 1 went to Ann Johnson; Lot 2 to Sarah Johnson; Lot 3 to Isham Johnson; Lot 4 to Thomas Johnson; Lot 5 to James Johnson [Jr.]; Lot 6 to our RICHARD JOHNSON; Lot 7 to William Powers; Lot 8 to William Johnson. Each heir received about 51 pounds in cash, in addition to the lands. The estate was appraised on December 26, 1793, but none of that was recorded until 1797. Apparently, 1797 was the year SARAH died. Her will [Will Book 4, page 86] left items to “My son, RICHARD, [to have] Valentine Meriwether’s bond.” It mentioned her sons, Isham and William, and daughters Nancy and Sarah. A codicil mentioned her sons, William, John, and James Johnson, and son-in-law, William Powers, and daughter, Rebecca Moss.

It is interesting to note that she made her own individual will. Since Virginia’s laws on inheritance, and women owning/controlling property, almost precluded a woman’s having property separate from her husband, few women made individual wills. SARAH’s making a will at all indicates that she inherited property for which she could make disposition as she pleased. This would indicate that she came from a family of substance, possibly the family of Robert Temham-1, who had included his daughter, Sarah Johnson, in his will.


Richard Johnson-2

James Johnson-1; Richard-2; Austin-3; Richard E-4; Robert F-5 Felix Hill Johnson-6

RICHARD JOHNSON-2, son of JAMES-1 and SARAH [TEMHAM?] JOHNSON, was born between 1758 and 1761 in Louisa County, Virginia. He lived in Louisa County, but when he was still a teenager, in May of 1777, he enlisted in Revolutionary service as a soldier in the company of Captain Robert Dabney in nearby Hanover County. Some prominent men named Johnson fought from, and lived in, Hanover County. Perhaps a relationship with them caused him to enlist from the neighboring county. [Revolutionary Pension of Richard Johnson, National Archives, S2.664.]

His pension states he marched from Hanover County, which is the approximate location of Richmond, Virginia, today, to Old Williamsburg, and was discharged after seven weeks. In July of 1778, he enlisted again in the Virginia Militia from Hanover County in the regiment of Colonel Flemming, Major Robert Dandridge, and Captain John Anderson. He marched from Hanover through the cities of Richmond, James City, and Charles City, and was stationed at Cabin Point in Surry County, Virginia. He was then discharged again. His pension says in July, 1779, he was pressed[?] by Captain Wallen for three months and was discharged at the Meadows Bridge in Virginia. He enlisted again in Hanover in 1781 and served one month in the Virginia command of Colonel Harvey and Captain Martin Hawkins’ company. A statement in the pension that is almost unreadable says something about his being in the shoemaking business. He marched from Hanover County to Old Barracks in Albemarle County, Virginia, then to the City of Richmond and was discharged at the end of the 12 months by Captain Martin Hawkins. [Ibid.]

RICHARD-2 apparently wasn’t engaged in any major battles. If he was, he didn’t mention them in his pension. Apparently, his service was composed of a great deal of marching from place to place. How far they marched is really rather amazing when you read the lists of “marched to’s” in many Revolutionary pension applications.

RICHARD’s war-pension application says nothing about his family or his children. However, we can piece together quite a bit of information on his family from Sumner County records, deeds, wills, probates, estates, and his obituary. Specific citations will be forthcoming. [Ibid]

After the Revolution, he remained in Louisa County, Virginia, where he married LUCY HUNTER on February 21, 1783, and started raising a family. [Douglas Register] According to his obituary, he was active in the Methodist Church in Virginia, and was ordained a deacon in 1799. [Nashville Christian Advocate, Issue #44, August 31. 1849, pg. 4, col. 3.]

He moved to Sumner, Tennessee, by about 1806. He purchased land that year in Sumner County. He also had a revolutionary land grant [Sumner County Deed Book 4, Feb. 1806-Jun 1810, pg. 164.]

Hanover County, Virginia

Since our RICHARD JOHNSON-2 apparently grew up in and lived in Louisa County, Virginia, why did he enlist over and over again in the Hanover County, Virginia, ranks? Though Louisa and Hanover were very close together, there must have been some reason why RICHARD-2 went to Hanover to enlist. We may never know for sure just what his reasons were, but he did serve under Thomas Johnson, who was most likely the man designated as Thomas Johnson, “Minor.” A relative?

Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, was connected to the Hanover County families of Johnson, Boswell, and Meriwether, who had been security for RICHARD JOHNSON-2’s supposed grandparents’ wills. This family used and reused the given name of Thomas so frequently that the terms “junior” and “senior” were not enough to distinguish between men, so this particular man was designated “Thomas Johnson, Minor” to distinguish him from the several other men with the same name.

Hanover is a “burned county” and many important records were destroyed. The destruction of many of the early records makes genealogical research in Hanover “a challenge” at times. Fortunately for us, the British merchants tried to collect debts as late as the 1880s that were incurred before the Revolution. Some of the records of these investigations, law suits, etc., which they used to try to locate assets and heirs, gives some interesting information. The fact that these Hanover Johnson families used and reused the given name of Richard is also interesting to genealogists researching these lines.

Hanover County is about 30 miles inland from present-day York County, Virginia. The early gentry settled on the fertile land along the rivers, but it was also a perfect nursery for mosquitoes. In the hot summers, “the musketeaes are a sort of vermin of less danger [than others] but more troublesome, because more frequent,” wrote Robert Beverly. Malarial parasites were introduced at an early time by immigrants from Europe and Africa, first the mild type, and then the more dangerous Plasmodium falciparum, by which Africa got its revenge for black slavery. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Hanover County, VA, pg. iii.]

The settlers didn’t realize that the mosquitoes transmitted the disease, but they did realize that moving away from the tidewater area gave them a better chance to avoid it. The African slaves were less susceptible to the malaria because of the natural immunity conveyed to some blacks by the sickle-cell trait. The inheritance of this disorder was recessive. Therefore, for a child to inherit the deadly sickle-cell disease, a black child must receive a gene from each carrier-parent with the trait. One-fourth of the children of two carriers would receive two sickle genes, thus inheriting the sickle-cell anemia. The sickle-cell inheritor would likely die as a child. One child out of four would have no sickle-cell trait and would be as susceptible to the malaria as the whites. However, half of the offspring of two carriers would receive one gene, and have the trait, thus being immune to the malaria, without the deadly effects of full-blown sickle-cell disease. Carriers of the trait [one gene] would give the gene for the trait to half of their offspring if they had children with an non-carrier. Whites did not have this advantage. [Tierney, Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment, pg. 429.]

Hanover County was named for the Duke of Hanover, who later became George I of England. It was created from New Kent County in 1721. New Kent lands were previously contained in York, and previously to that, part of Charles River. This helps to confuse the records and make research more “interesting” and “challenging.”

St. Paul’s Parish had been a part of New Kent County. That portion of New Kent was partitioned off to be the new County of Hanover. St. Paul’s Parish covered the entire county of Hanover from 1721 until 1726, when St. Martin’s Parish was divided off of St. Paul’s Parish. Many of the early records of the church vestry have been lost and county records as well. Part of St. Martin’s Parish also fell into part of Louisa County at one time. This adds more to the confusion of the records. Major Nicholas Meriwether was mentioned in the records of the parish in the very early 1700s when his lands were processioned. [Vestry Book of St. Paul’s Parish, 1711.]

Hanover County was an important area in the Revolution. It was the place of residence of Patrick Henry, and his father, the Reverend Patrick Henry, the pastor of St. Paul’s Parish.

In 1775, the Hanover Committee of Safety, which consisted of Patrick Henry and several other leading members of the community, led a group of men on the Gunpowder Expedition. It’s possible that most of the young men of Hanover who later fought for the Revolution were members of this group. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Hanover County, VA., pg. iii.]

During the war in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. He published a proclamation May 17, 1780:

placing an embargo on beef, pork, bacon, lard, wheat, Indian Corn, and other grain, or flour or meal, until the end of the present session of the assembly, to permit public contractors to procure supplies for the American troops and prevent the supplying of the enemy. [Virginia Genealogist, “Local Notices from the Virginia Gazette,” pg. 151. CD]

During the Revolution, property belonging to the Loyalists was seized and sold, and lands were returned to the State, or escheated. If the Loyalists tried to sell their lands before leaving the country and returning to England, the sale would, in some cases, be voided and the lands returned to the state or granted to others.

Though Hanover was primarily agricultural, the two most famous towns and trading centers of the colony were located there. Newcastle and Hanovertown contained merchants who traded with the people of the area and British ships called at their docks up until the start of the war, and after the war.

The Hanover Johnson Families

What’s the connection between our Louisa County JOHNSON family and those of the Johnson families in Hanover County? We really are not 100% sure at this time. However, there really is a lot of “genealogical smoke” for there not to be some “genealogical fire.” The first three “rules” of genealogy are “1. Look at the neighbors, 2. Look at the neighbors, and 3. Look at the neighbors!” Essentially, this means that the families our ancestors “hung around” with were usually friends and relatives.

Our RICHARD JOHNSON-2, son of JAMES-1 of Louisa County, Virginia, and the other relatives in Louisa, sort of “hung around with” people from the Hanover Johnson group, and a few of the Hanover Johnson’s connections lived in Louisa County near the family of JAMES JOHNSON-1. The distance in miles between Hanover and Louisa was not far, since they had been cut from the same precursor county. The Johnson group in Hanover appeared to be much more affluent than our group, though our group of JOHNSONS was not among the very poor. They were affluent enough to be land owners and provide an education for their children. Whatever the case, the Johnsons in Hanover were a very interesting lot.

There were several families named Johnson who lived in Hanover County, Virginia, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One group was made up of very wealthy planters and members of the elite. The other group was comprised of yeomen Quakers. [Hinshaw] The Johnson family that lived primarily in Hanover in the late 1750s to the 1790s, who, this author believes, were connected to our JOHNSON family, were all descended from Richard Johnson “of King William County” who “was of his Majesties Council” in 1693. There are several articles found by this author which are incorrect regarding this family. This as evidenced by lawsuits filed for the British mercantile debt collections. There are so many of these people living in a small geographical area, though, that it is an easy thing to confuse them. That, and the repeating heirloom names, causes much confusion and embarrassment regarding these families.

According to an article, “The Johnson Family,” page 188, from the Family Tree Maker, Genealogies of Virginia Families, Volume III, Broderbund Software, Richard Johnson-i came to Virginia in the late seventeenth century from England and settled in New Kent, in the part that was later King and Queen. In 1679, he was appointed to the Assembly. In 1688, 3,000 acres was granted to Richard Johnson, Esq., “by order of the General Court.” In 1696, he was appointed to the Council. He died in 1699. His grandson’s tombstone also confirms this information.

His known issue were a daughter, Judith-i, who married and remained in England, and by his second marriage, three sons, under age at the time their father died. [1] Thomas-ii, [2] Richard-ii, who lived in King and Queen County and died around 1733-1737, supposedly without heirs, leaving his property to his nephews, and [3]William. [“The Johnson Family,” pg. 189.]

From reliable sources, including the Backhouse Lawsuits and the tombstone of Richard Johnson-iii of King William County, we know Richard-i had a son named Thomas Johnson-ii, [Senior.] Thomas Johnson-ii, Senior, who married Anne, the daughter of the extremely wealthy Nicholas Meriwether. Thomas-ii, Senior, and Anne had a son named Richard Johnson-iii, “gentleman,” who lived in Hanover County, Virginia. Richard-iii’s son was Thomas Johnson, “Minor”-iiii [Richard Johnson, esq.-i; Thomas, Senior-ii; Richard, Gentleman-iii; Thomas Johnson, “Minor”-iiii]. The British mercantile lawsuits of Backhouse confirm the above information absolutely. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations: Hanover County, Virginia]

The “Johnson Families” article incorrectly identifies “Thomas Johnson, Minor” as the son of Nicholas Johnson-iii, the son of Thomas Johnson “Senior” and Anne Meriwether Johnson. Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, is definitely identified in the Backhouse Lawsuits as the son of Richard Johnson, esq.-iii. Apparently this error arose from the uses of the terms “junior,” “senior,” “minor,” and “major” to distinguish between the several men named Thomas Johnson. On page 190 of “The Johnson Families,” the author speaks of the will of Robert Temham-1, and the witnesses, “Major John Boswell, of Hanover and Thomas Johnson, Jr., son of Nicholas Johnson of Louisa”. The author then goes on to say “Thomas Johnson, “minor” married his cousin, Jane Chapman, daughter of Richard Chapman.” This last statement seems to be borne out by other information. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations.]

The article, “Records from the Family Bible of Richard Chapman, Jr. of New Kent County, VA,” state that his daughter, Jane, married Nathaniel Price in 1794. Richard Chapman, Sr., who had married Jane Johnson, also had a daughter named Jane, who apparently married her cousin, Thomas Johnson, Minor. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations: Hanover County, Virginia, “Backhouse lawsuits.”] That would also account for the introduction of the given name of Chapman Johnson into this generation, and not before.

The same page in the original records that records our JAMES JOHNSON’S estate, also records the administration of the large estate of John Boswell by Thomas Johnson, Minor, who was a prominent member of the Hanover County Johnson ~ Meriweather group. John Boswell was the witness for Robert Temham’s will. John Boswell’s will identifies Thomas Johnson, Minor as “my neffues.”

John Boswell’s will was quite interesting. He had no children, and his wife, who was the sister of “Richard Johnson, Gentleman,”-iii survived him. He left the bulk of his estate to his wife’s nephews, Boswell Thornton, and Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, and to his ner’do-well brother, Thomas Boswell. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Will of John Boswell]

John Boswell freed a female slave and her “yellow boy, James.” He gave land, a horse, an education, and some livestock to this “yellow boy.” He also “freed” and provided for another slave or indentured woman [who had a surname], and gave land to a man who appeared to be an indentured servant. The “yellow boy,” James, freed in the will, was possibly either a child of John Boswell or of one of his relatives. This was not an uncommon situation during this period of time. In order for the slave child, James, to be light-complexioned enough to be considered “yellow,” his mother was probably one-half to three-quarters white, and if his father were white, he might have been as much as seven-eighths white. He may have even been able to “pass for white.”

At the end of the Revolution, there was some question about whether or not the Americans were liable to pay their pre-war debts in England. Eventually, it was decided that the British could collect from the Americans. During the early 1800s, when the British mercantile debts were being settled, there were many lawsuits dealing with the intricate family and business relationships between the Johnson, Boswell, Meriwether, and other related families. These have important genealogical information that may eventually be related to our JOHNSON lines. At least two members of this Hanover Johnson clan moved to Sumner County.

Though early Virginia had been conducive to increased financial and social status for each succeeding generation, conditions in Virginia by the early 1800s had changed. It was becoming increasingly difficult for successive generations to even maintain, much less increase, financial and social standing. Moving to Tennessee to secure new and cheaper lands in the frontier was an avenue to seek financial improvement for the families. Where Nicholas Meriwether and John Boswell and Richard Johnson, Gentleman, had prospered and increased their wealth, their grand-children and great-grandchildren were finding it difficult to live in Virginia. The very conditions that had increased the wealth of their grandparents were causing them financial ruin. The slave economy and production of tobacco had enriched their grandparents, but had impoverished the soil and driven the prices too low by over production. By the early 1800s, these scions of great families were impoverished.

Certain lands John Boswell owned were designated in his will to be sold for the payment of the British debts, if and when they became payable. Thomas Johnson, Minor, had received the land, and it had been sold multiple times since Boswell died. Affidavits were taken from every available living heir of Thomas Johnson, Minor, from the subsequent owners of parts of the lands, and anyone remotely connected to the family. The plaintiffs received a judgment for $27,000. No indication was found of this amount ever being paid, however. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Backhouse Lawsuits].

Children of Richard Johnson-i, esq., of Virginia

  1. Thomas Johnson-ii, “Senior,” probably born in England, maybe around 1680, died before 1734. He married Anne Meriwether, daughter of Nicholas Meriwether. Nicholas Meriwether was one of the richest men in Colonial Virginia. His estate was very large and he left a long will detailing huge legacies to his many offspring and their large families. He left several plantations to his daughter, Anne Johnson. Descendants of this line will be traced in more depth.

  2. Judith Johnson-ii, married Sir Hardoff Westneys, Baronet, son of Sir Edmund Westneys.

  3. Richard Johnson-ii died without issue about 1733. [“The Johnson Family.”]

  4. William Johnson-ii, [It might be productive to follow this line for a connection to our JAMES JOHNSON-1. ]William Johnson-ii seems to be the only possibility for a connection to this family, and he would have been about the right age to be the father of our JAMES-1. Our JAMES also gave sons the heirloom names from this line, Richard, Thomas and William. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations.]

Richard Johnson, esq.,” is mentioned in the 1699 reaffirmation of patents previously issued “by the Committee for examining claims to land in Pamunkey Neck and on the south side of Blackwater Swamp, and to consider the most proper meanes to settle the Northern and Southern Bounds of Virginia, dated June, 1699.” His previous title to 3,000 acres of land was confirmed, “by order of Gen’ll court dated 25 April 1688.”

Children of Thomas Johnson-ii, Senior, and Ann Meriwether

of King William County”

  1. Thomas M. Johnson-iii, had a daughter, Dorothy-iiii. He was called “Thomas, Sr.,” after the death of his father, Thomas Johnson-ii, in 1734.


  1. Richard C. Johnson-iii, called both “Colonel” Richard, and Richard Johnson, “Gentleman,” was born July 7, 1715. He was the business partner of his brother-in-law, John Boswell, the husband of Richard’s sister, Anne-iii. He died in September 29, 1771, at New Castle, Hanover County, Virginia. He was the father of “Thomas Johnson, Minor.” His tombstone reads:


Here lieth the remains of Collo. Richard Johnson who was borned the 7th of July in the year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and fifteen and departed this life the 29th of September one thousand seven hundred and seventy-one. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Johnson of King William County and grand-son to Richard Johnson Esq. Of King William county who was a member of His Majesty’s Council in Virginia. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, pg. vi.]


  1. Nicholas Johnson-iii, “of Louisa County” was probably the witness of Robert Temham’s will, along with John Boswell, the husband of his sister, Anne Johnson. He apparently had a son, Thomas Johnson, “Jr.”-iiii . “The Johnson Family” article says that this Nicholas Johnson-iii died by June 4, 1766, which, if that is the case, he could not be the same Nicholas who witnessed the will of Robert Temham in 1769. He is also probably the man by this same name who witnessed the will of ANDREW HUNTER-1 in 1764 in Louisa. ANDREW HUNTER was the grandfather of LUCY HUNTER JOHNSON, wife of our RICHARD JOHNSON-2. Since “Nicholas” entered the Johnson family as a given name with the marriage of Thomas Johnson-ii and Anne Merewether, it is possible the “death date” given in the article is in error. It is most likely that this Nicholas, by virtue of proximity and timing, was the signer of Robert’s will.

  1. William Johnson-iii, died before 1806. [Ibid.]

  1. Anne Johnson-iii, was born about 1715, and was referred to in the Backhouse Lawsuits as the woman who married John Boswell, the business partner of “Richard Johnson-iii, Gentleman.” Anne and John Boswell had no children and a significant part of their estate was left to Richard’s son, Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii.

  1. Jane Johnson-iii, was born about 1715. She is likely the Jane Johnson who married Richard Chapman, Sr., and was the mother of Richard Chapman, Jr., born in 1741. According to the Chapman article, Richard Chapman, Sr., purchased “Chericoke” from the widow, Anne Meriwether Johnson, in May of 1740. The article continues on page 727, and says, “Richard Chapman and Jane Johnson had two children, a son, Richard, Jr., and a daughter Jane Chapman, who married a Mr. Johnson.” [Her cousin, Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, the son of Richard Johnson- iii]

The name “Chapman” entered into the heirloom names of the Johnson family with this marriage.

Before the Revolution, the American planters dealt primarily with their English factors on credit, which was paid with tobacco at the end of the crop year. Several letters that have survived from the Johnson and Boswell firm serve to illustrate the type of business transacted between Virginia tobacco growers and the English firms.


New Castle Virginia Augt 16th 1769

Sir:

As our friend & correspondent Mr. John Walker Late Mercht of Liverpool is deceased, it puts us under the necessity of looking out for some other, and as your charactor has recommended you to us, we have thought it proper to make you the following proposals, in the first place we want you to advance us one thousand pounds sterlg. And that we may have the liberty to draw for it, in our next april General court, which money we desire to have the use of for two years allowing you 5 pct. Interest, without being obliged by law or honor to repay till the aforesaid time is expired, in the next place we desire to have leave to draw ten pounds sterling on each hhd we ship you. We make in mean years about sixty five hhdg, & in good years seventy odd, & that of the best sort of York River Tobacco, the sum of money we propose borrowing together with drawing on our tobacco pays all our debts both here and in england & leaves a balance of our standing debts to the amount of seven or eight hundred pounds, but they are chiefly such as will take us a year or two to collect, if you should come into our terms, we shall not draw on you for any more money until the money borrowed is paid, and shall only send for as many goods as we think our familys may have occasion for, which we suppose will amount to upwards of two hundred pounds annually, and the over plus to go to the credit of the money borrowed; if we make tolerable good crops & the prices of tobacco keeps up, we shall pay it up in two years, but supposing the tobacco sent you should prove short, we expect we shall be able to remit you some money from our debts.

There are two young men Messrs. Johnson & Tinsley in Trade the one the son to our Richard Johnson that is next to be considered. We have given them Letters of Credit, and they have corresponded with the late Mr. Walker, they will want goods twice a year to the amount of eight or nine hundred pounds each cargo, which goods we will undertake to see you paid for, tho we don’t make the least doubt but they will punctually comply with their payments, you’ll receive their letters covering a scheme for goods, & their proposals by Capt. Clarke who brings you this.

Colo Humphrye Hill has been long acquainted with us & make no doubt that he has a tollerable idea of our circumstances, therefore we have make him acquainted with this & hope it will meet with our approbation we are, sir,

Your most obedt & honble Servts,

Johnson & Boswell

NB If you think proper to come into our terms you’ll be pleased to let us know it by the first ship. J & B


Virginia New Castle July 30, 1771


Sir:

Inclosed you have a bill of lading for seventy hhds [hogsheads] tobacco shipt you by the Tom and wish them safe to hand, the other ten was ready but Capt Clarke could not take them in.

There is 22 hhds shipt you that we bought of a nephew of ours that lives at the mountains which we expect is equal to our own, the reason we bought them was our R. J. could not get down all his Mountain crop by 20 Hhds. From the repeated rains that distressed his plantations…The extraordinary wett weather and the repeated Freshes [floods] we believe will render the ensuing crop very short as well as mean…[poor quality.]


We have in repeated letters mentioned our indorsement of a bill of exchange drawn on our relation Mr. Richard Chapman… [emphasis added]

We are your most Honble Srt. Johnson & Boswell

[Virginia Migrations:Hanover County, Virginia, pg. 17-19.]


Our relation,” Richard Chapman, mentioned in the above letter, was “Richard Chapman, son of Richard Chapman and his wife, Jane Johnson. He was born at Chericoke, King William County, VA Sept. 1741, according to an article, “Records from the Family Bible of Richard Chapman, Jr., of New Kent County, VA,” communicated by Mrs. Calvin Perkins, Memphis, Tennessee, page 723, printed from Family Tree Maker, Genealogies of Virginia Families, Volume I, from CD, Broderbund Software, Inc., March 2, 1998.

This somewhat clarifies the Chapman-Johnson connection over two generations. This would account for the name Chapman, as a given name, entering into the Hanover Johnson clan’s list of heirloom names in that generation. The man mentioned in the letter was probably the “Richard Chapman, Jr.,” so his mother, Jane Johnson, would have been born about 1720.

Richard Chapman, Jr., married Elizabeth Reynolds, who had been born at “The Island” in New Kent, February 18, 1757. According to the article, they were married by Rev. Mr. Ford on Sunday, April 16, 1775. Richard Chapman, Jr., died December 10, 1789, at age 48. On December 4, 1789, six days before his death, a son named Richard Meriwether Chapman, was born. His widow, Elizabeth, married George Green after his death. She was widowed again, in March of 1798.

A grandson of Richard Chapman [Jr.], Chapman Johnson, made notes in the Bible, and stated his grandfather had first married Mary Mossom, daughter of Reverend David Mossom, and Elizabeth Reynolds was the second wife, and also, the niece of the first wife. A man marrying his deceased wife’s niece bordered on “incest” by the thinking of the day. Even though there was no blood relationship with the second wife and the husband, this was among those “prohibited” marriages. He also noted that Richard Chapman [Jr.?] had one sister, Jane Chapman, who married a “Mr. Johnson.”


He continued in a memoranda from James Curtis’ letters:

my sister’s son, John Boswell Johnson, was born September 14, 1771…and moved to Tennessee, and had three children. Dr. Thomas Johnson of Richmond City, VA, and Richard Chapman Johnson, born 1772, died without issue, and their sister, Dorothy Johnson, who was born 1774, and married Patrick Michie.”

The article goes on to say, “The first of the name in Virginia was Richard Chapman of an English family…he purchased from Ann Meriwether Johnson, the widow of Captain Thomas Johnson, the Johnson estate of “Chericoke” in King William County. Thomas Johnson was the son of Colonel Richard Johnson, of Lincolnshire, England, who was a member of the Virginia Council at the time of his death in 1699.” [Ibid. pg. 726]

“Soon after he came to the colony, Richard Chapman…married Jane Johnson, the daughter of “Captain Thomas Johnson” [senior] and his wife, Anne, seventh child of Col. Nicholas Meriwether.” [Ibid. pg. 726]


The third letter between the firm of Johnson and Boswell and John Backhouse concerned the difficulties presented by the death of Colonel Richard Johnson in September 1771.


Virginia New Castle 14 Oct 1771

Mr. John Backhouse

Sir

It is with the greatest concern we acquaint you of the death of our late worthy friend & relation Colo Richard Johnson on the 29th of September last, after a short illness, whome we most sincerely regret—he has willed his whole estate to his widow during her life or widowhood, and appointed her executrix & ourselves executors thereto, with full power to act as we shall think necessary. We have maturely considered all matters thereto relating & Judge it most expedient to cultivate that correspondence our departed friend had the pleasure of establishing with you, and in consequence of which we shal send you in the spring, between eighty and ninety hhds of tobacco, by whichever of your ships you may think proper to direct…

The correspondence of our Johnson and Mr. Chas Tinsley with you, our John Boswell desires may be continued, with himself as security, for all further cargos you may send them.

Bills payable in your port are ginerally ½ pct lower than those upon London, therefore we must beg the favor of you, to permit us to make ours on you payable in that port, provided it would not attend with any inconvenience of consequence to you. We are sir

Yr Mo Obedt servts.

John Boswell & W. Johnson

[Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations: Hanover County, Virginia, pg. 19.]

These letters are excellent examples of the business transactions of the wealthier planters with their London and Liverpool factors. The planters were cash-strapped and accomplished their business by trading tobacco crops for the items their families needed from the mother country. The name of Richard Johnson-iii’s wife, Dorthea, is found in the depositions of John B. Johnson, their son, in Virginia Migrations, pg. 5, along with the date of her death in March 1781.

Children of Richard Johnson-iii, 1715-1771, and his wife, Dorthea

  1. Jane Johnson-iiii, was born about 1740, died after 1771, but before 1803, when the Backhouse depositions were taken. She married Dr. William Marshall first, and then Nicholas Syme. Her children were John M. Syme, Nicholas Syme, Elisa Syme, and Clarissa Syme. [Virginia Migrations, Deposition of Chapman Johnson, pg. 4.] She could not have been the woman who married Richard Chapman, Sr., whose son, Richard Chapman, Jr., was born in 1741.[“Records from the Family Bible of Richard Chapman, Jr.,” pg. 723.]

  1. Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, died 1795. “Thomas Johnson, Minor, the father of this respondent was also one of the sons of Richard Johnson “[Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations Deposition of Chapman Johnson, pg. 4.] His children were: John Boswell Johnson-v, born 1778; Richard Chapman Johnson-v, born before 1774, died December 1802, [Ibid.], Thomas M. Johnson-v, born circa 1778; Chapman Johnson-v, born 1779; and William Johnson-v, born 1784; and Dorothy Johnson, who married Patrick Mitchie. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, pg. 3]

If the memoranda of the Chapman Bible were correct, my sister’s [sister of Richard Chapman, Jr., Jane, who married ‘Mr. Johnson.’] son was John Boswell Johnson, who moved to Tennessee, and had three children,” then the wife of Thomas Johnson, Minor, would have been his cousin, Jane Chapman, daughter of Richard Chapman-ii and Jane Johnson-iii, the daughter of Thomas Johnson-ii .

  1. Dorothy Johnson-iiii, married Anthony Thornton of Caroline County, and her son was Boswell Thornton, the heir of John Boswell. Boswell Thornton’s wife was named Lucy, but they had no children. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, pg. 4-5.] “January 12, 1789, Anthony Thornton, guardian for Boswell Thornton received of Capt. Thomas Johnson [Minor] the slaves and stock devised by Colo. John Boswell.” [Ibid. pg. 3]

  1. Richard Johnson-iiii, died before 1803.

  1. Nancy/Anne Johnson-iiii, married John Cunningham about 1774, by whom she had four children, Dorethea Fairley Cunningham, who married Isaac Butler, and had an only child named Lucy Ann Butler; William Cunningham; John Cunningham, died before 1803; Nancy Anne Johnson Cunningham, who married John Syme. Nancy Anne died May 7, 1788. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Backhouse Lawsuits.]

  1. William Johnson-iiii “of Hanover County” died after 1810. [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, pg. 11.] “He is the only survivor among them.” [Ibid. pg. 6]

  1. John Boswell Johnson-iiii, “of Hanover,” gave a deposition filed November 30, 1803, and stated “that he is one of the sons and legatees of Richard Johnson, late of the town of New Castle.” His first deposition was taken in the Backhouse lawsuit for the defendant at the house of Francis Taylor in the town of New Castle, now occupied by John Tinsley, February 8, 1796. [Ibid. pg. 6.] Though he had a nephew of the same name, who died in 1815 in Sumner County, Tennessee, and the two may be easily confused, we find that this man was listed in the Hanover County Taxpayers, from St. Paul’s Parish as “Capt” John Boswell Johnson, between 1782 and 1815.[Ibid.]

  1. Nicholas Meriwether Johnson-iiii, died after 1803. He had a daughter named Mary Ann Johnson, [Ibid. pg. 6] Nicholas was listed in the taxpayer list from Hanover for the years 1782 to 1815.

  1. Elizabeth Johnson-iiii married Nicholas Syme. [Ibid., pg. 6.]


Children of Thomas Johnson, Minor-iiii, son of Richard Johnson, Gen’t-iii

Married Jane Chapman

  1. Dorothy Johnson-v, was born September 4, 1774, married Patrick Mitchie and had “numberous children.” “Dorothy is the daughter of Thomas Johnson, Minor, who was the exor and one of the devises of John Boswell. Signed Patrick Mitchie. April 21, 1806.”[Ibid. pg. 3][Chapman Family Bible]

  1. Richard Chapman Johnson-v, born October 26, 1772, was the executor of Thomas Johnson, Minor’s estate in 1795, and died intestate in December, 1802, without issue..Ibid.] A man named Richard Johnson is listed in St. Paul’s Parish list of Bartelot Anderson, containing a household with five whites and nine blacks. The next listing, alphabetically, is Thomas Johnson, with nine whites and nine blacks on the 1790 Census. [“First Census of the United States,” Hanover County, VA]

  1. Chapman Johnson-v stated in his Backhouse deposition that he was “age 16” when his father died in 1795. The Chapman Bible notations gives his date of birth as Monday, March 15, 1779. His wife, according to the Bible memo, was Mary Anne Nicholson, the niece of Major Carter Page. He was also mentioned in the will of his brother, John Boswell Johnson, in the Sumner County will in 1815. [Sumner County, TN, Will Book 1, pg. 212.]


  1. John Boswell Johnson-v, born September 14, 1771, [Chapman Bible] was still alive in 1799, per deposition of James Watson. A will found in Sumner County, Tennessee, dated February 12, 1815, is probably this man. The abstract reads: “Brother Chapman Johnson of Virginia to have Negroes in trust for sister Ann Parish. Wife Elizabeth and second son, Chapman, who was ten on October 21st, last. Three children, Thomas, Chapman, and Mariah. Executor, Chapman Johnson.” [Sumner County, TN, Will Book 1, pg. 212] He owned lands in Sumner County, Tennessee.

We don’t know who “sister Ann Parish” is. She might have been his wife’s sister or a step-sister, or possibly, she was a daughter of Thomas Johnson, Minor, about whom we have no other evidence. Since “sister Ann Parish” was never mentioned in the Backhouse lawsuits, it is a pretty safe bet that she was a “sister-in-law” or other “legal” sister rather than a blood relation. She was obviously still alive at the time John’s will was written.


  1. William Johnson-v gave a deposition in the Backhouse lawsuits in 1805 that he was age 14 at the time his father died in 1795. The Chapman Bible notation states his date of birth is September 26, 1782. In his Backhouse deposition, he stated that he had not received a share of his father’s personal estate, except a few dollars paid to Reverend Nelson for board and tuition for a quarter of a year. He said he also got a bed and a few dollars [$95] when he went to Tennessee and returned. The Bible notations state he died without issue.


  1. Thomas Meriwether Johnson-v, born February 16, 1777, moved to Kentucky and had a family. [Chapman Bible, pg. 726.]


  1. Jane Johnson-v

As previously noted, after the American Revolution, “British Mercantile Debts” were unpaid. After considerable debate about whether or not the Americans had to pay these long-overdue debts, the courts decided that they were valid and the Americans owed repayment.

The British firms tried to track down the debtors, or their descendants, and to collect these debts. The lawsuits and lists spawned by this debt-collection effort are very valuable to genealogists. In the particular case of the Hanover Johnson family, since the debt was so large, the heirs of the British firm of Backhouse spent a considerable amount of money collecting and the lawsuits and lists amounted to a genealogical gold mine on this family. Many of these lists are reprinted in the Virginia Genealogist, volumes 1-20, available on CD.

John Boswell, who married Anne Johnson-iii, the daughter of Thomas Johnson, Senior-ii, and Ann Meriwether Johnson, was a business partner of Colonel Richard Johnson-iii, Gentleman, the brother of his wife.

John Boswell and Anne had no children, and left the bulk of their estates to, among others, Boswell Thornton, the son of Anne’s sister, Dorothy Johnson-iii Thornton, and to Thomas Johnson-iiii, Minor, the son of Richard Johnson-iii, “Gentleman.”

The partnership had “stores” in New Castle and plantations all over the area on which they grew tobacco. A deposition filed in 1805 by Chapman Johnson stated, “John Boswell of Louisa died in 1788, possessed of a very large real and personal estate.” Charles Quarles deposed, “….he was a wealthy man.[Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, Backhouse Lawsuit.]

When Boswell died in 1788, just after the Revolution, the question of whether or not the “British Mercantile Debts” would ever be repaid was still unanswered. He had made provision in his will that certain lands would be set aside for the repayment of this debt if it should ever become payable.

John Boswell’s will was exhibited in Louisa County by Thomas Johnson-iiii, Minor, his executor. The bulk of his estate was left to Thomas Johnson-iiii, Minor, and Boswell Thornton, his wife’s nephews. At the end of his will, he mentioned they were his “neffues.”

John Boswell left slaves and lands to his only brother, Thomas Boswell, in addition to the legacy left to his wife’s nephews. “Major Thomas Boswell,” deceased, was mentioned in the deposition of Chapman Johnson [Glazebrook, Virginia Migrations, pg. 4] and children were named. It does not say that this man is the brother of John Boswell, but it is likely who is referred to.

By 1789, court records indicate that the slaves and lands from John Boswell’s estate had been divided among his heirs. When the estate of John Backhouse later sued the Boswell/Johnson heirs in the early 1800s, the lands and proceeds of the estate of John Boswell had passed through several hands, several estates, and been sold and resold; divided and re-divided. The amount of the debt was considerable, and the estate of John Backhouse deposed every heir of the deceased heirs of John Boswell who was still alive. John Boswell died in 1788, his executor/heir, Thomas Johnson-iiii, Minor, died in 1795, and the heir/executor of Thomas-iiii, his son, Richard-v, died in 1802, before the suit was filed.

These quite lengthy depositions are a genealogical gold mine for anyone even remotely connected to these Johnson, Chapman, and Boswell families. An entire series of books could be written on just the material contained in these very interesting documents.

We still don’t know what the connection, if any, between the wealthy Hanover County Johnsons, and our Louisa County Johnsons, of a more modest affluence. However, John Boswell’s standing security for the Temham estate and the other documents signed by members of the Hanover Johnson family, in connection with our Louisa JOHNSON family, underscore that there was some connection, however remote. Additional work should be done at some future time on the descendants of the first Richard Johnson. Perhaps this will answer the questions. This author thinks the most fruitful pursuit might be in tracing William Johnson, the son of the original Richard Johnson “of his majesties council.” This appears to be the only possible direct line between JAMES JOHNSON and the Hanover Johnsons.

While this research did not result in finding the father of our JAMES JOHNSON, it did eliminate some avenues by default, and was certainly an interesting family to research.


                                                                                                    Chapter II

The United States in 1790

In 1790, the Union, as we know it, was just beginning to be formed. There were 13 states and the United States was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, which separated it from the vast unexplored wilderness which belonged to the Spanish at that time. Later, this would become the Louisiana Purchase. The area of the United States was about 800,000 square miles, but was only thinly settled in less than one-third of those. The difficulties in taking that first census of the population were much greater than in 1900. The Congress allowed a full 18 months for the task to be accomplished.

In 1790, there were no roads in many areas, and the ones that did exist were poor and sometimes impassable. Bridges were almost unknown. A trip from New York to Washington was a serious journey and took over a week under the best of conditions. Washington, D.C. was a dream, not even named, but called “Federal City.” It wasn’t until 1793 that the first wall of the White House was built. New York had a population of about 33,000, and was the largest city in the country. Boston had about 18,000 people and Philadelphia had about 28,000.

Tombstones and other records show that not long after the close of the Revolutionary fighting, our RICHARD JOHNSON-2, of Louisa County, Virginia, married LUCY HUNTER-3, who was born November 25, 1763, in Louisa County, Virginia. Lucy was the daughter of GEORGE HUNTER-2 and his wife, MILDRED AUSTIN, born February 21, 1783, in Louisa County, Virginia.

The Louisa County, Virginia, property tax list of 1787, “List A,” includes GEORGE HUNTER, who paid his poll tax for himself, and his list was 1-1-0-4-10. Stephen Hunter, on the same list, paid tax for self and 1-1-1-5-16.

There were two different kinds of local taxes. The church vestry which was the governing body of the state-supported church levied taxes called “tithes” on the people residing in the parish or upon the slaves or other labor that they employed in a parish. This was a “head” tax or a poll tax. It was a tax layed on the laboring population. Slaves were taxed from a certain age, regardless of sex. White male servants were taxed from a certain age, white female servants were only taxed if they were employed in the fields as labor. Elderly or inifirm men or slaves could be released from this tax, and certain occupations were exempt from the tax. These poll or tithe lists are quite informational for genealogical purposes. The County levied taxes and there were land taxes or “quit rents” which went to the proprietors or the crown. In addition, there were fees on tobacco and import and export-type taxes.


The tithe listings for Johnsons on the 1787 Louisa County, Virginia, tax list were for:


Christopher Johnson paying his own tithe. Several men named Richard Johnsono, including Richard Johnson who had a “quarter,” or portion of land on whick he farmed but did not live; another Richard Johnson, listed as “Jork Creek” to distinguish him from the other Richard Johnson. A man named Richard Johnson paying taxes also for his son, James Johnson. Another man named Richard Johnson with a son not named and considerable estate. David Johnson with a substantial number of livestock and slaves; George Johnson also with livestock and slaves, Micajah Johnson, with no tithables besides himself; several men named James Johnson, one man with a “Quarter” and tithable for himself; one man named James paying taxes for himself and his son, James Johnson, and another man named James Johnson, paying taxes for himself. Thomas Johnson with a substantial number of livestock and slaves, paying tithe for himself, was noted as “Minor,” which probably means that it is the same man as “Thomas Johnson, Minor” listed later in Hanover. Thomas Johnson, Major was also listed with a considerable estate of property. Philip Johnson, paying taxes for himself, but little property. Nicholas Johnson “not tithable.” There were other men incuding Benjamin Johnson, Elijah Johnson, Ashley Johnson, who paid Elijah Johnson’s taxes, Henry Johnson, and two women, one listed as a widow.

Several of the “Merewether” family also lived nearby and had large estates and tax listings. The terms “Major and Minor” may mean older and younger, or the designation “Major” may be a militia title.

From estate and later census records we can piece together our RICHARD JOHNSON’s children. Much of the credit for the Johnson research goes to Theda Womack and Erick Montgomery. Erick kindly corrected many of the author’s errors, and Theda pointed in the right direction. Without the tireless work of both of these people, knowledge of our JOHNSON Family would be scant, indeed.


Children of Reverend Richard Johnson-2 & Lucy Hunter Johnson


  1. George H. Johnson-3, born between 1784 and 1790 in Louisa County, Virginia, married Elizabeth Hunter as his first wife on December 9, 1805 in Louisa County, Virginia. [Williams, Marriages of Louisa County Virginia, 1766-1816.] Children known to be by his first wife included a daughter, Mary Johnson-4, born about 1810. Mary was unmarried and lived with her father in 1850 in Tennessee. [Sumner County, Tennessee US Census, 1850.] He also may have had other children by his first wife. Mildred Turner was his second wife, whom he married on December 23, 1844, in Tennessee. Children by his second wife are Parilee Johnson-4, born in 1847, and Richard Johnson-4, born in 1849. In 1850, George Johnson’s family on the Sumner County, Tennessee census, consisted of himself, his wife, Mildred, age 30, Mary Johnson-4, his 40-year-old daughter by his first wife; Parilla Johnson-4, age three; and Richard Johnson-4, age one. He lived next door to William West in Sumner County. He was probably the oldest son of RICHARD-2 and LUCY. George-3 was apparently named in honor of his maternal grandfather, GEORGE HUNTER. Did the middle initial “H” stand for Hunter? George Johnson-3 was listed as a poll-only on the 1822 tax list in Sumner County.

George H. Johnson should not be confused with the George W. Johnson who was a Kentucky attorney connected with the Collier-Johnson lawsuit. [See David L. Johnson.]


  1. Mary Johnson-3, born about 1791 [1786?]in Virginia. She was living in 1848 when her father wrote his will. Nothing else is known about Mary.


  1. Benjamin J. Johnson-3, born about 1795 [1791?] in Virginia, married Rebecca Turner as his first wife. He married Mary C. Payne in Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1850. His third wife was Phebe Jane Northam, whom he married October 7, 1855 in Sumner County, Tennessee. He died May 20, 1868 near Fountain Head in Sumner County. Benjamin Johnson’s will, in Sumner County, Tennessee, records, dated in March and “proved” in July, 1868, named his wife, “Pheby Jane.” It left his spinning factory to “eight of my children,” and named A. V. Johnson-4, William Johnson-4, J. M. Johnson-4, Mary [Johnson-4] Bradley, Franklin Johnson-4, Susan [Johnson-4] Garrison, John Johnson-4, and J. Johnson-4. He owned land near John Groves.[Sumner County WO 770.] In 1837, RICHARD-2 sold land to Benjamin-3 for $1,750 on Bledsoe’s Creek near John Mabry and Reuben D. Brown. The 1822 tax list for Sumner County also showed Benjamin-3 having 98 acres on Bledsoe Creek, and stated that RICHARD-2 had 167 acres on Bledsoe. Benjamin Johnson died May 20, 1868 .

  1. Samuel Johnson-3, was born about 1796 in Virginia. We don’t find him in 1830 Sumner County. In 1822, the tax list showed Samuel Johnson-3 as a poll, [head tax] but did not mention any lands.

  1. Nancy M. Johnson-3, was born about 1796. She may be the woman by that name who possibly married Thomas A. Johnson, maybe a cousin, January 8, 1822, in Sumner County. They aren’t found again after that, though we know she was living in 1848 when her father wrote his will.

  1. AUSTIN JOHNSON-3, the author’s ancestor, was born in 1799 in Virginia, before the family moved to Tennessee. He married ANN ELIZABETH CORLEY, from Wilson County, Tennessee, the daughter of a Hanover County Revolutionary veteran, AUSTIN CORLEY. AUSTIN JOHNSON’s given name apparently goes back to his grandmother, MILDRED AUSTIN’s family name. AUSTIN-3 was born the year his father, RICHARD JOHNSON-2, was ordained a deacon of the Methodist Church in Virginia. AUSTIN was first listed as a poll on the Sumner County tax lists in 1820. His second wife was Barodill White, married in Wilson County, TN 30 Sept 1829, and third wife, Mary W. Holt married 21 Sept 1840 in Sumner. He died about 1846.

  1. David L. Johnson-3, born November 18, 1800, married Thankful Anderson on September 7, 1830. She was born October 9, 1809, and died in March 1849. On June 5, 1850, after his first wife died, he married Elizabeth Collier. He was also the administrator of the estate and guardian of the children of his brother, AUSTIN-3. David is buried in Parker Cemetery. About 1850, David was also the administrator of the estate of Elizabeth Collier Johnson’s father, Thomas Collier. There was a lawsuit about the estate, in which David and Elizabeth were sued by Sarah Parker Collier, Elizabeth’s mother, and her siblings.

Elizabeth’s father, Thomas Collier, Sr., owned a slave woman named Charlotte prior to 1846. Thomas Collier was living in Kentucky and became very debt ridden. He sold the slave [who was also mortgaged at the time] to his rich brother-in-law, Mr. Williamson, without telling Williamson about the mortgage. Williamson, who was childless, was in the habit of giving handsome gifts to his wife’s siblings and their children. Williamson, then, in turn, sold the slave for about one-third of her value to Nathaniel Parker, Jr., the father of Thomas Collier’s wife, Sarah. In the meantime, Thomas Collier had given the slave to George W. Johnson [no known relationship] and another man to settle a debt he owed them, and had given them a worthless deed to the slave. They testified in the depositions that they never took possession of the slave, but let Thomas Collier continue to use the slave. They didn’t know that in Kentucky at that time, it was possession of the slave plus the deed that counted, and their failure to take possession of the slave when they bought her voided the sale. Thomas Collier sold the slave and then took her out of state to his father-in-law’s, where Mr. Parker assigned the slave to do the “drudgery” for his daughter, Sarah, Mrs. Collier. He also made a deed of gift to Sarah and her children for the slave and her offspring.

When Thomas Collier died, his new son-in-law, David Johnson, who was the administrator of the estate, seized the slave and was going to sell her. David Johnson’s mother-in-law, Sarah Parker Collier, and his wife’s siblings sued him to prevent him from selling the slave and her child. I don’t know how the lawsuit was settled, but it was obvious from the many depositions that Thomas Collier did not take kindly to the charity offered to him by his father-in-law, which included the use of this and other slaves, including one that he whipped. The whipped slave boy ran home to Mr. Parker’s and Parker did not send him back, nor apparently another to replace him. One of the depositions says that Thomas Collier was in a “fit” over that. Just before Collier died, Parker requested that Collier pay the tax on the slave, Charlotte, since he had the use of her and the deponent stated that Collier didn’t like Parker at all. There were other mentions of quarrels between Thomas Collier and other relatives. For anyone descended from this line, these lawsuits are quite interesting. Apparently the widow and children were attached, or at least said that they were, to the slave and her child, and one deposition indicated that the slave had grown up in the household. The depositions I have seen however, do not make clear what David Johnson’s interest in selling the slave were, except that the money was needed to pay the debts of the estate which was insolvent.

The 1850 census of Sumner County showed Nathaniel Parker, age 75, and his wife, Luorela, age 76, living in District 13, house number 725. Parker had been born in Virginia and his wife in North Carolina. They owned $7500 in real estate. Thomas Collier, age 20, was also living with the couple. He had been born in Kentucky.


  1. Nathan Johnson-3, was born about 1803 in Virginia. He was still alive in 1848 when his father’s will was written, but apparently did not live in Sumner County in 1850.


  1. Andrew W. Johnson-3, was born about 1805 and was the bondsman for his brother, AUSTIN-3 JOHNSON’s marriage to Barrodill White in 1829. [Sumner County Marriage Records.] This son was probably named after his great-grandfather, ANDREW HUNTER. He was not found on the 1850 Sumner County, Tennessee census.


  1. Sally Johnson-3 was born about 1807 and may have been born in Virginia, or perhaps was born in Tennessee after the family arrived. If so, she would most likely have been the only child born in Tennessee. She married William Saunders, January 17, 1831, in Sumner County, Tennessee. She lived with RICHARD-2 during his last years, or he lived with her, according to oral history via Erick Montgomery. She was not found in Sumner County in 1850.


11. Richard C. Johnson-3, “Jr.,” There were several men in Sumner County named Richard Johnson. Just which one is the son of our RICHARD-2 is somewhat in question. In the 1820 census, there are three men named Richard Johnson. Richard C. Johnson, and Richard Johnson, and our RICHARD-2. Whether the Richard C., or the man named Richard, is the son of our RICHARD-2 is not entirely clear, but there are several pieces of evidence which give weight to a preponderance of evidence that Richard C. Johnson was the son of our RICHARD-2. First, the man named Richard C. Johnson was a trustee in 1819 of the church to which our RICHARD-2 donated the land for a meeting house. [Sumner County Deeds.]

Secondly, found in Record Book 1833-38, page 207, in the Sumner County archives [supplied by Theda Womack] is a deed of gift:

R. C. Johnson and Frances Johnson to their children, John Johnson, Elizabeth Johnson, David Johnson, Turner Johnson, Almira Johnson, Albert Johnson, Sarah Ann Johnson, Ivie Johnson, and Richard Johnson for the following negroes, Harriet and her ____, Wilson, and Jim, was duly proved by the oath of John M. Henley a subscribing witness thereto, this 9th day of October 1837.

The estate of Frances Johnson’s father, John Turner, in Sumner County, Tennessee, clarifies the relationship between R. C. Johnson and Frances Turner. The use of the name, Turner, as a given name, also underscores the relationship. The continuation of the name Richard in this man’s family also underscores relationships. [See Sources for all Turner citations.]

Richard C. Johnson was a private in Troop #3, of Capt. John Baskerville in Colonel Coffee’s Cavalry on the Natchez Expedition in 1813 in “The War of 1812.” [Durham, Old Sumner.] There was also another man named Richard Johnson [without a middle initial] in Capt. Abraham Bledsoe’s troop in February of 1813. The connections between the Johnson, Turner and Simpson families will be discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters.

Richard E. Johnson & Mary Ann Simpson Johnson

James Johnson-1; Richard-2; Austin-3; Richard E.-4

John Simpson-1; Richard-2; George-3; Aaron-4; Enoch-5; Mary Ann-6

RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON-4 and his wife, ENOCH’s daughter, MARY ANN “Polly” SIMPSON, settled into married life in the 1840s on a farm on Trammell Creek near Liberty Presbyterian church in the “Escue” community and farmed and raised their family. They were not too far from ENOCH, or from RICHARD’s uncles. In ENOCH’s estate settlement in 1860, MARY ANN got “Stephen,” a male slave valued at about $900, as her share of the slaves. The inventory listed Stephen as about age 15 in 1860. Theda Womack has a coverlet that was woven by a daughter of ENOCH who had probably been taught to weave by one of the older women slaves. Whether or not Stephen stayed with the family during the Civil War or afterwards is unknown.

RICHARD E. JOHNSON, called “Dick,” must have had at least some education when he was a child. Educational expenses such as tuition and books were charged to his legacy from his uncle, E. B. Corley, for his and his sisters’ education. Later, he would be an officer in the Confederate States Army, so he must have been able to read and write with some skill, though I doubt that he had much education above the “three R’s.” His grandfather, the Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON-2, was a literate man, so we may presume that the family valued some education.

Children of R. E. “Dick” & Mary Ann Johnson


  1. Emily Elizabeth Johnson-5, called “Lizzie,” was born in 1844 and married William W. Rippy. She died in 1909 and is buried at Pleasant Grove in Sumner County, Tennessee

  1. ROBERT FOSTER JOHNSON-5, called “Bob,” born August 11, 1846, married RACHEL LUCINDA ESCUE June 6, 1870. He died October 3, 1921, and is buried in Escue Cemetery, Sumner County, Tennessee.


  1. Mary Jane Johnson-5, called “Mollie,” was born June 12, 1847, married Benjamin Rush Heath. She died about 1924.


  1. Martha Ann Johnson-5, called “Patsy,” born 1850, married Andrew Jackson Thornberg Heath August 9, 1867.


  1. William “Austin” Johnson-5, born April 3, 1852, married Mary Ann Harper in 1880, and died in February, 1930. He is buried at Mt. Vernon Methodist Churchyard.


  1. James A. Johnson-5, called “Jim,” born 1855, first married Mary Smith, and second, Etta Carman, July 3, 1887. Died after 1910.


  1. Jesse S. Johnson-5, born 1858, married Sara J. A. Keen, November 29, 1877.


  1. Nancy Johnson-5, born 1860, died before 1865.


Martha Ann Johnson [born circa 1849], daughter of Richard E. Johnson and Mary Ann Simpson, and her husband, Andrew I. Thornberg Heath [1837-1924], son of Richmond and Sarah K. [Milan] Heath. Copied from the collection of Ona Heath, Portland, Tennessee, in 1978 by Erick Montgomery.



William Austin Johnson [1852-1930], son of Richard E. Johnson and Mary Ann Simpson, and husband of Sarah H. Brazil and Mary Ann Harper. Copied from the collection of Theda Pond Womack, Gallatin, Tennessee, in 1978 by Erick Montgomery.

Aaron V. Brown was Tennessee’s governor from 1845 until 1847. He was from nearby Giles County. Slavery was becoming a real issue in state and government more and more as time passed. Local newspapers printed stories about the interference from the Northerners in Southern affairs. It was more than just pro-or anti-slavery, though. It concerned the “states’ rights” to determine their own business.

In 1850, RICHARD JOHNSON’s 60-year-old uncle, George Johnson-3, was living with his wife, Mildred, age 30, and his 40-year-old daughter, Mary Johnson-4, and two young children, Parilla Johnson-4, age three, and Richard Johnson-4, age one. RICHARD-4’s Uncle David L. Johnson-3, age 47 in 1850, was living with his new young wife, Elizabeth, age 21. In 1860, David was listed on the census as owning $7,000 in personal property [probably the value of slaves] and $11,000 in real estate. By 1860, David and his young wife had two children, Georgia Johnson-4, age nine, and a little girl named Callnarance Johnson-4, age two. The last little girl was called “Katie.”


The Escues

William Escue-1; James-2; Rachel Lucinda-3

In 1850, RICHARD E. JOHNSON-4 and his next door neighbor, JAMES ESCUE-2, a brick mason, both farmed small holdings valued at about $300 each, and were raising their families. Their children, ROBERT F. JOHNSON-5 and RACHEL LUCINDA ESCUE-3, would eventually marry.

Though ROBERT JOHNSON-5 and LUCINDA ESCUE-3 wouldn’t marry until after the Civil War, we are going to include the information about the ESCUES here with the JOHNSONs because the families went through the war together as neighbors, friends, and eventually intermarried. RICHARD JOHNSON’s widow, MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON, would be the second wife of JAMES ESCUE.

Children of James Escue-2 and Elizabeth Houdeshell-6

William Escue-1; James-2; Rachel Lucinda-3

Diebold Haudenscheldt-1; Hans Michael-2; Hans Michael-3;Lawrence-4; Jacob-5;Elizabeth-6

  1. RACHEL “LUCINDA” ESCUE-3, was born in 1842 or 1843 in Sumner County. She married ROBERT FOSTER JOHNSON June 6, 1870. ROBERT’s widowed mother, MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON, married LUCINDA’s widowed father, JAMES ESCUE..


  1. Mary C. Escue-3, born 1831, married William Bostic, January 10, 1861, and died August 13, 1893. She is buried at Escue Cemetery in Sumner. His tombstone is still there, but hers was not found.


  1. Nancy Jane Escue-3, born 1833, married Joseph W. Carter October 20, 1874, and died after 1880. She had a son named Clifton Carter. Since there were several Carters, it is not clear who the father of her husband was.


  1. Jacob D. Escue-3, born 1836, married Nancy Perry in 1856.


  1. William A. Escue-3, born July 6, 1837, was called “Sandy” by the community as well as the family. Sandy married Lucinda “Lou” Holmes, a sister to LEATHA HOLMES, October, 1866. He died October 29, 1885. Stories about Sandy and his Civil War service have come down to us in oral history. He was taken prisoner during the war and spent time in a Northern prison. His widow never remarried.


  1. Harriet Susan Escue-3, born 1840, married James Allison Hanna and had a son named Charlie. James Hanna was in the 44th Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War, but apparently deserted, as Harriet’s pension was turned down for that reason. James A. Hanna’s parents had come to Sumner from Caswell County, North Carolina. It appears that this man is the grandson of JOSEPH CARTER.

  2. John W. Escue-3, born 1845.


  1. James M. Escue-3, born 1849-1850.


  1. Sarah K. Escue-3, born 1853.


James Escue-2

LUCINDA ESCUE-3’s grandfather was WILLIAM ESCUE-1, who was born between 1770 and 1775 in North Carolina. There were a few Escue/Askew families that came to Sumner County in the early 1800s and his was one of them. We don’t know who his wife was, but he was probably already married in North Carolina before he came to Tennessee. JAMES was born about 1807, and was listed in subsequent census records as having been born in North Carolina, so that helps us date the arrival in Tennessee of WILLIAM ESCUE’s family as being after 1807.

There are two interesting marriage records in North Carolina that might prove to be of use later in research. On February 29, 1796, William Askew married Katherine Breedlove in Rutherford County, North Carolina, and on May 8, 1803, William Askew married Nancy MacDaniel in Rowan County, North Carolina. It is possible that neither, either, or both of these marriages might be our WILLIAM’s. At this point, we just don’t know.

The author is not sure just where WILLIAM ESCUE lived in Sumner County, but about three and one-half miles north of Fountain Head is a cave called Escue Cave. [Durham, Great Leap Westward.] We do know he lived close to the HOUDESHELLS and WILSONS near Sinking Creek.

Searches of early records in North Carolina don’t show anyone with the name spelled “Escue.” Almost all records earlier than 1800 show anyone with that name spelled a variation of Askew, with an “A.” It has even been found spelled Ascough and Askell.

The first “Askew” of record came to the Virginia Colony of Jamestown in 1610 on a ship called the Prosperous [Adventurers of Purse and Person & Cavaliers and Pioneers] he was listed on the 1624/5 muster [census] of inhabitants of Jamestown as 30 years old. His name was William.

In the same area where the original William Askew lived in 1654, a John Askew appeared in Isle of Wight, lands that had been cut from Warrosguyoke. This John Askew lived on “neck of land” called Rowlands Neck in Isle of Wight. In 1655, John sold a plantation with 50 apple and peach trees to John Hawkins of Isle of Wight. In 1662, John patented 200 acres that formerly belonged to Mr. Woodland in Isle of Wight. He was listed as John Askew, carpenter, in 1663 and was employed to build a church for Capt. Henry Pitt. He kept some left over lumber from this project and also got into trouble about some hogs. Then, to top it off, John helped another man’s wife when she left her husband and absconded with another man.

John’s reputation as a troublemaker started to escalate in 1666 when there was testimony about his assisting a runaway servant. That same year, he and his wife, Bridget, sold 50 acres called Church Field on main branches of Pagan Creek, confirmed to Askew in 1662. Up until 1668, Bridget is on the deeds for lands John Askew sold. In 1672, he sold a gray gelding [horse] for 800 pounds of tobacco, and no wife signed. By then, John was designated as “planter” and was probably quite elderly for the time.

In 1677, John Askew and William Askew both signed a petition for William West, one of the rebels of Bacon’s Rebellion who was condemned to death. In August of 1683, John Askew’s estate is appraised. He had died intestate, and Bridget requested the administration of the estate. In 1687, William Askew’s estate was appraised in Isle of Wight.

The proliferation of John Askews and William Askews, both of which appear to be “heirloom names,” takes off in full force by the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Many of them lived in Isle of Wight in Virginia and Bertie County in North Carolina. By the time we know our WILLIAM ESCUE was born, there are so many men with this name that it is difficult to distinguish which man by that name could be ours.

Our WILLIAM ESCUE-1 was probably not separately listed on the 1790 census of North Carolina. At most, he could have been only 20 years old that year, and probably had not already established an independent home. Using the 1820 and 1830 census to calculate the age of our WILLIAM ESCUE gives us a five-year range for his birth, between 1770 and 1775. We know he didn’t come to Sumner County until sometime after JAMES-2 was born about 1807, as JAMES-2 is always listed on the census records as born in North Carolina.

It appears that the “William Asker” in Cumberland County in 1800 could be our man, but there is also a William Asker in Rowan County, North Carolina, listed on the census as “Askeel.” That man married a woman named Nancy McDaniel there on May 8, 1803. [Probably as a second wife.] Another man, William Asker, married a Katherine Breedlove, January 29, 1796, in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Hertford County, North Carolina, is another possible location for our ASKEW/ESCUE families as there are men on the 1800 Census there with corresponding names of James, William, John and Elisha.

In 1806, an older James Askew bought 58 acres on the East fork of Station Camp Creek, two miles from Gallatin, in Sumner County, Tennessee, for $406 silver dollars. A William Askew bought land on Drake’s Creek that same year, 63 acres for $250, but it is not clear if this is our WILLIAM or another man of the same name. There were two creeks in Sumner named Drakes Creek. In 1809, James Askew sold that tract of land on Station Camp creek for $475 dollars. As early as 1813, there was a creek called in a deed record, ”Indian Creek, Alias Askers Creek” but the author doesn’t know if it was the creek generally known as “Indian Creek,” or another one. [Sumner County, TN, Deed Book Volume 6, page 317.] Since we know that Sinking Creek, which was used in deed records to designate the land on which the HOUDESHELTS lived was adjoining a tract that was always referred to as “on Indian Creek,” we can conclude that the two creeks were very close together. The deed referring to “Askers” creek goes on to state “beginning in Great Road leading from Cairo to Gallatin, abutting James S. Wilson, Chichester Howard and Zacheus Wilson.” We know that our ESCUE’s land abutted the lands of JAMES SHOOTY WILSON and JACOB HOUDESHELT, and that James S. Wilson lived adjoining them. [Sumner County, TN Deeds, 1828.]

The William Escue who bought the Drake’s creek land sold it and it was noted on the deed in February 9, 1807, as “William Escue of Smith County.” [SumnerCounty, TN, Deed Book Volume 6, page 301.] John Askey witnessed a deed in 1814 in Sumner County on Drake’s Creek near that William Askey’s former land. What is apparently this same John Askey died in 1841 and mentions his son Leonard in his will. One of the witnesses on a deed with him was Leonard Brown. Leonard Brown’s daughter had married an “Askey,” and another had married into the Dorris family.

The 1820 census shows William Askew/Escue back in the county. Is this WILLIAM? Probably. Is he the same man as “William Askey of Smith County?” Maybe. There were no land purchases shown in the deed records up to 1817, so we are not sure when WILLIAM came back. The 1830 census in Sumner County lists him as between 50 and 60 years old. Three sons listed on the 1820 census are no longer in the household, and three new daughters have apparently been born, and two daughters from the previous census have left home or died. Leonard, son of John, has moved to Wilson County. Samuel has established his own home, and he and WILLIAM are listed along with John, Leonard. C., and another John with a variations of Askew/Escue in the county. WILLIAM still had four daughters and three sons at home. Samuel may or may not be a son. WILLIAM’s wife was listed on the 1830 census, but there was no wife listed in the estate in 1839, so she probably died between those two dates.

Complicating the records, however, are two William Askew/Askey estates not too far apart in years. WILLIAM, whose son, JAMES was one of the administrators, died in the 1830’s, and another man, William Askey, whose executor was John Askey, died in the 1820’s, just before the 1830 census. This man owed Nelson Long four dollars, and there is a nice lawsuit, detailing the heirs. Some of his children were still minors at the time of his death, so he may have been a younger man than our WILLIAM.

The 1838 Scholastic Census of Sumner County, listing the names of people who had children in school, and the districts in which they lived, showed John Askew living in District 4 with 3 children, and John Askey living in district 9 with 1 child in school. A James and John Escue both lived in district 16 near the famiily of Robert Dorris. John had apparently married into the Dorris family. Our JAMES “ESKEW” was listed in district 5 near AUSTIN JOHNSON and James Vinson, who we know was a neighbor of our JAMES from deed records. John S. Darnall also lived in District 5. Stephen Wilson, Elizabeth Gorley, and James and John Gorley, who we know were neighbors of our JAMES ESCUE, also lived in District 5. This school schedule is very helpful in sorting out which James is our JAMES. [1838 Scholastic Schedule from Sumner County, TN USGen Web.]

When Daniel Escue-2, son of WILLIAM-1, married Malinda Rice February 14, 1832, Leonard Escue, probably the son of John Escue, was the bondsman. On February 9, 1837, Daniel-2 remarried, and his second wife was Henrietta Donnell. [Darnell?] Samuel Gourley was the bondsman. John Escue married Elizabeth Smith January 23, 1832, and James Escue [JAMES?] was his bondsman. Leonard Escue married Polly Lee June 4, 1817, When JAMES ESCUE-2 married ELIZABETH HOUDESHELL in 1832, William J. Lee was the bondsman. William Escue married Margaret Smith January 22, 1833, and no bondsman was listed. John Escue married Anny Stone March 27, 1824, and no bondsman was shown. Ruben Stone had been the bondsman when Jonathan Escue had married Margaret Troutt, December 20, 1842. Samuel Escue married Nancy W. T. Walls [Watts?] May 20, 1826.

WILLIAM ESCUE-1 died in 1836 in Sumner County. His sons, JAMES-2 and Daniel-2, were the administrators of his small estate. WILLIAM’s personal property estate was a modest one, by the list of auctioned items, but his sons were middle to upper-middle class individuals. Later in life; they were merchants, manufacturers, and tradesmen. An inventory of WILLIAM’s estate dated April 16, 1839, lists some of the items sold and the people who bought them. JAMES-2 bought $38.25 worth of items, William E. Escue, probably a son of WILLIAM, bought $5.61 1/2 worth of items. The rent was listed for 1838 as “eight dollars.” The estate listed $10 cash on hand, and had a total value of $688.14. Some of the items were geese, ducks, turkeys, cabbage, a flax brake, tar bucket, soap barrel, pair of saddle bags, basket, meals bags, wooden bowl, 15 fowls, 2 bushels of salt, a square table, a chest a cubbord, a “looking glass” [the term “looking glass” sometimes referred to a chamber pot], a pair of fire dogs, 11 yards of spun cotton, a hymn book, a lot of tobacco, a pot of lard, a lot of wool, 3 sows, 19 pigs, 6 sheep and 3 goats, 11 head of cattle and two horses, two side saddles, a yoke of oxen and some other farm tools. [Sumner County, TN estate #786.]

Obviously flax, wool, and cotton were grown, spun, and woven on this farm as well as other crops grown for cash. Oxen were used to plow the fields, but WILLIAM had a horse or two to ride. The women also rode as evidenced by the estate having a couple of side saddles. No mention was made of a wagon or cart of any kind.

By 1840, there were four “John Askeys” listed on the Sumner County Census along with several others of that surname [or variations] new to the area. One John Askew is listed as between 70 and 80 years old. He was old enough to be either an older brother, or the father of our WILLIAM-1. That John Askey died in 1841 and left a will leaving his land to his sons, John W., and Leonard Askew. I am not sure if this is the same Leonard that came to Sumner, apparently with WILLIAM, or another. Neither WILLIAM [who was already deceased when this John died] nor his sons were mentioned in the will of John Askey.

It appears that the first James Askew who first bought land in Sumner may be a brother to our WILLIAM, and the fact that WILLIAM named a son “James” underscores this possibility. There is much published information on early Askews/Escues, but at this time, we are unable to even hazard a guess at the connections.


Children of William Escue-1


  1. JAMES ESCUE-2, born April 27, 1807, in North Carolina, married ELIZABETH HOUDESHELT, March 3, 1830. He was administrator of his father’s estate. He is proven by the estate to be a son.


  1. William E. Escue-2, bought property at the estate sale, may be a son.

  1. Daniel Escue-2, born about 1806, married Malinda Rice, first, and then in 1832, married Henrietta Donnell, a daughter of John and Elizabeth Darnell. Daniel was administrator of his father’s estate. He is proven by the estate to be a son.


Other possible sons are John C. Escue, born about 1794, who married Elizabeth Smith in Sumner County in 1832, with JAMES was his bondsman. Samuel, born about 1804, married a woman named Nancy and lived in Smith County.

There were six females on the census who may also be children of WILLIAM-1.

The Houdeshells

Diebold Haudenscheldt-1; Hans Michael-2; Hans Michael-3; Lawrence-4; Jacob-5; Elizabeth-6


JAMES ESCUE’s wife, ELIZABETH HOUDESHELL [Howdyshelt], was the daughter of JACOB HOUDESHELL, born about 1771, who had apparently come to Sumner County very early from Loudoun County, Virginia, about 1790-3, when Sumner County was first being settled. Jacob settled on lands near the WILSONS and married one of the WILSON girls. He bought 102 acres of lands from his father-in-law, JAMES WILSON, shortly after he married in 1793. The land he bought, or was given for a token price, abutted the 640 acres of land of Henry Howdyshelt. Henry had received the land in 1786 by patent, and was later killed by Indians. Henry’s grant was used as a descriptive marker in many deeds for nearby lands located on Indian and Sinking Creeks. WILLIAM ESCUE’s lands were near this area, too.

JACOB’s cousin, Henry Howdyshelt, [spelled several ways], had come to the area, now known as the State of Tennessee, with the Donelson flotilla April 24, 1780. Henry was listed in the North Carolina Preemption act of 1784 as one of the settlers in the Cumberland in 1780 who stayed and defended the settlements. That entitled him to 640 acres of free land. Henry married Isabel Snoddy in 1787 and had one child before he was killed, but the child died in infancy. Henry was probably a first cousin to JACOB. Isabel remarried after his death. Through a series of lawsuits, the details of which are somewhat hazy, her second husband, a local lawyer, ended up owing the land of Henry. [Duram, The Great Leap Westward, pg 112-115.]

In the winter of 1779-1780, one of the coldest known in the Tennessee area, snow had started falling in November. Colonel John Donelson of Virginia had left the Holston River near Ft. Patrick Henry to lead a flotilla of flatboats and other small crafts loaded with men, women, and children, to the French Lick on the Cumberland River. They had to navigate the entire length of the Tennessee River and make a difficult passage upstream on the Ohio. James Robertson had led an advance group overland through Kentucky.

The group traveling by river started three days before Christmas. Henry Howdershell was with this historic group, which also included Donelson’s daughter, Rachel, who married Andrew Jackson. The extreme cold punished the pioneers and they made little progress by the end of February.

In March, the Indians started attacking the fleet. At first the Indians pretended friendship in an effort to trick the whites. Several of the group were killed at one point. In addition to the Indians, smallpox was breaking out within the group. About 30 people were lost on the trip, and since Donelson recorded only the names of heads of household in his journal, we don’t know exactly how many people actually started the journey. Probably there were about 200. The fleet, or what was left of it, arrived at French Lick April 24, 1780.

We are not sure of the exact date that JACOB arrived in the settlements, but it was still very much a frontier, and was probably sometime in the late 1780s, and possibly as late as 1790. JACOB was not found as a poll on the tax lists in the 1780s. He may have arrived shortly before the June, 1793, marriage.

The settlers’ scattered farms were situated between forts, and the Indians were still a daily threat. People had to stand guard over each other while the crops were worked. They moved between the forts in groups for protection. The settlers were very much in danger from the Indians.

Several people were killed by Indians in Sumner County in 1793, the year JACOB and ELIZABETH married on June 27th. ELIZABETH was the daughter of JAMES ”SHOOTYWILSON, one of the numerous Scots-Irish Wilson clan who were some of the first families of settlers, not long after the Donalson Flotilla.

The author’s research indicates that JACOB was most likely the son of a revolutionary soldier, LAWRENCE HOWDERSHELL, who stated in his pension application that he was born in 1751 in New Jersey. LAWRENCE paid JACOB’s poll tax in Virginia, and he is listed on the 1787 Virginia tax list in Loudoun County.

Piecing together the Virginia tax records and LAWRENCE’s pension, we get a peek at the family picture. MICHAEL HOWDERSHELL was LAWRENCE’s father [also found paying the head tax for LAWRENCE in 1771 in Loudoun County, Virginia.]

Another Howdyshell household was in the same county, the family of a man named Jacob, who was older than our JACOB, who had not yet been born at that time. That older Jacob paid the taxes for Adam [probably Henry’s brother, mentioned in Henry’s estate.] Jacob was possibly Henry’s father, and MICHAEL and Jacob, Senior, were brothers. Some researchers think that our JACOB was the son of the older Jacob. This author reasons that our JACOB, not being mentioned as the brother of Henry, who was apparently the son of the older Jacob, points to our JACOB being the son of LAWRENCE rather than his brother, Jacob. LAWRENCE’s family appears to have been quite poor, however, so the records are few.

“Non-Quaker immigrants ...arrived from Protestant communities in western Germany, Switzerland and Alsace mostly during the mid-eighteenth century; half of all German-speaking colonists in Pennsylvania arrived within a period of five years from 1749 to 1754.” [Fischer, Albion’s Seed, pg 431.]

Recent research findings indicate that the HOUDESHELLs were descended from Palatines who arrived October 17, 1749, in the ship Dragon at Philadelphia. Pennsylvania German Pioneers, page 423, lists 88 signatures of individuals and heads of households. Daniel Nicholas was the master of the Dragon and it was from Rotterdam, but “last from Portsmount in England.” The people did “take the usual Qualifications to the government,” which included 244 persons. Mr. B. Vandyne, 1849 Roberts Ave., Salina, KS 67401-7012, kindly sent us a copy of the manuscript and the transcription of these documents. The signatures in question were for HANS MICHEL HAUDENSCHILT, Henry Heydersh [between the two Hans Michels] and lastly HANS MICHEL HAUDENSCHILD. The elder HANS MICHAEL would have been about 40+ years old, the younger JOHANN MICHAEL was born in 1729, so would have been newly married and about age 20, Joh Henrich was 17 years old at the time of the immigration. [Pennsylvania German Pioneers, pg 422-5 & 480-3

HANS MICHEL-2 [the elder] was the son of a shepherd of Niederbronn, DIEBOLD HAUDENSCHELDT-1. DIEBOLD-1 was mentioned as “the late” in 1724 at the time of the wedding of his son. HANS MICHEL-2 married ANNA MARGARETHA RUCH-2, the daughter of another shepherd, JOHANES ADAM RUCH-1, at Langensoultzbach in a Lutheran Church, January 11, 1724. [Eighteenth Century Emigrants, pg. 87, 98, 163, 414]


The children of Hans Michael-2 [the elder] and Anna Margaretha Ruch Haudenscheldt

Diebold Haudenscheldt-1;Hans Michael-2; Hans Michael-3;Lawrence-4; Jacob-5;Elizabeth-6

  1. Johann George-3, baptized, January 25, 1725, died November 15, 1727.


  1. Eva Elisabetha-3, baptized January 23, 1727, died November 11, 1727.


  1. JOHANN MICHAEL-3, baptized May 17,1729, at Langensoultzbach Lutheran Church, married DORTHEA, the daughter of JON. SEITEL of Preuschdorf, in 1749, just before the family left for America. His will was proven in Shenandoah County, Virginia, June 7, 1813. He was taxed in Virginia in Loudoun County 1769 to 1784, and purchased land in Shenandoah County in December, 1800. His will was dated July 31, 1813. [Tithables of Loudoun Co., Cameron Parish.]


  1. Joh. Henrich-3, baptized June 19, 1732. In 1773, he rented a farm from Thomas Ludwell Lee in Loudoun County of 101 acres and he named on the three-lives lease his first son, Philip-4, and his first daughter, Christian-4. [Deed book K, 1774-1775, pg 121-126, Loudoun Co., VA.] His wife’s name was not mentioned on the deed.


  1. Joh. Jacob-3, baptized June 1, 1736, had a will dated March 1, 1813 in Barren County, Kentucky. He married Elizabeth Hambler, who died after 1820 in Kentucky. He had lived in Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1771 and may be the same as the man in 1782 in Bedford County, Virginia. He was in Lincoln County, Virginia, 1788-1792. This later became Lincoln County, Kentucky. He may have been living with his son, John-4, at the time of his death. This man had a son named Jacob-4 and some researchers think that he was the father of our JACOB. However, after careful consideration, this researcher thinks that LAWRENCE is the father of our JACOB, rather than this man. His children included:

1. Catherine/Katey-4, born about 1766, married Benjamin Lay. Her second husband was David Fortney. She died before her father’s will.

2. Joseph-4, married Mary Adams and lived in Washington County, Kentucky, in 1800 and moved to Lincoln, Missouri, by 1811. He died in Missouri about 1845, according to Jean Creswick.

3. Jacob-4 is also included in his children. Though there is no 100% guarantee in genealogy, this author believes that this Jacob is not my ancestor. However, we are always open to discussion and proofs. Possibly other data will be uncovered in the future to cinch the theories. Other children attributed to Jacob-3 are Mary, Elizabeth, John, and Sarah. [Jean Creswick] However, if Jacob-3 was the father of Henry of Sumner, then he would also have had sons named Adam and Isaac.

This Jacob-3 had apparently been in Loudoun County in December, 1771, when he leased land from Thomas Ludwell Lee. It was leased to him and his wife, Elizabeth, and named his first son, Joseph-4. It was a “three-lives lease.” The land was located in the line of Matthias Dawson. The rent was two pounds current money yearly and the taxes and the quitrents. They had to build, within three years, “one good tobacco house framed or split logged, 30 by 20 feet, or a barn of the same dimensions, and one good dwelling house with an outside chimney. Other houses and buildings thereto and plant 100 winter apple trees and 100 peach trees and keep the same well trimed and pruned under a lawful fence.” [Deed Book K, 1774-1775, pg 64-68, Loudoun Co., VA]

He would sell his interest in this same tract of land in 1775 to Harmin Pister for 143 pounds and 10 shillings current Virginia money. [Deed Book L, 1775-1778, pg 77-69A, Loudoun Co., VA]


  1. Anna Regina-3, baptized May 5, 1739.


  1. Maria Barbara-3, born May 9, 1742.


8. Hans Diebold-3, born August 17, 1745.


The younger children were not mentioned on the ship’s manifest, as they were under age. Their father’s signature was their guarantee to the government.


Immigrants


Using a combination of American and European records from the Lutheran church, we know MICHAEL HAUDENSCHEIDT-3 arrived in America aboard the Dragon on October 17, 1749, along with his father and his brother and other siblings. He had married in Soultzback [Germany/France] MARIA DORTHEA SEIPEL, in 1749, the daughter of JOHAN SEIPEL of Preuschdorf. [German Pioneers] He apparently was in New Jersey [Revolutionary Pension of Lawrence Houdeshell] before he moved to Loudoun County, Virginia, by 1768. [Ibid.]

First-Generation Americans

The family apparently moved to Loudoun County, Virginia. The 1769 tax list of Cameron Parish, John Lane’s list, listed three households: [1] MICHAEL HOUDESHELL, [2] Jacob Hardershell, and in that household was a “son” named Adam, and [3] Henry “Hartershell.”

In 1771, the list of John Minor in the same parish listed: [1] MICHAEL HOWDERSHELL, with LAWRENCE in the household, [2] Henry Hadershell and [3] Jacob Howdershell with Adam Hamblin in the household. [Could this have been the previously listed “Adam Houdeshell?] The families had intermarried with the Hamblin family.

By 1772, the list in John Minor’s district included only two households, [1] Jacob with Adam Hamblin in the household was still there, as were [2] MICHAEL and LAWRENCE in the same household.

In 1773, MICHAEL and LAWRENCE were still in the household together and Jacob was living alone.

In 1774, [1] Henry Howdershell was listed, along with [2] MICHAEL and LAWRENCE still in the same household. [3] Jacob Howdershell was also listed separately in the parish.

In 1775, the list was three households which included [1] Jacob, [2] Henry, along with his son Phillip, and the third household consisted of [3] MICHAEL, with LAWRENCE and Michael, Jr.

In 1777, the list of John Minor’s was [1] Jacob, [2] Henry, and [3] MICHAEL, all in separate households.

The list for 1779 listed in James Jennings’ district was Jacob Stone with George Winters and [1] Jacob Houdeshell in one household, and a second household contained [2] MICHAEL, Sr., and Michael, Jr. [Where was LAWRENCE?]

The list of William Stanhope’s in 1782 listed “MIKE” HOWDERSHELL, Sr., and Michael, Jr., and John, all in the same household. No others were listed

In 1784, James Jennings’ list contained MICHAEL HOUDESHELL and John in the household.

In 1787, the lists for Loudoun County contained [1] MICHAEL and John in one household and [2] LAWRENCE and JACOB in another. This would give us a birth date of approximately 1771 for JACOB. MICHAEL, paid his own tax, 0 0 0 7 11 and also for John, just a poll tax [Since Michael’s household had no poll tax for himself, this would indicate an elderly man or a non-resident]. LAWRENCE’s Revolutionary pension states that in 1787 he moved to Shenandoah County, Virginia, where he lived until 1800. At that point, he moved to Rockingham County, where he was still living in 1850.

A later-found Jacob Houdeshell, listed in Rockingham County, Virginia, on the census of 1810, living near MICHAEL, Michael, Jr., and LAWRENCE is suspicious for being the son of LAWRENCE, and may yet prove to be the son of LAWRENCE; however, it is not yet proven conclusively that this is the case.

Following this man Jacob Houdeshell on the subsequent census listing, we find him in 1840 in Faquier Co., Virginia, listed as age 30 to 40, with no children in the house, a wife age 30-40, and a female age 70-80. In 1850, this man is still resident there with an age listed as 55, a wife named Pamela, several children, ages 17 to 4 years old, and a 61-year-old John T. Houdeshell in the house, and a woman named Elizabeth Houdeshell, age 81. This looks suspiciously like LAWRENCE’s son, Jacob, except, he would have been too young to have been the Jacob listed on LAWRENCE’s taxes, with a birth date of about 1771. This Jacob would have been born in 1795, or a generation later than our JACOB. Even if he had been the oldest in the 1810 age-range, [26], he would have had a birth date no earlier than 1784, making him still too young to be the man listed in the earlier tax lists. It appears to this author that this Jacob is probably a grandson or nephew to LAWRENCE, not his son. We may assume that the Elizabeth Houdeshell, age 81, living in the home with this Jacob, is probably hismother since she isn’t old enough to be his grandmother (he is 55). Since she was living with the yonger family since before 1840 on the census, it is a safe guess that she was a widow before 1840, and we know LAWRENCE was still alive in 1850, though his wife appears to be dead. LAWRENCE’S wife was named SUSANNAH as well. The younger Jacob is certainally young enough to be a grandson, or possibly even great grandson to the nearly 100 year old LAWRENCE in 1850, though.

In 1789, John Minor’s list had duplicate listings for MICHAEL, Sr., and Michael, Jr. who were both listed twice.


Children of

Johannes Hans “Michael” Houdeshell-3 and Maria Dorthea Seitel

Diebold Haudenscheldt-1;Hans Michael-2;Hans Michael-3;Lawrence-4; Jacob-5;Elizabeth-6


  1. Adam Houdeshell-4, born October 3, 1774, in Loudoun county, Virginia, died March 3, 1848, in Meigs County, Ohio.


  1. John Houdeshell-4, believed to have married Sarah Harris August 25, 1801, in Culpepper County, Virginia, and died by the summer of 1812. The children were mentioned in the grandfather’s will and included Mary and Joseph.


  1. George Houdeshell-4, born about 1770 in Loudoun County, and believed to be the man who left a will in 1836 in Gallia County, Ohio, married September 28, 1802, to Susan Zerkle in Shenandoah County, Virginia.


  1. Michael Houdeshell-4, by tradition born March 4, 1760, died in Hocking County, Ohio, February 9, 1832. He lived in Loudoun County, Virginia [taxed there 1775-1784] and lived in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1810, and in Ohio between 1820 and 1830. He married Barbara, the daughter of ADAM RADER


  1. Elizabeth Houdeshell-4, who married a Mr. Shaver.


  1. LAWRENCE HOUDESHELL-4, born April 13, 1751, when the family lived in New Jersey, and who died September 8, 1852, in Augusta County, Virginia, married SUSANNAH RADER. She was the daughter of ADAM RADER and MARGARET MARY ZIMMERMAN. LAWRENCE was a Revolutionary soldier. [See pension.]



In 1791, Michael “of Shenandoah County, Virginia” sold his lease on 198 ½ acres of land to Absalom Hawley. Was this the son of LAWRENCE, or his father, MICHAEL? Henry Howdershell sold his lease of 1773 in 1778.



Second Generation Americans


The children of Lawrence Houdeshell-4 and Susannah Rader

Diebold Haudenscheldt-1;Hans Michael-2;Hans Michael-3;Lawrence-4; Jacob-5;


  1. Michael Houdeshell-5, who married Catherine Reader [Rader?] and lived in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1850. He was listed on his father’s pension.


  1. Elizabeth Houdeshell-5, baptized October 9, 1785, in Loudoun County, Virginia, married February 1, 1803, in Rockingham, Virginia, to John McLaughlin.


  1. David Houdeshell-5, married December 26, 1827, in Augusta County, Virginia, to Margaret Cook.


  1. Adam Houdeshell-5, married Mary Sine, February 20, 1822, in Shenandoah County, Virginia.

  1. Catherine Houdeshell-5, married Peter Frieze, in 1804 in Rockingham County, Virginia.


  1. Lorenzo Houdershell-5, had a son Lorenzo, Jr., born 1814 in Rockingham County, Virginia.


  1. Susan Houdeshell-5


  1. JACOB HOUDESHELL-5, born about 1771-1772, moved to Sumner County, Tennessee, and married ELIZABETH WILSON in 1793. A younger Jacob was listed on the Faquier Co., VA census in 1850 [age 55] and some researchers attribute that Jacob as the son of LAWRENCE. This author disagrees, but is open to proofs either way.


LAWRENCE’s pension states that in 1787 he moved to Shenandoah County, Virginia, where he resided until 1800, when he moved to Rockingham, Virginia. He lived in Rockingham until after 1850, but was living in Augusta County when he died at over 100 years of age. He had a son, Michael, with whom he lived in his later years. LAWRENCE is listed on the 1787 Loudoun County Tax list and JACOB is there, with LAWRENCE paying his tax. That same year, Jacob [the elder] is listed as living in Lincoln County, Virginia [which is now Kentucky]. At that point, an older man named “John, Sr.” is also listed in Loudoun County, along with the listing of MICHAEL and LAWRENCE.

Backtracking into 1750 New Jersey, we find that the name found as “Houdeyshelt” [and all variations] was originally Haaschild [or some variation] in Europe. In New Jersey, it became “Housell” and “Housel.” It was originally of Dutch or German origin. Say them all fast, and they show a common origin. Apparently, some of the family, or their relations, stayed in New Jersey and did not move to Virginia when our group did.

There are several men with the name Hauschild or Housel [and variations] in Hunterdon County, Amwell Township, New Jersey, who, due to the repeating names of variations of Jacob, Michael, and John, may be related to our men. The parish register for the German Reformed Church of Alexandria, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, 1763-1802, gives a great deal of information on these families. Many of the Germans were members of the German Reformed Church, and a notation is made in the records that the Presbyterians and the German Reformed churches worshipped together at the same house. The area had some Scots-Irish Presbyterian settlers, as well as the Germans, who mainly came to Western New Jersey from Pennsylvania.


The trustees of the said church and congregation known as the Dutch and English Presbyterian Church and congregation of Alexandria. The Presbyterians and the German Dutch Reformed Protestants were so closely allied in doctrine as to cordially associate in worship and fellowship.


The German Reformed pastor was the Reverend Joseph Dallicker, VDM in 1763. He was the first of that denomination in the area.

The wills of three Hauschild brothers were recorded in Hunterdon County, two of them only a few months apart, and probated on the same date a few months after they were written in 1761. Brothers, Jacob, Mathias, and Johannes Housell, were mentioned in each other’s wills. This was about the same time LAWRENCE’s pension says he moved to Virginia. These names would correspond to “Jacob, Michael or Matthew, and John” in English. Though this group of three brothers were not our three men, the similar Christian names with the unusual surname points to a possible relationship as yet undiscovered.

Though his father was still paying his tax in 1771, LAWRENCE must have married at about age 19, in 1770, and JACOB was probably born around 1771 or 1772 in Loudoun County. JACOB was still there on the 1787 tax list, so we know he was not in Tennessee at that point.

LAWRENCE’s pension says that he moved to Shenandoah in 1787, probably shortly after the tax list was made. JACOB may have moved over to Sumner about that same time. The family does not appear to have been affluent, and would require a young man reaching maturity to seek new opportunities. Most families tended to be “serial” migrators, i.e., other family members would follow earlier ones. We know that Henry, JACOB’s cousin, was already in Sumner, so he may have influenced JACOB’s choice of places to seek his fortune.


LAWRENCE enlisted in 1776 and marched from Loudoun County as a volunteer under Captain Coxe and Lt. McLane in the Loudoun Militia and served a tour of three months at Alexandria where he was employed in erecting batteries and was in no engagement with the enemy during this time. The same year he marched again from Loudoun as volunteer under Capt. Radigan to Grankstown in Pennsylvania against the Indians. It had been reported that a man named Hansen had been killed in the quarter by the Indians, but no engagement was had with them. there were two companies in the detachments and he had forgotten the other captain’s name. [The Revolutionary pension application of Lawrence Houdeshell.]

Signed with his mark


LAWRENCE was probably a married man when he served in the Revolution. He was at least 26 years old. Many of the soldiers in the private class were quite young, so he was an “old man” among them. LAWRENCE’s pension was attested to by Joseph Cline and John Harmon “there being no resident clergyman in the vicinity of the neighborhood.”

LAWRENCE lived to be quite an old man and a part of his pension application, written in 1850 when he was 99 years old, requests additional aid or pension money. He was living with his son, Michael, at the time and was receiving only $18 per year. His pension was actually $20, but his “agent” was receiving $2 of that. A local physician wrote an indignant letter requesting additional pension for this very poor man. It appears that the son, Michael, was very poor, as well.

In researching this line, by any spelling, we find that the name is quite rare and there are few records. Apparently, the Virginia family, at least, was poor and left few records.

Adam Howdyshell, probably the son of the older Jacob, and brother of Henry, married Mary Bainter in Rockingham in 1810. He and his wife had a daughter Julia Frances. John, brother of Henry, married Sarah Harris in Culpepper County, on August 25, 1801.

There are still some obvious holes in the early genealogy of the Houdeshell family. Some may never be resolved, nevertheless, there is enough information that we can at least get an overall picture of the family, if not an absolute guarantee that we have the correct direct lineage “down pat.” The above information is included in the hope that future research may uncover more and better proofs on “which Jacob” is the correct line.


Chapter

The Wilsons

JACOB HOUDESHELL’s wife, ELIZABETH WILSON-2, came from the Scots-Irish clan which had come to Sumner County early, during the time the Indians were a day-to-day threat. Her father was JAMES “Shooty” WILSON-1, who was named on the 1787 tax list, along with two other men of that surname, Major David and John Wilson. Both of these men named sons “James.”

This was an extremely difficult family to “sort out.” There are many references to men named James Wilson to which a particular “James Wilson” cannot be ascribed. There are many secondary sources, histories, and other researchers who seem as confused about this family as this author has been. The data presented here also probably contains some errors as well.

We do know that the WILSON family was of Scots-Irish origin and was generally a strong Presbyterian one. They came to Sumner County when it was still part of North Carolina. JACOB’s cousin, Henry Howdershell, had come with the flotilla in 1780, and some of ELIZABETH’s relatives as well. Some of her cousins fought for the American Revolution from the Cumberland. The clan was so highly prolific, migrated so much, and used heirloom names so much, it is quite difficult to sort them all out. One group moved into Eastern Tennessee as early as the 1760s. They were some of the “long hunters” who stayed to settle the area. [Revolutionary War Pension of Robert Wilson]


The Wilsons, many of them, were frontier rangers and may have been with Christian or other expeditions visiting this frontier of North Carolina. The Pennsylvania Wilsons were related to the Augusta County Virginia Wilsons, and some of them owned land on the Virginia Frontier. The North Carolina Wilsons came from Chester County, Pennsylvania. [The Wilson Family, from the data of Mrs. Robert Moore.]

These families were also found in Lancaster, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and in Cecil County, Maryland. The first of the “long hunters” came to the Cumberland [Tennessee] region in the 1760s from Virginia and North Carolina. They usually came through and hunted buffalo and deer for meat and hides, stayed a few months, and then left. In the meantime, they explored this “island” in the wilderness of mountains and hostile Indian tribes. Just before the American Revolution, a few came to start a settlement. [Durham, The Great Leap Westward.]

About 1780, there were over 200 men, mostly Scots-Irish, in the territory that was claimed at that time by North Carolina. Only a few of these men stayed, or came back with their families, to permanently settle in what became Sumner County, Tennessee. The Wilson family moved in and quickly took their places. It was a frontier in many aspects, though, and the men quickly tried to establish law and order and courts. [Durham, The Great Leap Westward.]

JAMES “SHOOTY” WILSON, ELIZABETH’s father, was a part of this clan, who had migrated from Ulster in Northern Ireland into Pennsylvania before 1735, then into Virginia, then before 1751, to Mecklenburg, Rowan, Orange, and Iredell Counties in North Carolina. Some of them stayed there until the time of the Revolution and then moved on up to the wilds of Indian lands. Many of them fought in the Revolution and received grants in Tennessee which they could exchange, sell, or settle on the land themselves. Many chose to settle on their lands.

The Wilson name is the eighth most common name in Scotland today and is common in England and Wales, as well. It is a contraction of “Will’s son.” Surnames were not adopted in the British Isles until between 1300 and 1500. The higher classes were the first to adopt surnames. Many times a name such as “Peter, son of Will” or Peter, Will’s son” would not be inherited by the next generation. Eventually, most families settled on a surname which would be inherited through the paternal lines. The name “Wilson” can be either British, Scots, Welch, or Irish. Sometimes, the lower classes might take the name of their landlord even though they were not blood kin. [Some Wilsons of Ulster.]

King James I of England [King James VII of Scotland] hated the rebel Celtic Irish and in 1609 sent hordes of Lowland Scots and Englishmen into the northern Irish “plantations” to displace the native Irish. He gave grants to English and Scots Undertakers and they, in turn, recruited Scots and English Borderers to populate their plantations and pay them rents.

The rosters of English and Scots Undertakers [1608-1620] in Northern Ireland indicate that there were no Scots plantation owners by the name of Wilson or Willson in Northern Ireland. There was an English Undertaker, though, named William Willson, who lived in the precinct of Liffer [now Lifford] in the Barony of Raphoe, County Donegal. This county is immediately west of the County of Londonderry [Derry] which for centuries represented a route of migration between Scotland and Ireland.

We are reasonably sure that at least one of the HOLMES families who was from this area is connected with our WILSON clan and one of our two WILSON families. [Some Wilsons of Ulster.]

Whether the original Wilson stock came from England or Scotland is, at this time, unknown. However, they apparently stayed in the Scots-Irish settlement long enough, and probably intermarried with the Scots emigrants, that by the time of the American migration, they were “Scots-Irish.”

By the time the families got to America, the surname Wilson was firmly established, as were the Christian names used and reused by the group. There were so many “James Wilsons” in early Sumner County that it is almost impossible to completely untangle the web of documents, but our JAMES was part of the early group which included Major David Wilson. David Wilson is sometimes reputed in error to be the David Wilson in Mecklenburg who was the son of Samuel Wilson. That Samuel Wilson had a son named David, but it was not Major David of Revolutionary fame. Whether our JAMES was brother or cousin to Major David is unclear. The two families were close neighbors, fought Indians together, bought and sold land, attended estate sales together and were guardians for the children of their neighbors and relatives, signed deeds, wills and named their children the family “heirloom” names. JAMES, though probably somewhat younger, was a peer of David’s, and not the same man as David’s son, James A. Wilson.

JAMES “SHOOTY” WILSON was born before 1757 and may have been born in Pennsylvania, maybe Lancaster or Cumberland, or he may have been born while the family was in Augusta County, Virginia. It is remotely possible he was born in North Carolina, the son of some of the early immigrants there. He most likely grew up in either Orange or Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and was probably a Revolutionary veteran, though we have no proof. He didn’t live long enough to apply for a pension, and it is impossible to distinguish him from the many other men of the same name in the muster rolls.

We do know from deeds and tax records, however, that he was resident in Sumner County and had a land grant there prior to 1788. [Sumner Deed Book A, page 2 & 3.] The proofs that this is our specific man are much like an algebra equation, however.

The Wilsons were “serial migrators,” with first one relative coming to an area and then more following. The reuse of “heirloom” Christian names for their children further confuses the records. In general, the clan landed in Pennsylvania with friends and relatives from home, then migrated down the Great Wagon Road to [or through] Augusta County, Virginia. The first groups arrived in Beverly’s Manor in Augusta County, Virginia, in the early 1740s, and many left that area in the 1750s for North Carolina, having stayed, at most, one generation. A few of this group came directly from Ireland to Augusta, bypassing the Pennsylvania landing. Others of the group landed in Pennsylvania and went directly through Virginia into North Carolina. A ROBERT WILSON, whose will was the first one published in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1745, was also the author’s ancestor. His daughter married THOMAS BELL, and she and THOMAS moved, along with her sister, who had married John Holmes, into North Carolina in the mid-1740s. Their children also came to Sumner County in the early 1800s. The two lines are most likely related.

So many of the families had left the Virginia area by the mid-1750s that the Indians became a problem again in that area. The area was almost depopulated by the departing of the Scots-Irish clans into North Carolina. They formed primarily two settlements in North Carolina; Cathey’s Irish settlement in Rowan/Anson/Iredell, and just to the south, in Mecklenburg. There was a great deal of communication between the settlements, though. Frequently the Presbyterian ministers would go from one settlement to the other preaching at each church, in turn. The settlers also wrote “home” encouraging others to follow them into new lands. The fact that the vast majority of these people were literate helped with the communication problems. They kept ties going for several generations by way of letters. Ties would have died out in one generation without the literacy rate being quite high. Family ties and blood relationships were very important to these people, who calculated kinship to distant cousins. The term “foreigner” was used within the group to denote anyone from another area or another state who was not related by blood. Foreigners were looked on with suspicion within the group. This was a custom held over from Scotland, transplanted into Northern Ireland, and brought to America with their migrations. The word is still used with that meaning today in the areas settled by the Scots Irish. [Tinkling Spring.]

Because Major David Wilson was such a prominent early settler, much effort has been given to tracing his genealogy by many researchers. Some of the earlier published research was quite easily proven to be in error. Since David was a friend, and most likely also a cousin, of our JAMES SHOOTY WILSON, the line of David is of some interest to us, and by learning something about David and his other relatives, we can shed a little light on the group to which our JAMES belonged, and distinguish some hard data about him from the records.

The man some early published researchers have credited, in error, as being “Major David Wilson’s” father is Samuel Wilson, who was born in Ulster in 1710, and migrated to Pennsylvania and then to North Carolina about 1751 or 1752. He did have a son named David, who probably married one of the McDonnel girls in Mecklenburg. We are sure Major David’s wife, who later became his widow, was named Jane or Jean. These two names are the same, not two different women. Early deeds around 1762 in Mecklenburg list Major David’s wife’s name as Jean/Jane and his will also lists her name as Jean.

Major David lived on the east side of the county of Mecklenburg and Samuel lived on the west. Samuel was probably not much older than Major David. Living near Major David on Coddle Creek in the easternmost part of the county were several other men named Wilson. There was a man named James Wilson as well as Zacheus Wilson, Major David’s brother. Zacheus lived in the part that became Carabus County and did the surveying work for the new county. He would also move to Sumner, but not until 1796 after his wife had died. Samuel Wilson, the father of the other David, may have been a cousin, or possibly even a brother to Major David. A Samuel Wilson who moved to Sumner, Tennessee, who has been thought by some to be Samuel-brother-of-Major-David may actually have been a cousin. One of his direct descendants stated in the 1800s that Samuel was a cousin of Major David’s, not a brother. [Deeds of Mecklenburg, NC]

The “real story” on Major David Wilson seems to be that he was born about 1735 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania [now in Cumberland County], and moved with his parent[s?] and possibly his [three?] brothers, Robert Wilson, Sr., Zaccheus Wilson, “Jr.,” and possibly a brother named Samuel Wilson, and their three sisters [names not known for sure] to Mecklenburg, North Carolina, about 1750 or 1760.


Zaccheus Wilson and his brothers, Robert and David, came to Mecklenburg County about 1755 with the Augusta, Virginia, Congregation of Rev. Alexander Craighead; it is believed that their mother, the widow Wilson, accompanied them. [Worth, The Mecklenburg Signers and Their Neighbors.]


This places Major David Wilson squarely within the group from Augusta with which our other ROBERT WILSON line is affiliated, again underscoring the possibility of a connection by blood in that line as well.

Some published sources state that Major David and his brothers are the sons of “Zacheus Wilson, Sr.” and his wife, Frances, who lived in Mecklenburg, North Carolina. This is an error, because after this was published, Zaccheus Wilson, Sr., and his wife, Frances, were found in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, where this Zaccheus Wilson died, leaving his wife, Frances, and his sons, Zaccheus, Joseph, Isaac, and William. He had left his business in North Carolina in the hands of his son, Isaac, and moved to participate in the land lottery. [The Wilson Family, pg 8.]

This misidentification likely arose from the fact that at one time in his life, David’s brother, Zacheus, was called “Zacheus, Jr.” Later he was designated “Sr.” The designations of Junior and Senior at this time in history did not mean father and son, as they frequently do today, but rather, they were used to designate the older and younger of a pair of men living near each other who had the same given and surnames. Apparently, that Zacheus Wilson, Sr., and his wife, Frances, left Mecklenburg and were found in Ogelthorpe, Georgia, after many of the erroneous conclusions were drawn and published. This is one of those instances where the lack of knowledge of the naming customs of an era and area lead to the wrong conclusions from the available data.

Major David’s brother, Zacheus Wilson, is mentioned several times as one of the signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which predated the one we now think of as the “Declaration of Independence.” Many of the Wilson family fought for the Revolution and were active in the political arena and helped form the new government. Zacheus was another popular “heirloom” name with the Wilson families and we find it quite often. David had a brother, a son, and a son-in-law, all named Zacheus Wilson! [Revolutionary Pension of Robert Wilson, Jr.]

Our Major David’s wife was named Jane/Jean. These two names are used interchangeably on the documents. There was another man also named “Major David Wilson” who married a woman named Jane Rowan. That man is, however, buried in Pennsylvania and is not our Major David. [Revolutionary Pension Maj. David Wilson, PA]

The names of the parents of Major David Wilson and the parents of Zacheus and their brother Robert Wilson, Sr., is at this time unknown. In 1915, however, Judge Samuel Franklin Wilson of Nashville, Tennessee, stated in a letter that the Samuel Wilson in Sumner, Tennessee, [his ancestor] was a cousin, not a brother, to Major David. A man named Samuel Wilson was in Sumner in 1780. He apparently left and we are not sure if the Samuel who was found there later was the same man or not. Most of the men who were in the Sumner area in 1780 left, only a handful actually came to stay. [The Wilson Family, pg 3]

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where Major David Wilson lived, was a rebellious area just prior to the Revolutionary War. The independent Scots-Irish who settled the area were, first of all, not great lovers of the British. The Reverend Alexander Craighead, the minister who had been instrumental in establishing the group of Presbyterian Churches in that area, which included Steel Creek, where David and his brother Zacheus were prominent, had been rabidly anti-British. He wrote papers denouncing the King’s right to hold the throne, or to rule over Presbyterians. He had brought together a group of like-minded individuals in Pennsylvania. The Quakers tolerated him, but he found it politic to move to the backwoods of first Virginia, and then, North Carolina, away from prying eyes and ears of the established government. He was a zealot and it was no wonder that Mecklenburg was the first to produce men willing to die for the Rebellion against England. North Carolina had also hosted the Regulator uprising in 1771, which was the first rebellion in the area. Men fought against the unjust and greedy sheriffs and tax assessors. People who later supported the Revolution in 1776 and fought gallantly, such as Richard Caswell, did not support the regulator movement and acted to suppress it. [Hunter, Sketches of Western North Carolina]

Education was very important to the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, but the British government was attempting to restrain growth of educational institutions of regional cultures in direct ways. The Governor did not want universal education. For example, in 1769, the back-country Presbyterians founded a college, called Queen’s College, in Mecklenburg. A charter was reluctantly granted by the Colonial Legislature, but when it began to operate, the imperial authorities canceled the charter. They also canceled the Colonial Legislature’s permission for Presbyterian ministers to solemnize marriages. These decisions became symbolic. The Mecklenburg petition was the result. [Hunter, Sketches of Western North Carolina]

Major David Wilson was an officer in the Revolution and fought at Ramsurs Mills. His brother, Zacheus, also fought, and the sons of his older brother, Robert, Sr., all fought except for the youngest two. Robert, Sr., was too old to fight, his sons’ pension applications stated, but was, nevertheless, taken prisoner at one point by the British in 1780. Robert, Sr.’s sons who fought were Joseph, born 1749; Aaron, born 1751; John H., born 1753; James, born September 25, 1757; Robert, Jr., born 1760; Samuel, born 1762; Thomas, born 1763; Zacheus, born 1765; Josiah, born October, 1768; and Moses, born July, 1769. Moses and Josiah were the only two of this group still alive in 1849. Several of Robert, Sr.’s sons moved to Sumner County, at least for a while. [Revolutionary Pension of Robert Wilson, Jr.] Others moved to Eastern Tennessee quite early. James, son of Robert Wilson, Sr., was investigated as a possible identity for our JAMES WILSON, but James-son-of-Robert was traced to eastern Tennessee where he died. He could not have been our JAMES.

Robert Wilson, Jr., married Jane McDowell in 1783 or 1784 in Mecklenburg and then moved within a year down to Georgia. He stayed there until about 1791, when he moved to Sumner County, Tennessee. He stayed there until he died in 1819. Robert Wilson, Jr., is listed in the County Court Minutes in 1794, and last listed in 1800, when he made a deed to Eli Giles, which was witnessed by David Wilson. Some of Robert Wilson, Sr.’s sons stayed permanently in Sumner and some moved on to other areas. [Revolutionary Pensions of Robert Wilson, Jr., and of Samuel Wilson, sons of Robert, Sr.]

Major David Wilson, who later came to Sumner, started his career in the Revolution as Captain. A History of Rowan County, North Carolina, by Reverend Jethro Rumple, mentions David on page 143. David was involved in a battle in February, 1781, in which General Davidson was killed at Cowan’s Ford. General Davidson was killed wearing the borrowed “great coat” of the Reverend Dr. Samuel E. McCorkle. David Wilson and Richard Barry, both of whom were at the day’s skirmish, went back by night and buried the General at Hopewell Church Yard by lantern light.

After the Revolution, Major David Wilson stayed in Mecklenburg for a few years and then departed for the Cumberland Settlements in 1786, taking his wife, Jean/Jane, and most, if not all, of his children. He and Jean/Jane had been married prior to 1762 [when her name is first found on Mecklenburg County, NC deeds]. According to his will, Jane/Jean probably survived him.

David’s brother, Zacheus, married Elizabeth Conger Ross, a widow, and their sons were Jonathan Wilson, who married the daughter of his uncle, Major David Wilson, Stephen Wilson, James “Smokey Jim” S. Wilson, and Isaac Wilson. Their daughter was Mary, who married James, the son of Samuel Wilson, in Sumner County. All of his children, except Isaac, moved to Sumner County in 1796 after Zacheus’ wife, Lizzie, died. Zacheus was an elder in the Steel Creek Presbyterian Church and a surveyor for the new county of Cabarrus, North Carolina, into which his land fell after it was divided off from Mecklenburg. James S. Wilson [“Smokey Jim”] has a DAR line traced back to him.

Cumberland Settlements; Early Tennessee


Several men named Wilson came to “The Cumberland Settlements” as early as 1780. Three Wilson men named Ralph, John, and Samuel Wilson, signed the Cumberland Compact. These men signed the articles of agreement in 1780 in which the men of the area set up a rudimentary form of government in what now called Tennessee. The compact granted to a boy, aged 16 or more, who was able to bear arms in the militia, the right to own his own land in his own name. Each of these three Wilson men took up grants on the Stones River for 640 acres [Preemptors] Since only a handful of the signers of the Compact stayed on to become permanent settlers, and since they aren’t afterwards found in later records, we can assume that these men moved on to other areas.

The Cumberland Compact was an extremely important document to the early settlers in attempting to establish a legitimate government and to provide a lawful society out of a rough frontier anarchy. They provided for judges, courts, welfare for widows and orphans of men killed fighting Indians, and for their own protection by establishing forts. They also provided an orderly way for registering land claims.


Whereas, from our remote situation and want of proper officers for the administration of justice, no regular proceedings at law can be had for the punishment of offences and attainment of right, it is therefore agreed that until we can be relieved by government from the many evils and inconveniences arising therefrom, the judges or triers to be appointed as before directed, when qualified, shall be and are hereby declared a proper court of jurisdiction for the recovery of any debt or damage, ... for anything done among ourselves in this our settlement on Cumberland.

Setting forth that we are confident that our settlement is not within the boundaries of any nation or tribe of Indians, as some of us know and all believe that they have fairly sold and received satisfaction for the land or territories where we reside and therefore, we hope we may not be considered as acting against the laws of our country or the mandates of government.


Actually, they did know that the Indians of several tribes claimed the area as hunting territory. The settlers chose to ignore this, however. By 1783, the Indians were preying upon the little settlement so much that their number was reduced to about 70 men.


The manifold sufferings and distress that the settlers here have from time to time undergone, even almost from our first settling, with the desertion of the greater number of the first adventurers, being so discouraging to the remaining few that all administration of justice seemed to cease from amongst us, ... which, however weak, whether in constitution, administration, or execution, yet has been construed in our favor, against those whose malice or interest would insinuate us a people fled to a hiding place from justice.


It was rumored that the Cumberland settlement was the hiding place of Tories fleeing justice, but it does not seem to have been true. Though there were a few Tory settlements in Kentucky. Several men named Wilson fought from Tennessee, and stated in their Revolutionary pensions that they had moved to the “Cumberland settlements in North Carolina” as small children in the 1760s and fought for the Revolution from there in the 1770s. They drew their pensions in Carter County, Tennessee, so were not Sumner County residents toward the ends of their lives, but might have been earlier, since “Cumberland” encompassed a much larger area than we now think of as the Cumberland Area. Joseph Wilson, Benjamin Wilson, and Aaron Wilson were listed as justices of the peace in 1780 to 1787 in Washington County, these men were the sons of Robert Wilson, Sr., the brother of Major David of Sumner. [Revolutionary Pensions of Samuel and Robert Wilson, Jr.]


Children of Major David and Jean Wilson


  1. James A. Wilson, who probably married Rachel Harrington, the daughter of Charles, and may have later married, as a second wife, Peggy Graham, July 5, 1803. He died after 1850 in Texas. His father gave him several grants of land.


  1. A daughter who married William Street, one source says her given name was Ibby.


  1. William Wilson, whose wife was probably Sarah Brevard. He may have been the oldest son.


  1. Mary Wilson, who married Mark Dodd. Their marriage took place December 22, 1806, with Lawrence Owen as bondsman.


  1. David Wilson, Jr., apparently married Jenny [Jane] Carothers. Sarah [Sally] Carothers listed him as her heir in her will in 1819 in Sumner County and referred to her “sister Jane Wilson.” David was either the witness or executor of several Carothers estates and wills. He had a son named James. His last wife was Sarah Diggers, a widow. Secondary sources list his death as after 1850 in Grayson County, Texas.


  1. A daughter who married Jonathan Wilson, the son of David’s brother, Zacheus. Her name may have been Narcissa. This author had seen no primary sources of this woman’s given name. She is frequently listed in secondary source material. Some secondary material refers to some diaries in private hands that may list her name.


  1. Zacheus Wilson was David’s son, and his name is difficult to differentiate in the records from the several others of the same name. One man named Zacheus Wilson was referred to as Sr. and one as Jr. and many as simply Zacheus. It is reasonable to think “Sr.” designated the brother of Major David and “Jr.” was probably David’s son. Samuel Wilson also had a son, Zacheus, who was mentioned in his will in 1814 as deceased. He had died about 1808, so there were at least three men with the same name living in Sumner before 1800. [Will of David Wilson, Sumner Co., TN, 1803, WB1-77]


The Name’s the Same


Because the Wilson Clan used and re-used the same given names over and over, sorting through these families can be a genealogist’s nightmare. There is much published research that has been proven to be in error. This author would caution any researcher of this line to do your own sorting out of this family, but to read as much published research as possible. There are many Revolutionary pensions available, wills, and deeds that can help sort out the “players”—but even with these, it is difficult to sort all the records for men with the same names in a given area. The family members were also great “travelers,” so proximity of residence did not always assist the researcher.

James was a common name with the Wilson clan and there were several men with this name in the early days of Sumner County. Two men named James were there as early as 1786 and one of these was probably our JAMES. County Court Minutes for July, 1787, list two men named James Wilson who were to clear a road. In October, the court records list the same two men, now termed James Wilson and James Wilson, Jr., as jurors for the next term. The designation “James Wilson, Shooting” was first used in the October, 1789, County Court Minutes as a juror for Superior Court, so we know he was there by that date without a doubt. He may have left his family back in North Carolina, though, until he got settled in the new area.

In the year 1788, a group comprised of more than 20 families, and more than 140 people, came to Sumner. The Indians were a grave threat to the travelers and it was not safe to travel in small bands, so the immigrants were escorted through the wilderness for safety. The history of Sumner, The Great Leap Westward, has a wonderful description of the early settlement.

In order to help the clerks of the court know which of the several James Wilsons the records were referring to, and lacking social security numbers or street addresses, the clerks would designate them by nick names, the names of the creeks on which they lived, or by Jr. or Sr. added to the name. Since the terms Jr. and Sr. might change, depending upon who was the oldest of two or more men at any given time, these cannot always be uniformly used to distinguish which man is referred to in the records because a man might be Jr. when he was young and Sr. when he was older.

In Sumner County, during the period from 1787 to 1820, there were many men named James Wilson, so our task of separating James Wilson from James A. Wilson, James Curley Wilson, James Smoking Wilson, James Wilson, Jr., James Wilson, Sr., James S. Wilson, James T. Wilson, James “the lunatic” Wilson, James the son of Samuel, James the son of John, James C. Wilson, James Wilson, son of Shooty, Captain James Wilson, and just plain James Wilson, is quite difficult.


Men Named James Wilson in Sumner County, Tennessee


  1. James C. Wilson, whose middle name was either “Curley” or “Corley,” was the son of Samuel Wilson, and was a county commissioner and a prominent justice of the peace for many years. He is mentioned in 1789 in Sumner tax lists. He was living in 1814, when his father Samuel died. James C. was born about 1755 in Mecklenburg, North Carolina, and died in 1818 in Sumner. He left a will naming his daughters. He was the administrator for John Wilson’s will. James S. Wilson, the son of Zacheus, David’s brother, was the security for James C. Wilson. “Curley’s” wife was named Mary Wilson Wilson and John Wilson was the bondsman for this marriage. James C. Wilson’s only surviving son was named Franklin, and his daughters were Iva, Manissa, Salina, and Emeline. He also had a grandson named James Henderson. Mary’s will confirms this. Dr. Samuel Franklin Wilson, a descendant of this James, said his grandfather, Samuel, was a cousin of Major David’s, not a brother. We do know that James C. Wilson was a very early settler in Sumner, and may be the man designated as “James, Jr.” in early records, when our JAMES was designated as “James, Sr.” [Sumner County Will Book 1, pg 28 ]. Most researchers tend to agree with the above designation of James C. Wilson. James C. Wilson’s wife is probably Mary, the daughter of Zacheus Wilson, Sr. [David’s brother.] Some writers of published data have assumed that she was the daughter of John, because John was the bondsman for the marriage, so the subject is still “open for discussion” from this author’s point of view.


  1. James Wilson, son of John Wilson, who was the son of Samuel Wilson, was probably the one called “Captain James Wilson.” He was also a county commissioner and even once at the same time with James “Curly” Wilson. He may be the other man named James who died about 1809 and left a substantial estate. John was also one of the very early settlers and lived near JAMES. [See #8.]


  1. James A. Wilson, the son of Major David. He was a frequent witness on deeds and was recorder of deeds for the county at one point. He frequently signed deeds with Major David. In 1795, David gave him land on Indian Creek and the deed reflects that he is David’s son. He may be the man who married Rachel Harrington.


  1. James S. Wilson, who died in 1836. In 1830, this James S. Wilson was listed as between 60 and 70 years old, meaning he was born between 1760 and 1770. He was several years younger than our JAMES. James S. Wilson’s land abutted our JAMES’ land. A Revolutionary service is traced to this James, so he is probably closer to age 70 than age 60 in 1830. He is probably the same man as James “Smokey Jim” Wilson, who was the son of Zacheus, David’s brother. Several sources believe Smokey Jim was a twin to Jonathan Wilson who married David’s daughter. [DAR Lineage Bk. 74, pg 167.]

James S. “Smoking Jim” Wilson, is listed in the 1787-1794 Sumner county tax records and probably arrived about 1789 or 1790. He was listed as a single poll with no land for a couple of years after our JAMES was in the county. A designation of the earlier James proves it was our JAMES, and not this man, as our JAMES is designated as “James Sh” to distinguish him from James “Curley.” This was prior to James S.’s first appearance in the records. James Curley Wilson was listed in the same October, 1789, minutes as “James Shooting Wilson, ” and they are apparently the same as the “James Wilson, and James Wilson” first mentioned. “Senior” was first mentioned in 1790 to designate our JAMES.

In 1804, Smoking Jim was listed along with our JAMES, SR., and JACOB HOUDESHELT, James Vinson, and Thomas Patton [JAMES’ next door neighbor] to survey a road to Brown’s ferry. When the list was turned in, the names were designated as ”James S. Wilson” and as plain James Wilson, along with the other men mentioned previously. Therefore, we can know James S. Wilson and Smoking Jim were the same man. Smoking Jim, the son of Zacheus, died October 31, 1836.


  1. James Wilson, who died in 1818, and whose tombstone reads “born June 15, 1788, in Orange County, North Carolina, the son of James and Sarah Wilson,” is probably the son of our JAMES SHOOTING WILSON. JAMES’ estate lists a minor son named James, for whom JACOB HOUDESHELL was guardian. Probably the same man as #6


  1. James Wilson, the lunatic. JACOB HOUDESHELL was guardian from 1809-1813 for the estate of a “lunatic” named James Wilson. In 1818, when the “lunatic’s” estate was probated, JACOB and the successor guardian of the Lunatic James, Thomas Wilson, were both there as buyers. JACOB received $60 from the estate of the “lunatic James” in 1811 for “keeping the said James for five years.” Thomas Wilson was the executor of the estate which consisted of half-interest in a spinning machine worth about $500, two horses, and a gun. JACOB and Thomas were buyers at the estate sale. He is probably the same man as #5. Since our JAMES died about 1806/7, five years from that date would have been about 1811, and would indicate that after the death of his father, that James Wilson, the lunatic, lived with his brother-in-law, JACOB.


  1. James T. Wilson, was the son of the Joseph Wilson who died in 1833. James T. was the guardian for the children of the James Wilson who died in 1809 [#8].


  1. James Wilson who died in 1809. The heirs of that James were Jonathan Wilson, Fanny Wilson, Zacheus T. Wilson, Cinthy Wilson, and Ehanon Wilson. This man also had as heir, John Parsons, his executor, and probably his son-in-law. Samuel Parson was also an heir and probably a son-in-law as well. At the estate sale for this James were Ellinor Wilson, Moses Wilson, and Jonathan, who bought items. Estimated time of birth of this man, the majority of whose children were minors, but who had married daughters, too, is age 40 to 45, giving a birth date of about 1765 to 1770. Moses Wilson may be the son of Robert Wilson, David’s Brother. We don’t know who this James WAS, but we do know several men he was NOT: He was not James A. [#3], son of David, and was not James Curley [#1], or James, son of John [#2], and he was not James S., “Smoking Jim,” Wilson, [#4.] He also could not have been James the son of Robert Wilson, Senior, the brother of David. That James died in east Tennessee according to the pension records.

  1. Captain” James Wilson may be the same man as James #8, who died in 1809 and the father of those children. He might also be the same as James #2, who resigned in 1792 from his militia post.


  1. JAMES WILSON was referred to at various times in the records as “James shooting Wilson,” “James Wilson, Sr.,” “James Wilson ‘shooty’,” and as plain “James Wilson.” Apparently, the man listed as just plain “James Wilson” on the 1787 tax list is our JAMES, and later lists clarify this before too many others by the same name appear in the records. The Sumner County tax list for October 20, 1788, listed our JAMES with one poll and 200 acres of land. Also listed were John Wilson, David Wilson, and William Wilson, probably the son of David.


  1. James Wilson, “son of Shooty.” This James was mentioned in the store accounts, and also in the estate of JAMES. He had a guardian after his father died, so this would mean that he was born after 1787. He didn’t sign off his estate, and JACOB HOUDESHELL was his guardian. This is all consistent with the James Wilson, lunatic, and also, the James Wilson, son of “JAMES WILSON, Shooty,” and the 1818 tombstone of “James Wilson, son of James and Sarah Wilson.”


  1. James Wilson, maybe our JAMES, served against the Chicamauga Indians in the 1787 campaign and received a pay voucher, #1407, on February 26, 1791, for this service [Preemptors, pg 60.]



Major David Wilson built a fort called Wilson’s Station and lived about two miles from where Gallatin, Tennessee, is now located. In 1787, a man named Robert Jones was killed at this station by Indians. Station Camp Creek runs near the city. Apparently, Indian and Sinking Creeks were about a mile apart. John Wilson also had a station. [Durham, Great Leap Westward]

The 1789 property tax and road tax lists mention David Wilson, his son, William Wilson, John Wilson, James Curley Wilson, the son of Samuel, as well as JAMES SHOOTY WILSON. Another list for the same year lists John Wilson with one poll and 352 acres, James, Jr., as a poll with no land, James Wilson as a poll with no land, and JAMES WILSON, SENIOR, with two polls and 950 acres of land. Some lists show only the land owned in Sumner County, and some show all the land owned in Tennessee. David Wilson owned 10,335 acres of land in Tennessee and had one poll. His son, William Wilson, was listed with one poll and 1,000 acres of land, none of which was in Sumner County.

The 1790 tax list, which was more or less alphabetical, showed James Curley Wilson with one poll and 620 acres, John Wilson with one poll and 3,526 acres, James Smoking Wilson, a poll only, David Wilson with two polls and 11,070 acres, William Wilson, one poll and 1,000 acres, and JAMES SHOOTING WILSON with one poll and 900 acres.

A year or so later, the tax listing for land owned in Sumner County is separated by militia companies rather than alphabetically, and lists in Captain King’s Company, Thomas and Robert Patten [Next door neighbors to our JAMES], then Henry Houdeshell [whose land abutted theirs] and John Wilson [probably son of Samuel] with one poll and 200 acres, then James Wilson, Jr., a poll and no land, then JAMES WILSON, Sr., with two polls and 382 acres. Nine entries later, it lists William Wilson, one poll and no Sumner County land, then James S. Wilson, one poll and no land. A little ways farther, it lists Zacheus Wilson [this Zacheus may be David’s son, or his great-nephew, the son of Joseph, but could not be his brother, as Zacheus, Sr., did not come there until after 1796] with 250 acres, and Samuel with two polls and no land. David is mentioned near the end of this list of Captain King’s company with two polls and 1,183 acres of Sumner County lands. So, we know by 1790, JAMES was sometimes designated as “James Wilson, Sr.”

In the tax list for the next year the list shows Robert, who was the son of Robert Wilson, Sr., David’s older brother. In a list published for 1792, Joseph Wilson, Senior, Joseph G. Wilson, John Wilson, and Samuel Wilson, the father of James Curley Wilson, are mentioned. William Wilson was also listed and Zacheus Wilson, as well. This Zacheus Wilson could not be David’s brother, who arrived in 1796, so he may be David’s nephew, the son of his brother, Robert Wilson, Sr.

In 1793, Captain King’s Company’s list mentions Zacheus Wilson as having one poll and 258 acres, JAMES WILSON with two polls and 375 acres, and Samuel Wilson, with two polls and no land in Sumner. Another James and John Wilson were in the same district. We know that our JAMES had an older son named Joseph Wilson. This would probably indicate that either Joseph was age 16 that year, and therefore taxable as a poll, or that JAMES had acquired a slave taxable as a poll.

It was reasonably easy to trace David’s actions in the court and deed records. He was appointed to the Territorial Assembly and was the Speaker and held other offices. He was guardian for the children of his deceased friends who had been killed by the Indians. He owned between 3,000 and 11,000 acres of land, much of which he had received for his Revolutionary services as an officer. The only other concurrent David in the records was his son, who was always designated as David Wilson, Jr. It is more difficult to determine from the records just what offices our JAMES held due to the large number of men with the name James Wilson, and because many of the records do not differentiate between the men. Little can be known if the only designation is “James Wilson.”

Governor Blount was appointed Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio in 1790 by President Washington. Blount arrived in the territory and lived in east Tennessee. An ordinance had been passed in 1787 that when the territory contained 5,000 free male inhabitants they were entitled to a Territorial Legislature. By 1795, they took up the question of statehood. A census was made and there were 77,000 people in the area. A convention was called in Knoxville in 1796 and they agreed to form the independent State of Tennessee. It was officially adopted into the Union on June 1, 1796.

Governor Blount’s Journal records in July 1792, “Captain Wilson resigned the militia and Lieut. Thomas Patton [JAMES’ neighbor] was appointed in his place. James Wilson, Ensign.” There is no further designation of which James Wilson this referred to. We do know our JAMES was deputy county ranger, as JACOB HOUDESHELL and JAMES’ neighbor, Ephraim Farr, put up his “security” for this job. The author is not sure what the job actually entailed. Later, he became the county ranger in 1796. [Tennessee Historical Commission, The Blount, Journal.] JACOB was in Capt. James Farr’s militia detachment. [American Militia in the Frontier Wars 1790-1796, pg 144.]

David Wilson and his brother, Zacheus, were trustees of the Shiloh Presbyterian Church and received the land granted to the use of the church for a building. [Sumner County, Deeds] That land was designated as donated by Zacheus Wilson for the use of the church and located near the “church spring.” Zacheus and David had been influential at the Steel Creek Presbyterian Church in Mecklenburg, North Carolina. Zacheus was a pious and dedicated Presbyterian. The first minister was the Reverend William McGee. He was the minister until 1800, when he was succeeded by the Reverend William Hodge. [Durham, Great Leap Westward, pg 151.]

The location of the church was moved in 1869 from Desha’s Creek to a more convenient spot. The site was given by B. B. M. L. Barr and located on the Scottsville Pike, near Mr. Barr’s home, according to a newspaper account. [Sumner County News, April 13, 1961.]

A deed, dated August 28, 1816, states that James Odom gave a deed to “William Barr and Samuel McMurry, Trustees for New Shilo Presbyterian congregationfor $30.00 one acre on Deshea’s Creek.” [Sumner County Deed Book Volume 7, page 412.] This is probably the second location of the church, predating the move to the current location. [Durham, Great Leap Westward, pg 151.]

Bricks for the new church were burned on the Barr place and JAMES ESCUE was hired as the bricklayer. JAMES lived at Liberty, three miles west of Westmoreland. Rev. J. W. Hoyt dedicated the building in June of 1871. [Sumner County News, April 13, 1961.]

The early settlers erected forts from logs planted upright in the ground as stockades for protection. Because the Indians seemed to want to catch them outside the forts, they tended to travel in groups between forts. The Creek Indians apparently were always on the lookout for settlers in small numbers and would attack them if they could find them outside the safety of the stockades. Chief Double Head killed eight of the Wilson family before the wars were over.

In 1793, the year JACOB HOUDESHELL married ELIZABETH WILSON, according to The Great Leap Westward, by Walter Durham, the Creek Indians continued to raid and attack the settlers. On Bledsoe Creek they were continually harassed and several were killed, including Colonel Isaac Bledsoe, who was on the way to his fields with his workers. He was scalped and his widow wrote a letter begging for help from the authorities to keep the settlers safe from the Indians. David Wilson took the letter to Secretary Daniel Smith detailing the bravery of James Hayes. David was also among those caught in a cross fire with Indians about this same time.

In an area called the “Greenfield Tract,” 260 Indians attacked the settlers in the second largest Indian attack ever. Several settlers and several slaves were among those killed. After the attack, the militia company didn’t ride out until the next day, but found evidence the Indians, appearing to retreat, had lain in ambush waiting for pursuing whites. Fortunately, the cool heads had prevailed after the attack and the whites did not rush into the waiting Indians. There were two men named Joseph Wilson living in that area at that time. One of the Josephs was David’s nephew, the son of Robert, Sr., David’s brother. One Joseph fought the Indians and six of his children and his wife were captured. One source says his wife’s name was Elleanor Wilson. All but one of the children and his wife were released reasonably soon, but one daughter was kept by the Indians for quite some time and reportedly had a difficult time readjusting to white society.

One of the men named Joseph Wilson wrote a will in 1833 that named his wife, Sarah, daughters Polly Wilson, Eleanor Wilson, Elizabeth Wilson, Anne Wilson, Sarah Barham, Fanny Barham, and sons, James T. Wilson, Moses Wilson, and Montillion W. Wilson.

Many of the Wilson’s neighbors and eight of the Wilson family were killed in the Indian raids in the early settlement years. Archie Wilson and George Wilson were among those killed. One source says Archie was the son of one of the Joseph Wilsons.

Archie Wilson was described as “a fine young man” who had volunteered his services to protect the people at Zeigler’s Fort on the night it was attacked and destroyed by Indians. He was wounded and ran back toward the fort, but was caught about a 100 yards from the fort. John Carr, who went to the site the next day, wrote,


the ground was beaten all around, showing the desperate defense Wilson made. The Indians had broken the breech of a gun over his head in the fight, and had he not been badly wounded, there is little doubt that he would have gotten off. It was an awful sight. [Durham, The Great Leap Westward.]


Not long after Isaac Bledsoe’s death on April 14, 1793, Henry Houdesrshell and Samuel Pharr were also killed by Indians on the Cumberland River landing near General Rutherford’s land. The Pharr family were neighbors of JAMES’. Henry Houdeshell’s land adjoined JAMES’. Henry’s land was listed as lying on “Indian Creek” but was abutted by lands lying on “Sinking Creek”. [Durham, The Great Leap Westward.]

Henry Houdeshell left a wife and small child. The child died and the widow remarried. Henry’s brothers, Isaac, Adam, and John, were the heirs. Isaac was listed as living in Culpepper County, Virginia. JAMES was a witness on the deed when the land was transferred to the brothers. [Sumner Co. TN Deeds] John C. Hamilton, Jr., an attorney, married the widow and obtained two-thirds’ interest in the land in a lawsuit against John, Henry’s brother, and the land was eventually deeded to Hamilton by the courts. That land was obtained by a man named Thomas Patten [Patton] who sold part of it to another man named Robert Patton [relationship unknown.]

John C. Hamilton, Jr., was a very enterprising man in early Sumner County, and had many business and legal dealings mentioned in the court and deed records. His father had also been an “up and comer” in post-revolutionary settlement of the western frontier areas.

The Pattons were next door neighbors and friends of JAMES WILSON’s. Thomas Patton posted bond for JACOB HOUDESHELL for the administration of JAMES’ estate. The deed that divided JAMES’ estate lands among his heirs mentioned the lands abutted Thomas Patton’s. Patton was one of the earlier settlers in the area. Several men named Patton married the daughters of another man named James Wilson who died in 1809. [Sources, see: Sumner Co., TN estates] In early records, Payton, Patton, and Patten are used interchangeably. John and Empram Patton were twin brothers who with their father were some of the earliest settlers in the area. Their descendants populated the Sumner Tennessee area. This family had been prominent in the Augusta County, Virginia Scots-Irish settlements, and in North Carolina frontier Scots-Irish settlements. [Durham, Great Leap Westward.]

JAMES WILSON’s lands on Sinking Creek were very near Henry Houdeshell’s. He had received a grant May 20, 1792. Though he probably owned other lands, this is apparently where he lived. He had probably been there much earlier, but many grants were recorded on that day and the date bears little relationship to the actual settlement of the lands. He received 30 acres on nearby Indian Creek at the same time he got the above grant, but sold it a few months later to one of the McCorkles for $37.00. [Sources: See Sumner Co., TN Deeds]

Some of the neighbors listed in Captain King’s company were: Ephram Farr, John Hamilton Sr. and Jr., Thomas Donnel, Thomas Spencer, Thomas and Robert Payton, Zacheus Wilson, Samuel Wilson, Henry Howdyshell, David Wilson, Henry Loving, Christina Zigler, Revolutionary General Griffith Rutherford, John Wilson, and another man named James Wilson.

Ephram Farr [Phar] apparently died not long after JAMES did, and his heirs sold his lands in 1810 to James Vinson, another neighbor. The deed mentioned Sinking Creek, Henry Houdeshell’s survey, and Robert Patton. [Sumner County, TN Deed Book, Volume 6, page 18]

In 1797, JAMES WILSON, SENIOR, sold 50-1/2 acres to Francis Fonville. The deed, recorded in Deed Book A, pages 1 and 2, recounts that the lands had been originally granted by patent to Peter P. Looney in 1786 and that he had sold the lands October 15th, 1788, to John Wilson and JAMES WILSON, Senior. Pages 2 and 3 of the same book continue with a sale from Joseph Wilson to Francis Fonville for an additional 20 acres of land. This was witnessed by JAMES. John Wilson had sold his half interest in the fifty acres of land to JAMES in a deed dated April 13, 1796. This deed is the proof needed to corroborate the early tax records, proving that our JAMES WILSON was the same man named in the tax lists in Sumner for 1787. It raises the question, though, about the relationship between JAMES and the man named John Wilson who bought the lands with him. Were they brothers? Father and son? Cousins?

Some other early settlers in Sumner were the Looney family. Pettus Luna, also called Peter Looney, sold some land to our JAMES WILSON in 1788, consisting of 62 -1/2 acres on Indian Creek. There were eventually three men named Peter Looney in Sumner and they are distinguished in the records as Peter Looney “P” and “H.” Apparently, the Looney and Luna are interchangeable, too.

There are many other deeds that refer to James Wilson and we are not sure which man was referred to, so we are unable to trace all of the land transactions of our JAMES. We do know from tax records, that he usually owned about 250 acres in the county. He also received patents for lands which he later sold.

In 1804, our JAMES was a guardian for a man named Joseph Wilson, a “lunatick” who resided in Wilson County. Joseph’s wife, Martha, was joint guardian and they were ordered by the court to sell some of the perishable property of this man’s estate. This consisted of 23 head of cattle, and 16 head of hogs. Since JAMES handled this chore for Joseph and Martha, and because Joseph and Martha had minor children at the time, this makes us think this Joseph Wilson may have been his brother, or possibly this man was JAMES’ father with a younger wife and young children. JAMES also named what is apparently his oldest son, Joseph, so this underscores the relationship as a close one. Records are found about this estate in both Wilson and Sumner Counties.

The court order reads:


Agreeable to an order of court directing a writ to issue commanding the Sheriff to summon and impannel a jury to enquire concerning the lunacy of Joseph Wilson, which writ was returned by the said Sheriff that he had executed the same with the report of the Jury by him impannelled reporting there on that the said Joseph Wilson is & has been for some considerable time in a state of lunacy, it is ordered that JAMES WILSON be appointed guardian for the said Joseph Wilson during his lunacy, and the said JAMES WILSON entered into bond for the faithful discharge of his guardianship, to the Justices present, in the sum of two thousand dollars with Henry Belote and Griswold Latimer securities. [WPA transcribed copies of Wilson County Records.]


Ordered that Martha Wilson, Wife of Joseph Wilson be appointed as Joint guardian with JAMES WILSON for the purpose of securing the personal property of Joseph Wilson who is represented to this court to be in a state of lunacy, the said guardians entered into bond as the law directs with William Steele and Perry Taylor their securities. Orderd that an order of sale issue to sell the perishable property of the said Joseph wilson at the direction of the said guardians by giving timely notice of said sale. [Wilson County Court Minutes.]


A true inventory of the sale of Joseph Wilson .sold in pursuance of an order of the worshipful court Wilson County at June term 1805. Also the property that has been sold at private sale since he became a lunatic. .Abraham Smith, one cow $8.50, Thomas Sypert one….William Wilson, one steer 7.25, Isham Davis one steer….Property in the hands of JAMES WILSON, SR. signed Martha Wilson, and JAMES WILSON Guardians. Recorded May 14, 1806. [WPA transcribed copies of Wilson County Records.]

The designation of the James Wilson, guardian for Joseph Wilson, as “James Wilson, Sr.” gives us a reasonable assurance that this man was our JAMES WILSON. If this man had never been designated any name except “plain” James Wilson, it would have been more difficult to determine that it was probably our man.

JACOB HOUDESHELL was one of the commissioners appointed to make the division of the Pharr estate. Ephraim Pharr [Farr] was one of the neighbors of JAMES WILSON and JACOB HOUDESHELL. He had posted security when JAMES was the county ranger.

In 1806, JAMES SHOOTY WILSON, listed as “James Wilson [Shooty],” charged items at the local Gallatin merchant of John Allen, and Allen’s store journals record that JAMES bought one pound of powder. In December of 1806, notations that “James Wilson, son of Shooty,” bought items, and JAMES also purchased items for “your son, James.” [John Allen, Sumner County Store Journal, 1806-1807.]

We don’t know how old ELIZABETH WILSON was when she married JACOB HOUDESHELL in 1793, but she was probably somewhere between 13 and 20 years old. Her father, JAMES, was probably married when he came to Tennessee and several of the children were born before the move, but he also had children born between 1787 and 1807. These children were minors when he died. There were minor children listed in JAMES’ estate in 1808 and no wife’s part listed, so the wife may have died between those dates. No records of a dower being set apart were found in the estate papers. If the tombstone of the James [who died in 1818] is the tombstone of JAMES’ son, then JAMES’ wife was named Sarah.


James Shooty Wilson’s Estate


Much of what we know of our JAMES WILSON we know from his estate. He did not leave a will in Sumner County, but the estate papers comprise many pages of inventory and receipts in the Sumner County Archives and tell us a great deal about his life and financial dealings. Another man named James Wilson died about the same time, but the estates are easy to separate if you have copies of both. The other James Wilson’s administrator was John Parsons, JAMES’ neighbor, who was probably a son-in-law of the other James. The guardian for the minor children of that James Wilson was James T. Wilson, the son of Joseph, David’s nephew. That James left a widow, whose name we do not know, but who declined to administer the estate. The fact the children were almost all minors at the time of this man’s death indicates he is a much younger man than our JAMES, but probably at least middle-aged.

We can eliminate several of the men named James Wilson as being this man. If we estimate his age to be about 40, then he was probably born about the year 1770. He was fairly well-to-do, owning several slaves. We know he was not:James C. Wilson [Curley], nor James S. Wilson [Smoking Jim], nor was he our JAMES, and he could not have been James-son-of-John, because John’s will mentions his son in 1833. He was not James A. Wilson, David’s son, either. He also could not have been James Wilson, the son of Robert Wilson, Sr. [brother of David.] Consequently, we are not sure who this James is, but he wasn’t any of those men.

Our JAMES’ estate tells us he owned land in both Sumner and Williamson Counties, the identity of some of his heirs, and his financial status, but leaves us only clues about some of his relationships. Zacheus Wilson, Jr., was the co-administrator along with JACOB HOUDESHELL. Again, we are left with a quandary about who the “Zacheus Wilson, Jr.,” was. We know he was not an heir of JAMES, nor a son-in-law, as those men were mentioned in the deeds which described just which piece of land each got. Obviously, in order to be the administrator, there was some close relationship, but we are still unclear just what it was. We can probably eliminate David’s brother, Zacheus, as the Zacheus “Jr.” who was the administrator, but that leaves several others from which to choose. Samuel Wilson had a son, Zacheus, but that Zacheus died about 1808, so he can be eliminated as “Zacheus, Jr.” Eliminating these leaves us with either Zacheus, son of David, or Zacheus son of Joseph, who was the son of Robert Wilson, Sr., David’s brother.



Children of James “Shooting” Wilson, Sr.-1


Most of JAMES’ children were grown, and some married, but several were still minors at the time he died. They were older teenagers, and able to chose their own guardians, which was allowed at age fourteen. [Estate of James Wilson.]


  1. Hannah Wilson-2 born about 1785, was a major buyer at the estate sale, buying the only slave, a female, for $400, as well as other large items. It is rare that a female buyer at an estate sale is not the widow, or a daughter of the deceased. When the cash portion of the estate was distributed, Hannah Wilson received a child’s portion. This Hannah “Wilson” was the wife of James Hodges [who was an heir and received a portion of land]. James Hodges married Hannah Wilson September 16, 1800, and the bondsman was JAMES WILSON. There was no record found of a dower being set aside for a widow among the estate papers. There were several married daughters who were not mentioned by Christian name, but their husbands received portions for them, including lands. Several of JAMES’ children also named children “Hannah.” At the division of lands in Williamson County, “Hannah Hodges” was referred to. She had been referred to [in error] as “Hannah Wilson” in Sumner County records even though she was married several years prior to her father’s death.


  1. Prudence Wilson-2, born about 1793, married John Gourley December 15, 1808. The bondsmen were John B. Pendergast and William Kirkpatrick. Her husband received 45 acres from her father’s estate, but she was not mentioned by name. Her husband’s will, dated June 27, 1865, did not mention her name, but it named her children: Samuel Gourley, Hannah [Gourley] Whitson, wife of Biron Whitson, John P. Gourley, Sarah Jane [Gourley] Stone, wife of Howard Stone, and Peter Gourley. It was witnessed by Daniel Escue. John Gourley was also administrator for the estate of Jonathan Wilson, the son of David’s brother, Zacheus, Sr., and also the son-in-law of David Wilson, in 1854. The marriage license of Prudence Wilson and John Gourley is the only record we have found of her given name.


  1. A daughter-2 who was married to Josiah Hodges. This couple moved to Wilson County, as evidenced by a deed dated October 5, 1812, in which Josiah Hodges, Wilson County, Tennessee, sold his lands inherited from JAMES WILSON to his brother-in-law, John Gourley. [Sumner County, TN Deed Book Volume 6, pg 347.]


  1. James Wilson-2, a minor son at the time of his father’s death, [born after 1787], son of JAMES WILSON, Sr. JACOB HOUDESHELT was his guardian. This was apparently the same James Wilson who was a “lunatick” for whom JACOB was guardian, and whose estate was probated in 1818. Thomas Wilson took over this guardianship in 1813. The estate papers for JAMES’ estate show the other minor heirs eventually signed that they had received their estates from their guardians, but there is no signature from James-2-the-son-of-JAMES WILSON-1 that he received his estate, underscoring the probability that he is the “lunatic.” The birth and death dates would also correspond with the tombstone of the “James Wilson, son of James and Sarah Wilson.” If we accept this son, James, as the same young man who had the 1818 tombstone, then we can be reasonably sure that JAMES’ wife was named SARAH, and that she and he lived in Orange County, North Carolina, just prior to moving to Sumner.


  1. Violet Wilson-2, born after 1787, a minor when the estate was probated, chose Zacheus Wilson, Jr., as her guardian. Violet was a popular name among the Scots-Irish of Augusta and Mecklenburg counties. She married James Gourley, May 18, 1813, in Sumner County. Her brother-in-law, JACOB HOUDESHELL, was the bondsman. She was still mentioned as “Violet Wilson” in the Williamson County distribution of property in January of 1813. [Williamson County Will Book 11, pg 18.]


  1. Samuel Wilson, born after 1787, also a minor at the time of his father’s death, also had Zacheus Wilson, Jr., as his guardian. In 1816, he sold part of his lands inherited from his father to James Vinson. James Vinson was a neighbor who had purchased many pieces of property on Sinking Creek over the years prior to this sale. [Sumner County, TN, Deed Book Volume 7, pg 372.] [Williamson County Will Book 11, pg 18.]


  1. Joseph Wilson, born about 1777 or before, probably the oldest son, relinquished his right to any of the Sumner County lands of his father. He received a portion of the Williamson County lands, however. [Williamson County Will Book 11, pg 18.]


  1. ELIZABETH WILSON, born before 1780, probably in North Carolina, married JACOB HOUDESHELL in 1793 in Sumner County. [Williamson County Will Book 11, pg 18.]


Except for Joseph Wilson, who relinquished his right to any Sumner County lands, all of the children or their husbands received about 45 acres each. The lands’ value varied from $3.00 per acre to $6.50 per acre. [Sumner County Deeds & Estate of James Wilson, Sr.]

No deeds were found to indicate JAMES gave lands to any of his children prior to his death. In 1797, he sold 102 acres on Sinking Creek to JACOB HOUDESHELL for a “gift” price of $25..

Josiah Hodges, who inherited some of the lands of JAMES, sold them and apparently lived in Wilson County.

John Gourley, who married ELIZABETH’s sister, Prudence Wilson, was also the brother of JACOB’s second wife, Jane Gourley, whom JACOB HOUDESHELL married after ELIZABETH died. Hugh Gourley was an earlier settler who was probably their father or older brother. John Gourley was also the administrator for the estate of JACOB’s widow, Jane, when she died in 1838.

We do not know why JAMES WILSON did not write a will, as he was apparently anticipating his own death when he made a promissory note stating “five months after deat, I promas to pay...” [five months after death? debt? I promise to pay…?] If a person died without a will, the law dictated how his property should be divided among his heirs. No widow’s dower was mentioned in the estate, so we may reasonably assume that his wife predeceased him.

The inventory of his estate was returned by JACOB HOUDESHELL, his son-in-law, and Zacheus Wilson, Jr. One of the neighbors, Thomas Patton, was the security for the $3,000 bond that the administrators had to place. Standing bond for someone was not taken lightly. If they stole from the estate, the bondsman’s property could be taken to satisfy the judgment against them. Standing bond for this amount indicates a close relationship with the Patton family. The families had intermarried with the Wilson Clan and had migrated with them for generations.

Before his death, JAMES WILSON, along with William Moore and James Steel, had put up security for debt owed by Dempsy Moore to James Williamson. Dempsey had apparently not made good on this debt. JAMES had to repay the entire $650 owed because the other two men, for some reason, did not put up their share of the forfeit. JAMES’ administrators eventually sued William Moore and James Steel for their shares of this forfeit. The estate received judgment against them for two-thirds of the debt. We do not know, however, if it was collected. [Sumner County Lawsuits & Estate of James Wilson, Sr.]

JAMES WILSON’s estate also had several valuable horses. Sumner County was becoming a center for breeding racing Thoroughbreds and had several very valuable stud horses in residence in the county. Apparently, one of JAMES’ mares had been bred to a stud horse named “Tanner.” The estate paid the bill for the “fall season” for this mare in the amount of $4.

JAMES’ watch sold for $16 at the estate sale and a case of pistols was bought by JACOB. A “bch books” was sold to Zacheus Wilson, Sr., for $5. One would assume there were quite a few books, or they were very valuable, since this was quite a bit of money at that time. The literacy rate among the Scots-Irish was quite high. The signers of the Cumberland Compact in 1780 all signed their names except for one man who signed with a mark.

The accounts in the estate are quite interesting. There was a bill for a firm of merchants called “Will & Abram Trigg.” They list the prices paid for women’s shoes [$1.50] and a “pr. speckltes” for 62 cents, a pound of coffee for 50 cents [that was a day’s wages for a farm laborer] and indicated a bill for $7 for a man who worked 14 days “reaping at harvest.” A “3 pt blanket” cost $3.50. It was an “Indian Trade blanket” made of wool with colored stripes on one end. The same blanket today would cost over $150. One would imagine that most of the family bed coverings were made by the women of the family. They probably wove blankets or made quilts out of fabric scraps and cotton batting. Buying a blanket was probably a luxury item.

Some cotton from the farm was sold at the estate sale, apparently by the 100-pound lots, for about $3.50 per lot. It isn’t known if this was raw cotton or ginned. The estate paid some of their outstanding store accounts by bartering cotton with the merchants, but the store gave them credit for $15 for 100 pounds of cotton. Another bill for cotton ginning was for $18.25 total and said “@15”---15 cents per 100 pounds ginned? Or, per pound ginned? The family also paid a bill to buy cotton combs, so they must have used their own cotton to spin. Many of the Scots-Irish were weavers, and almost all of the female children from the ages of three up could spin fiber into thread for weaving. JAMES’ note to Alex Creathers, in which he promised to repay the loan in money or “thred,” indicates the family bartered spun thread with their neighbors.

The cotton gin had been invented and patented by Eli Whitney in Georgia in 1793. Prior to the invention and distribution of the gin [short for “engine”], cotton lint had been extracted by hand from the seeds to which it was closely stuck. The labor to remove the lint from the seeds was so difficult that a skilled person could only remove the seeds from one or two pounds per day. There were several hand-operated gins, but even these could only remove the seeds from about 5 to 10 pounds of cotton per day. With long-stapled [fibered] cotton, it is possible to spin the fiber directly off the boll of cotton, without first extracting the seeds. However, early cotton was quite short stapled, so we are not sure if they did this type of spinning or not. Within a decade of the invention of the gin, the cultivation of cotton had increased many times over and had become a valuable cash crop for the southern plantations. The labor necessary to cultivate cotton was less intense and needed less skill than for tobacco, the other traditional cash crop.

The early cotton grown was short stapled, or in other words, the fibers’ length was quite short, which made it difficult to spin. The quality was quickly improved, however. The selective breeding of cotton, which was encouraged by the invention of the gin, quickly improved the quality.

Along with the invention of the gin, the invention of the mechanical spinning machines facilitated the making of cloth from cotton on a commercial scale. At the time of JAMES’ death, however, it is unlikely the commercial-spinning factories had yet been established in the area. In the two decades after his death, the quality and character of farming would considerably change in the South.

Cotton required good land and was, like tobacco, “hard on” the land, giving only one or two good crops on virgin land before the land was worn out. Unlike tobacco, however, it did not require constant attention and skilled labor until picking time in the fall. Seeds were planted in the late spring after the ground got warm. The ground must be warm for the seeds to germinate. My own grandfather used as his “gauge” to determine when the ground was warm enough by observing the fishermen fishing on the creek banks. When the fishermen quit sitting on over-turned buckets, and started sitting directly on the ground, he knew it was warm enough to plant his cotton. Two or three seeds were planted in a “hill” together, and about six to eight inches away from the next “hill.” After the cotton came up, it might be thinned by hoeing. Plows had “fender skirts” attached to keep the plows from throwing too much dirt from the middle directly into the center of the row, and covering the small and tender plants.

The old saying “he’s in tall cotton” referred to the fact that if the cotton was grown on poor ground and was short, then a man would have to crawl on his knees to pick it. If the cotton was tall, it was easier to pick, and could be picked walking instead of crawling, while dragging a six-foot-long cotton sack.

On good ground, the cotton might be as much as four feet tall with an abundance of bolls. Pickers could make good time relatively easily. Wagons were equipped with tall sideboards to hold the bulky crop. As the cotton was picked, it was placed in split-oak baskets which were strapped to their backs or into long cotton sacks that the picker dragged on the ground.. In the 1950s, when the author was a child, the pickers would go down the rows with their sack until it was full or too heavy to drag, Then they would take it to the wagon, where it would be weighed Each person’s cotton would be tallied at the end of the day and they would be paid at a per-pound rate for picking it. At one point, the pay was three cents per pound. Earlier generations had received one cent per pound. A child could pick about 100 pounds in a day and a good hand could pick about 300-400 pounds.


Since a field of cotton does not ripen all at the same time, there might be two, and sometimes three, pickings of any one field. After the last picking, the family might go out and “scrap” the last bolls to open. If the scrap cotton was not enough to gin, then it might be kept for home use in making pillows, mattresses, or quilt filling, called “batting.”

The scales used to weigh the cotton were very simple and may have been made by the local blacksmith. They were made from a flat iron bar with notches cut in the top edge. There was an off-center hook in the top, so it could be hung from a pole mounted on the wagon. Sometimes it was hung from the wagon’s tongue which had been propped up at its end to accommodate the necessary height.. A hook from the bottom, also mounted off-center, was used to hang the cotton sack for weighing. A “pea,” or weight, was hung on the long end of the horizontal bar to balance the weight of the cotton sack. When the bar hung level, the weight was determined. It was simple and a fairly accurate method of weighing, and required no springs. By using different sized “peas,” the bar could be made to weigh a small amount or a huge amount of weight.

Each acre of cotton planted today produces about 1,000 pounds of fiber, [two bales] and sometimes twice that in very good ground. About 1,100 pounds of raw cotton is needed today to produce 500 pounds of fiber, which is about what a bale of cotton weighs. Picking cotton did not require a great deal of skill, though someone familiar with it could pick more than a novice, but it was not classed as “skilled” work. Tobacco required quite a bit of skill to cultivate, pick, and process. With short-staple cotton, it might require 2,000 or more pounds of raw cotton to make a 500-pound bale.

The county court in Sumner appointed a quality inspector for cotton quality, just as they did for tobacco. Usually, this was the man who owned or ran the local cotton gin. He had to place a sizable bond to assure his honesty in appraising the quality of the cotton. Cotton with a lot of “trash” --leaves or pieces of bolls---would it to grade lower. Shorter staple [the staple was the length of the fiber, with longer being better] cotton would grade lower. If it was a bad year, the cotton bolls might not ripen correctly, so that the fluffy fiber could not easily be pulled out of the opened boll. In cases like this, the farmer might have the hired hands or slaves “pull the bolls” or the entire hull as well as the fiber. This would produce a lower-quality product, but even this would be better than no product for a year’s crop.

JAMES WILSON’s farm didn’t grow great quantities of cotton, probably only a few acres. He also apparently grew rye and corn. The estate papers mentioned that corn sold for 26 cents a bushel and rye for a dollar per bushel.

The estate inventory also included 76 head of geese and about 25 head of hogs, besides the horses, and a few head of cattle. Geese are grazers, meaning that they eat grass and, essentially, feed themselves most of the year. They furnished the farm with both meat and feathers at relatively little cost. The soft breast feathers can be plucked without killing the goose. Feather pillows, “featherbeds,” and other items made from the feathers of the geese, added to the comfort of the family. A “featherbed” was a light, soft, and very warm addition to the family’s beds.

The mattresses were usually quite hard, being stuffed with straw or corn husks or cotton, then laid over a rope net strung between the bed’s frame. The featherbed was a large sack filled with small feathers and down. It would be turned and “fluffed” each morning. When summer came, the featherbeds would be taken off the beds and stored. Though they were quite soft, a person sleeping in one would sink down to the “bottom” and be enveloped within the very warm confines of the featherbed. The featherbeds provided both softness and warmth to the bed in a room that had little or no heat during the winter. Feathers were sold and traded by the pound.

The state, county, and poor taxes owed by JAMES’ estate for 1808, 1809, and 1810, amounted to a few cents more than a dollar a year. The other James Wilson’s estate paid about $3 per year, but owned seven slaves, and JAMES’ estate only owned one slave. The taxes could be partly paid in cash, and partly in meat or corn or produce. [James Wilson, Sr., Estate]

Hard cash may have been difficult to come by in early Sumner County, and there were no banks. Since there was little circulating currency and coin, the people made up for this deficit by issuing their own “checks” of a sort, and calling them “notes of hand.” They were actually promises to pay and only as good as the man who signed them, of course, but they might be traded from hand to hand before they were actually redeemed by the signer. One such note that JAMES wrote, which is contained in his estate records, was written very much like a check on a small piece of paper, it read:


Five month after deat [death? debt?] I promas to pay or caus to be payd to Alias Crethers ten dollars in tread or monay it being for value received of him this 11th day of May 1807 as witness my hand and seel ss/James Wilson. [Estate of James Wilson.]


On the back of the note, Alias Crethers had endorsed the note over to Mark Dodd, David Wilson’s son-in-law, and eventually the estate redeemed it. The word “tread” is probably “thread,” misspelled. Thread, or spun fiber, was an item frequently used for barter between plantations and seems to have had a set value. Spinning fiber for later weaving into cloth was a constant task on the plantation. Female children started learning to spin as early as age three. The “Crethers” family had also intermarried with the Wilsons. Jane Creathers married David Wilson, Jr. We have a copy of a note asking an unnamed “Sir” to please send him $10 and agreeing to pay it back with interest. It appears to be in JAMES’ own handwriting. The note may be the letter to Alex Creathers asking him for the $10 in the note-of-hand.


The first estate inventory listed only the biggest items owned, number of livestock, and contained the notation that there were outstanding notes of about $85 owed to the estate. JAMES’s estate also owed outstanding notes and “book debts,” or accounts at the local store. Some debts were paid in cash and some in cotton.

The store accounts also listed a pint of whiskey paid for by the estate for 12 1/2 cents. The Scots-Irish as a whole were heavy drinkers, and even gave whiskey as medicine to children.

JAMES SHOOTY WILSON was probably somewhere between 50 and 70 years old when he died about 1808. He was not one of the richest men in the area, but was obviously a substantial one who had established a successful plantation for his family in the wilderness. It seems that he was breeding a few “blooded” horses and raising the food, fiber, and fuel needed for his family, as well as cotton and tobacco for sale. Since the family apparently owned only one female slave, probably a household servant, the farm labor was mostly provided by the family and the occasional hired labor for help with reaping. JAMES had lived in the area for about 21 years when he died.

It appears that JACOB took his responsibility for oversight of the estate of JAMES WILSON seriously. Probably more so, since at least one of the sons-in-law lived at some distance from the plantation. The deed for the division of the heirs of the estate for the land filed in Sumner County on March 10, 1811, reads as follows:


Agreeable to an order of Court March term 1811 issued to us the subscriber to divide the plantation of James Wilson dec’d among the legatees in the following manner viz agreeable to plat hereunto assigned, James Wilson’s lot number first, forty five acres beginning at a sugar tree…. said lot valued at $3.00 per acre.

James G. Hodges lot number two forty five acres beginning at James Wilson’s north east corner…., said lot valued at $3.00 per acre.

Samuel Wilson number three, 45 acres beginning at a red oak in the corner …to a stake John Gourley’s corner thence with Gourley’s line east 114 poles to a stake James C. Hodges… corner in James Wilsons line… said lot valued at $5.00 per acre.

John Gourley lot number four. 45 acres beginning at a poplar and walnut Josiah Hodges Corner …to a black oak Jacob Houdeshelt’s corner …..Samuel Wilson’s…, said lot valued at $6.50 an acre.

Jacob Houdeshelt number five, 45 acres beginning at a black oak Vilot Wilson Corner and ….with said Vilot Wilson’s line east 96 5/10ths poles to John Gourley’s corner…. said lot valued at $5.00 per acre.

Vilot Wilson lot number 6, 45 acres beg at a large hickory NE…., Jacob Houdershelt’s corner..... other and Josiah Hodges corner…said lot valued at $6.50 per acre.

Josiah Hodges number six 45 acres beginning at a black oak Houdershall’s, Gourley and Vilot’s corners, thence with John Gourley line west….. Said lot valued at $6.00 per acre. [Sumner County Archives, Deed Book 6, page 418-21.]


In tracing any genealogical line or nuclear family, there are many documents, but the bottom line is “What do they all mean?” It appears, after examining all the available evidence, that JAMES SHOOTY WILSON came to Sumner County, Tennessee, from Orange County, North Carolina, bringing his children, and his wife, SARAH, and arrived about 1787-1789 in Sumner. He lived on Sinking Creek, though he owned property in other counties. He probably was a Revolutionary Veteran, given his age and family connections. He was probably at least distantly kin to the family of Major David Wilson. He probably had a brother named Joseph, and his father may have been named Joseph. JAMES’ wife predeceased him.

JAMES lived through the worst of the Indian fighting and built a home place and plantation for his family.

Jacob Houdeshell and Elizabeth Wilson


JACOB HOUDESHELL was a private in Ensign James Farr’s militia detachment in Sumner County, so he had done his share of militia and military duty as well. [American Militia in the Frontier Wars 1790-1796, pg. 144]

JACOB and ELIZABETH lived next door to her father, JAMES WILSON, SHOOTY, they had bought 102 acres of land from JAMES, at a “gift price,” a few years after they married. We don’t find a record of JAMES giving or selling at a reduced price any other land to any other of the children in Sumner County. They had been living there together about 15 years by the time JAMES died.

We find a deed, dated July 24, 1805 conveying lands from William Wilkins to John Chapman, 54 ½ acres “on the waters of Sinking Creek, beginning at Jacob Houdeshell’s corner and adj Griffith Rutherford, Moses Adams and Robert Patton.”


Children of Jacob-5 and Elizabeth Wilson-2 Houdeshell


  1. Joseph Houdeshell-6, probably named after either his mother’s brother, Joseph, or possibly after her grandfather Wilson[?]. Joseph would later sell his share of the land inherited from his mother’s Wilson estate to his step-mother, Jane Gourley Houdeshelt. Joseph Houdeshell married Lucinda Kelly September 25, 1833, in Sumner.


  1. ELIZABETH HOUDESHELL-6, was born May 12, 1810, in Sumner County. She would have been only 18 when her father died and was probably only six or so when her mother, ELIZABETH WILSON HOUDESHELL, died. She married JAMES ESCUE.


  1. George Washington Houdeshell-6, was born about 1814, and married a woman named Rebecca Tipton September 12, 1833. George sold his land to his brother-in-law, JAMES ESCUE, and moved to Robertson County. A descendant of George’s line has made contact with the author.


Some of the researchers of this family, ascribe a son, Hiram Houdeshell, born about 1798, who married Polly Gibson in May of 1826 in Sumner County, as a child of JACOB’s, but proof that this is probably not so is JACOB’s estate, which apparently mentions all the children and does not mention this man. Who this man is not known, however.

Since we know JACOB and ELIZABETH were married in 1793, and considering the ages of the children, we can probably safely guess there were several other children who did not survive infancy. One reference in JACOB’s estate mentions the “living children,” and thus we can assume that there were others who did not survive. For there to be only three children during a marriage of about 20 years meant that either there was a fertility problem, or there were children born who did not survive. In most cases, the housewife would produce a child on the average of every two to two and one half years…like clockwork.

We know ELIZABETH WILSON HOUDESHELL died between the birth of George-5 about 1814, and JACOB’s remarriage to Jane Gourley on August 27, 1816. Jane was probably related to [sister of?] John Gourley, who was married to ELIZABETH’s sister. Gourley is also spelled Gorly and Gorley. In 1816, Hugh Gourley’s estate is listed in the county records, and buyers were Margaret Gourley, Mary Gourley, John Gourley, Robert Gourley, James Gourley, and Adam Gourley.


The children of Jacob’s marriage to Jane Gourley


  1. Margaret Houdeshell-6, born 1819, married William Gray on October 19, 1831, and moved to De Kalb County, where she was found in 1850. This name might be a connection to the Margaret Gourley in the above mentioned Hugh Gourley estate.


  1. Sarah A. Houdeshell-6, called Sally, married John H. Brown on March 2, 1836.


  1. Jane Houdeshell-6, a minor in her father’s will, apparently married John Tatum February 6, 1839, in Wilson County, Tennessee.


  1. Jeremiah J. [Jacob?] Houdeshell-6, born March 8, 1827, married Elizabeth Hall May 15, 1850.


  1. Amanda Houdeshell-6, mentioned in deeds of her father’s estate.

When JACOB died, about 1828, he left Jane with a several young children, living next door to the WILLIAM ESCUE family, and near the Wilson relatives of his first wife. We do not know the exact birth dates of his second set of children, but he and Jane had only been married about 12 years when he died, so they must have been quite young. The oldest child at home would have been ELIZABETH’s child, George, and he would have only been about age 14.

JACOB’s will left the land ELIZABETH WILSON HOUDESHELL had inherited from her father, JAMES SHOOTY WILSON, to their three surviving children, and the rest of the estate was divided equally between all the children and the widow, Jane. JACOB was only about age 55 when he died. JACOB’s father, LAWRENCE, would outlive him several years, dying after 1850, at more than 100 years of age. LAWRENCE HOWDESHELL was a very poor man, so the children of JACOB could not expect an inheritance from their grandfather.

Property laws in the nineteenth century gave a husband a courtesy right in any real estate that his wife held as a separate property from an inheritance if there were children born of the marriage. Part of a husband’s “courtesy” rights to land were dependent upon whether or not he and the wife had any children who lived long enough and cried loud enough for people in another room of the house to hear the child cry. A man got a “life estate” in the entire amount of land owned by his wife at her death, if there had ever been a living child of that marriage, even if that child died. At the man’s death, the land would then descend to the living children of the deceased mother, or to her “legal heirs.” By contrast, a wife only had a “dower,” or lifetime estate, in one-third of her deceased husband’s property. Laws on what, if any, share of the personal property of the deceased husband would go to the widow varied from era to era and area to area. [Desmond Walls Allen.]

Apparently, JACOB’s real estate was divided into parcels of about equal value, but not necessarily of equal size. Tax records from 1820 indicate JACOB owned 240 acres. The deed drawn in 1830 sets forth the plots, directions, and dimensions, and lists each of the children inheriting land. The 45 acres JACOB received as ELIZABETH’s part of her father’s estate was divided between ELIZABETH’s three surviving children after JACOB’s death. This division was as the law directed.

An undated document filed in the estate papers of JACOB states:


Accounting of the estate of ELIZABETH WILSON HOWDYSHELL in the hands of John Gourley, administrator on the estate of JACOB HOWDYSHELT who was administrator on the estate of ELIZABETH HOWDYSELT, deceased.

Amount of estate as per returns to court $1,046.68 ½, interest $57, total $1,105.68 ½ several vouchers were paid, then “paid to David McElwes his legacy $150, JACOB HOUDSHELT Legacy $150, By account of JACOB HOWDYSHELL for services rendered previous to her death see voucher N. 8 $78.26”


Who was David McElwes? At this point, it is unknown. This was a pretty hefty estate for a woman during this period. It probably represented what she had been given by her father or inherited from his estate, which would have been her separate property, in addition to the land she inherited in Sumner County.

John Gourley was also the administrator of the estate of Polly Houdeshelt, whose estate was quite small, amounting to less than $100 total. She may have been a daughter of JACOB and ELIZABETH, as George Houdeshell was listed at one point in the estate records as being an “heir of Polly Houdeshelt,” and his share was $14.96, the younger children, the children of Jane, were not listed as heirs of Polly. Polly may have inherited her “estate” from her mother’s estate, and therefore she would not have left a “legacy” to the children of the second wife.

The deed, in dividing out the land between the older three children, the younger children, and the widow, mentioned the following neighbors with abutting lands: James Gourley, ESCUE’s line, Stephen Wilson, and “Houdyshelt’s old place.” Stockley Vinson had purchased “Houdyshelt’s old place” from Col. Winchesters’ heirs. The McCalls and the Laurences were also abutting neighbors. The deed was signed by William McCall, James Vinson, Stephen Wilson, John S. Domall, and John O. Higason. The neighbor known as James S. Wilson was probably James “Smoking Jim” Wilson, the son of Zacheus Wilson, Sr., David’s brother.

Though JACOB HOUDESHELL was clearly a substantial citizen and participated in the civic life of the community, he was probably not a rich man, and what little he had accumulated was divided thinly between his many children and his widow. He had apparently farmed the land ELIZABETH inherited as well as the lands he had bought. It doesn’t take many generations of dividing estates between many children to reduce even a large estate to much smaller plots. JAMES WILSON left 45 acres each [in Sumner county] to six heirs, but JACOB only left 15 to 30 acres each to his children.

Jane Gourley Houdeshelt bought out the shares of lands from her children and step-children. She also had her dower [one-third] of the lands set aside for her at the death of JACOB as the law allowed her to. As long as she lived, these dower lands could not be “sold out from under her.”

By the mid-1830s, the influence of the Wilson clan, so influential in the early settlements, had declined. After David Wilson’s death, by 1810, the only member of the court named Wilson was James C. Wilson, who was one of the “worshipful” members. Jane Gourley Houdeshell died in 1838, and John Gourley was her administrator. Her children were still minors. He was the guardian for the children and accounted to the courts for the money that they had inherited.


Chapter

The Escues

ELIZABETH HOUDESHELL inherited about 50 acres from her father and mother when her father’s estate was settled about 1830. She had been about age 6 when her mother had died, and only about age 18 when her father died in 1828. She married the “boy next door,” JAMES ESCUE, in 1830, and he bought some of her brothers’ shares of her father’s estate in 1834 that adjoined their plots. She and JAMES settled into married life on a small piece of ground wrestled from the Indians by her grandfathers and her father in the 1780s and 1790s.

ELIZABETH’s husband, JAMES ESCUE, was a brick mason and his reputation in the community was a good one. His work was appreciated and in later years he would build some of the many structures from that period which still survive today in Sumner County, including the Shiloh Church and the home of Theda Womack. We don’t find evidence, though, that JAMES’ skills as a builder made him rich or above the middle-class of the craftsmen.

The Shiloh Presbyterian Church is the second oldest Presbyterian church still standing in Middle Tennessee, according to an article published Thursday, April 13, 1961, in the Sumner County News, Gallatin, Tennessee, [no page number]. The church was formed in 1793, when its first building was constructed. The present building, built by JAMES ESCUE, was built in 1871. The article says “Brick for the church were molded and burned on the Barr Place. The work of laying the brick went to JAMES ESCUE, according to a newspaper report. At that time Mr. ESCUE lived at Liberty, three miles west of Westmoreland.”

William Trousdale was governor of Tennessee from 1849 to 1851. He had been raised in Sumner County where his father had settled in 1796 along with our early ancestors. He was a Gallatin lawyer. Andrew Johnson, who was the son of a handyman and a tavern maid, became the governor in 1853 and served until 1857. He would also be the Federally appointed governor from 1862 until 1865, when he became President after Lincoln’s assassination. He was the provisional military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War and assisted in restoring Union Authority in Tennessee. His relations with congress when he was president deteriorated to the point that he was almost impeached, missing by a narrow vote the effort to convict him of any charges. He was not connected to our Johnson family.


Johnson-Escue

The 1860 Sumner County, Tennessee, United States Census shows the RICHARD E. JOHNSON and JAMES ESCUE families living near each other. Now, with the population increased in the area over the 1850 census, there are 12 houses between the two farms. JAMES’ wife, ELIZABETH HOUDESHELL ESCUE, died July 29, 1854, shortly after her last daughter, Sarah K. was born, and is not listed on the 1860 census. ELIZABETH was about 44 years old when she died, about the same age as her mother was when she died. Most women who died within a few months after a child’s birth died as a direct result of that birth. “Child-bed fever” was the single greatest cause of death in women aged 15 to 45 in the days before antibiotics. It was caused by infection from a “dirty birth.” Physicians had no idea of the “germ theory of disease causation” and didn’t usually even wash their hands before delivering a child. Midwives were cleaner and tended to be less harsh in the deliveries and had a better chance, generally, of having a healthy mother and child.

In March of 1855, RICHARD E. JOHNSON had land surveyed on Middle Fork of Drake’s Creek beginning at an ash tree…, containing 630 acres, 1 rod 11 poles. N. B. Harrison was the surveyor.

On January 6, 1860, RICHARD E. JOHNSON sold 21 acres in District 15 to JAMES ESCUE for $100. “Beginning in a hickory in ESCUE’s W. Boundary,… to a stake in ESCUE’s line.” It was witnessed by James F. Gray and W. Rippy.

The 1860 census lists Mary and Nancy Escue, ages 27 and 29, living at home with their widowed father, JAMES ESCUE. William A. “Sandy” Escue and his sister, ages 25 and 17, were living in a house next door to JAMES and had their younger siblings, John and Sarah, in tow. The oral history helped to unravel the unusual census listing, with the family divided into two households.

JAMES ESCUE’s occupation was “Master Brick Mason” and he owned $1,000 worth of real estate and $1,600 in personal property. JAMES was a carpenter as well as a brick mason and, apparently, did all sorts of construction including frame dwellings. He was probably a “contractor” of sorts.

He built houses in the area as well as the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Gallatin. Major David Wilson’s brother, Zacheus Wilson, Sr., had donated land in 1801 for the church, which was moved once or twice after that time. The bricks for the church were made and fired nearby and the church built over a span of time. The church was completed about 1871. [Sumner County News, April 13, 1961.]

Making bricks required a great deal of labor and skill. The correct type of clay was mixed in a pit, either by men or animals “stomping” on it, until it was thoroughly mixed. The clay was then placed into molds to shape it, then removed from the molds and allowed to air-dry. Later, the air-dried bricks were stacked with wood in a kiln and fired until they were hard. Bricks would crumble if any step was not properly done. Bricks from different areas of the firing would be of varying degrees of hardness and were used in different parts of the building. Since the bricks were not of a uniform quality, each was used where the particular qualities of hardness or softness was useful. The hardest bricks were placed on the outside of the wall where they would be exposed to the weather.

The Shiloh Church stands today [2000] and is apparently tended with care as a historical building, but it is no longer used for regular services. There is a small graveyard behind the church.


The Shiloh Church in Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee, circa 1990, photograph from collection of the author.

JAMES also built Theda Womack’s home. It was built for the family of Theda’s husband, Porter Womack, near Gallatin, and is a classic two-story frame home built on a hill under large shade-trees.

The home boasts two rooms upstairs with two staircases going up, one to each room, with no connecting door between the two rooms. It was built this way to separate the boys from the girls, Theda said.

The house has a small graveyard in the front yard where some of Porter’s family are buried. His grave is there as well. The house has been continually inhabited by the same family since it was built about 130 years ago. It has been lovingly restored and maintained and is furnished with period antiques, many of which were built by members of the family. Porter Womack was a talented and meticulous craftsman in wood and Theda has several wooden chests he constructed that are works of art as well as craft.



The 1860 census says RICHARD E. and MARY ANN JOHNSON’s farm was worth $480 and they had personal property worth $1,000. This last figure may represent the value of the male slave, Stephen, inherited from the estate of her father, ENOCH SIMPSON. Stephen was valued at $900. RICHARD and MARY ANN were not as well off financially as earlier generations. RICHARD’s father had died young and left a small estate, and she had received only a small fraction of her father’s estate around 1860. It had been divided among many heirs. RICHARD’s sister, Martha, who had married ENOCH SIMPSON, as his second wife, had raised their younger half-siblings in her home after AUSTIN JOHNSON died.

The politics of the area and the nation were coming to a boil, and the local newspapers of the day carried factional editorials and articles. It wouldn’t be long before the quiet country would resound with the effects of war.

Daniel Escue, JAMES’s brother, lived in Sumner County, and is listed as owning $6,000 in personal property and $7,500 in real estate. Daniel owned several slaves, apparently to help him in his brick making business. He was somewhat more affluent than JAMES.


The Civil War Years


By the time of the “War of Northern Aggression” in the South, none of our direct ancestors owned many slaves, and they certainly didn’t own anything approaching Tara in Gone With The Wind. They probably worked side-by-side in the fields with any slaves they did own, and lived in log houses and generally wore home-spun clothing, just like the slaves. Generations of dividing estates between many heirs had reduced even the most wealthy of our ancestors’ estates to more modest proportions. The War would take care of what was left.

The national economy was part of the trouble between the sections of the Union. The North had relied more on manufacturing and the South on agriculture. Slavery was crucial to big agriculture. The two regions grew independent of each other economically speaking. The population of the North began to grow rapidly with an influx of immigrants from Europe. As the Northern states began to grow in population, each northern state was granted more representatives in Congress and more electoral votes to choose the president. That increased the political power of the North relative to the South. The powers that were in place at the time realized that the South could only decline politically and the North would increase in political power. The South was very concerned about the North electing a president that was contrary to their interests.

Transportation was another issue. Before the American Revolution, the great rivers were the major means of transport, and they ran mostly north and south. After the Revolution, and especially after the train, the routes ran more eastern and western. The chains of transportation that bound the North and the South were broken.

Religion was becoming another division as well. In the decades prior to 1860 the religions were beginning to feel a strain about slavery. More and more people in the North began to feel repugnance toward slavery. This caused a division in the religious bodies and many of them split into “northern” and “southern” branches over slavery. The Southern Baptists broke with the main branch and formed their own branch. As each church split, though, the chains binding the union of the North and the South became weaker.

Prior to the War, there were two parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. Each one was a national party in the broadest sense. Between the 1840s and the 1860s, however, the parties failed to keep their national supporters and in 1860, there was no one party that had significant voters in both the North and the South. The Republicans appealed to the North and the Democrats had split into three parties, and none of them had support in both the North and the South. The most devisive issues were over slavery.

Between 1845 and 1848, the US increased its size by about 1.2 million square miles in new territory. These included the annexation of Texas, Oregon Country (the Pacific Northwest) and California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and about half of Colorado and New Mexico. This new territory brought out the question of would the Southerners be able to take their Slaves to these new areas. The issues of “free soil” Of course, the Southerners said “yes” and the Northerners said “no.” By a bill named the Wilmont Provision, all land acquired in the Mexican War would be closed to slavery. The priviso caused a brutal and angry debate in Congress. In the end it was defeated in the Senate. The debate over this priviso started to break down the political parties. The whites in the south felt somewhat protected because they had as many votes per state as the more populous north but with new states coming on that were “free” states, that was about to change.

In the end, there were compromises hammered out. The main provisions were that California would be admitted as a free state, slave trade would be forbidden in Washington, D. C., a stronger fugitive slave law was enacted, and in the rest of the Mexican Cession outside of California, the slave issue was for the present ignored.

The sympathies of the people of Tennessee were split on the question of whether or not to withdraw from the Union. The 1860 election had split three ways. Lincoln had gotten no support from the South, but was elected, nevertheless. South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of 1860. Governor Harris of Tennessee called a special session of the legislature in Tennessee. At a convention called shortly thereafter, the vote for delegates favoring allegiance to the Union was greater than the anti-Union group.

After Lincoln ordered the garrison of Ft. Sumter to be provisioned, and Beauregard’s artillery opened fire, a state of war existed. Even so, many patriots still hoped that outright war could be averted. It was in June, 1861, that Tennessee held their referendum and by a vote of 2 to 1, they ratified the Ordinance of Secession. Tennessee became a Confederate state. Tennessee was the last of the Southern states to separate from the Union.

We know, from several sources, that most of our ancestors in Sumner County about this time lived in log-hewn homes and farmed their lands, growing most of what they ate and wore. They raised tobacco and cotton for cloth and cash, and a small amount of livestock for meat and milk, fiber, and feathers, and for beasts of burden. Some of them also had trades in addition to farming. JAMES ESCUE’s daughter, LUCINDA, was a men’s tailor according to her granddaughter, VIRGIE JOHNSON GRAY. During the War she made uniforms for the Confederate Soldiers. The Union Soldiers came to her house and burned it. The soldiers gave the family one hour to take anything out of the house, including the doors and windows, before they burned it to the ground. LUCINDA even grew the broom corn with which she made her own brooms.

Broomcorn is a relative of the more common “regular” corn plant, but broom corn produces small seeds on straws that stick upright from the plant. When it is almost mature and the seeds are getting heavy and weighting down the straws, the farmer would go into the fields and partially break the head so it would hang downward and the weight of the seeds would pull the straws straight. When the straw was dry, the head would be cut from the plant, the seeds removed for animal feed and the straw used to make brooms.

According to interviews of Confederate veterans, spinning and weaving were still common household tasks on the farms in Sumner during the Civil War. It was an extremely time and labor- intensive process to produce the fiber, yarn and cloth with which to clothe the family. There were commercial spinning mills in the county as early as 1820, producing both thread and cloth, but the majority of the wives on small farms still produced some or all of their own cloth, at least for everyday wear.

LUCINDA’s brother, Sandy, went to join the war with many of his cousins and neighbors. In 1922, several of them were interviewed for the Confederate Soldiers Census and their answers recorded about their war experiences and their daily lives before and after the war. Several of them mentioned Sandy as a member of their units. Theda Womack has a letter written by her ancestor, D. W. West, who wrote home from Rock Island Prison in Illinois, where he was confined with Sandy in April of 1864. Apparently, they had been there since November of 1863 and weren’t paroled until May of 1865. They had been in the 20th Tennessee Infantry and were captured at Missionary Ridge.

Two of the Holmes boys, cousins of LEATHA HOLMES, were two of those interviewed and their answers tell quite a bit about the conditions of the war for them and what life was like before the war. James Arelias Holmes-4 was the son of Nathaniel Holmes-3 [older brother of ALBERT G.] When asked where his grandparents came from, he said Ireland, but didn’t remember much else. He said he lived in a six-room log house as a child and his job at home was to chop wood, clear land, plow, hoe, feed cattle, sheep, hogs and go to the mill. He said his father, Nathaniel Holmes, Jr.-3, was a farmer and school teacher and his mother looked after the house, spinning, weaving, and making clothes. His father died before he [James Arelias] was “big enough to work.”

He stated he went to some free schools, but mostly to subscription schools. He said he went to school three or four months a year after the crops were “laid by.” School would be in late summer before the fall harvesting of crops started and after the need for field labor was ended. The children probably only got a few months of school each year and only a few years total.

He enlisted in May of 1861 at Bethlehem Church in White Oak Creek, and his first battle was fought at “Seeder Hill” some seven or eight months later. After that, he went to Richmond, Virginia, and from there to Winchester Valley. He was wounded in his left arm “with the bone sticking out.” Afterwards he taught school, he said, and I guess he “larned ‘em real good” as his spelling and grammar were simply terrible on his interview form.

R. C. Holmes-4, James’s brother, didn’t remember much more about their family origins, but recalled his parents owned two slaves and they owned about 150 acres of land valued at about $1,000. James had said 75 acres, valued at $4,000, and one slave. It doesn’t take too long for the family oral history to become garbled unless it is written. R.C. enlisted in 1862 and was captured and put in prison. After the war, he farmed.

Another man, named Holman, was interviewed at the same time. He spoke of being marched to Chicago as a prisoner and having his feet freeze in the 12 inches of snow, as he was barefoot. He said several of his company lost their feet. He said punishment for the troops was to be forced to “ride Morgan’s mare” which was a 2” X 12” board sharpened on one side [edge] and help upright on a 16 foot tall leg, like a giant saw-horse. They had to crawl up a ladder and then crossed the sharpened beam on their hands and crotch. he called it “coon” across it. It must have been quite uncomfortable and dangerous as well. A 16-foot fall would be equal to falling off the roof of a house or out a second story window.

Most of the men interviewed about their war service took a positive outlook on life and the times they had lived through. They seemed to agree the war was difficult, and the times in general were hard, but that men worked, black and white, and that the honest, hard-working man was not despised for working. Only one of the interviews reviewed, written by a man named Escue, seemed to have a really negative outlook. His view was “a poor man couldn’t get ahead” and “toil was looked down on, and slave owners looked down on the man who didn’t own slaves.” He also believed the ones who did own slaves “never did a lick of work.” He seemed a bitter man who blamed all his problems on others’ good or better fortune and didn’t try very much to help himself.


Lt. Richard E. Johnson [c. 1822-1862], son of AUSTIN JOHNSON and his first wife, ANN ELIZABETH CORLEY, and husband of Mary Ann Simpson, dressed in his Confederate Uniform. Copied from the collection of Gladys Johnson Black, Old Hickory, Tennessee, in 1978 by Erick Montgomery. (Note: Our ancestor was MARY FRANCES JOHNSON SIMPSON, who was the sister of Lt Richard E. Johnson)

Gladys Johnson Black who owned the photo previous was the “favorite niece” of FELIX HILL JOHNSON, the author’s great-grandfather. When the author’s mother, GLADYS LAVERNE GRAY, was born in 1929, she was named for her cousin, Gladys Black. GLADYS GRAY met Gladys Black only once, but corresponded with her for many years.

RICHARD E. JOHNSON-4 enlisted in the Confederate Army in the 20th Infantry Regiment, Company F., which was organized June 12, 1861 at Coat’s Town [now Westmoreland] and mustered into service August, 1861. Officers were elected from among the men, and RICHARD was elected first lieutenant in Captain James A. Nimmo’s group. The cohort system was not unusual in the Civil War, where men from one area would enlist and serve together throughout the war. That system was responsible for eliminating almost the entire male population from some areas during this war. It was not used again regularly in American wars after that. Bob and Calvin Holmes, sons of ALBERT G. HOLMES, served in the same unit as RICHARD-4 and Sandy Escue. Bob and Calvin’s brother, Albert T. Holmes, served in the Union Army in Missouri.

There were few instances in our families where this happened, but it appears there were several families in Sumner County split over the issues. Quite a few Sumner County residents fought for the Union. In some families, the quarrel lasted for generations, while in others, it was eventually reconciled. It seems that Albert’s family did not hold it against him, for he eventually returned to Sumner County as an old man to live out his days and was well liked and respected.

The CSA 20th Tennessee Regiment was assembled at Camp Trousdale in July, 1861, with 880 men armed with flintlock muskets. While in Camp of Instruction there, the regiment was in Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer’s Brigade, along with the 17th and 18th Tennessee Infantry Regiments. Late in July, the regiments were ordered to march to Virginia, along with the 17th Infantry. They were detained for two or three weeks, and then sent to the Cumberland Gap, instead of Virginia, and were attached to General Zollicofer’s forces. [Confederate Military History, pg 35.]

On September 14, 1861, Zollicofer ordered the four regiments to the Cumberland Ford, Kentucky. The 20th at this time had 876 men on the roll, 795 present, and 732 effectives. On the 24th of September, the report showed 505 effectives, 676 present and 916 on the roll. The regiment was at the battle of Wild Cat, or Rock Castle, Kentucky in October 1861, but it did not actively participate. The regiment remained in East Tennessee and Kentucky without any major engagements until the Battle of Fishing Creek on January 19, 1862.

A letter from Captain Theodorick “Tod” Carter, written to “Dick” Bostic, from Camp Beach Grove [KY] on January 9, 1862, ten days before the battle called “Fishing Creek,” tells about the conditions in the camp. Captain Carter, who was related to us via the CARTER line, and was descended from Francis Watkins Carter, a descendant of GILES CARTER-1. The letter was preserved by the late Mary Britt, his great-niece of Franklin, Tennessee.


Dear Dick,

We have had some bitter cold weather the last two weeks, interlarded with rain, sleet, snow and hail, and with freezing wind howling through ragged cloths. You may imagine that we are at times not as comfortable as we would like to be. We are encamped in the bend of the Cumberland and the ground is a perfect marsh. The muddiest hole I ever saw.…..

General George Crittenden has been drunk nearly all the time. He dresses and looks like a dashing French rogue and has impressed the entire army with the belief that he is triffling and worthless.”


With the accession of General Buell to the Federal command came a change of policy, looking to the shortening of lines and the greater concentration of troops in the direction of Bowling Green. General Zollicoffer’s command, which would include the Tennessee 20th Infantry, was transferred to Monticello, placing him in closer connection with General Johnson and looking to the better protection of Johnson’s right flank. [Ibid. pg 53.]

The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which had been low, were made navigable for gunboats by the early winter rains and Johnson took every precaution to guard against Federal troops moving up those rivers, threatening Nashville.

A serious disaster occurred on General Johnson’s right flank in the defeat of General Crittenden at Fishing Creek, Kentucky, January 19, 1862. A small village on the south side of the Cumberland River, just above which Fishing Creek empties into the Cumberland, is called Mill Springs. On the 17th, Crittenden was occupying this village with several regiments. Just across the river he had other regiments, including the 20th. The total was about 4,000 men.

Federal General Thomas was 18 miles northeast at Somerset. In anticipation of meeting this force, the Confederates were determined to attack before high water cut them off. About midnight on the 18th, the Confederate forces on both sides of the river got back together and prepared to advance. Zollcoffier and General Caroll commanded the Confederate forces. It was such a dark and rainy night, when daylight should have come, it was still too dark to see clearly. This led to Zollicoffer’s fatal mistake. He mistook a unit of Federal troops for Confederate and called a halt to the attack. He rode his horse right into the midst of the Federal troops who immediately recognized and killed him. Confederate Military History, page 54, says Zollicoffer was killed within “bayonet reach” by the Federal officer who shot him.

Zollicoffer’s death depressed the Confederate troops. By that time, only the Mississippi 15th and the Tennessee 20th were left fighting and they behaved with gallantry for several hours against greatly superior forces, but lost the day in the end. Crittenden lost his artillery, wagons, animals, and stores and retreated very demoralized toward Gainesboro. [Ibid., pg 55.]

Thirty-three men were killed at Fishing Creek that day. Lieutenant RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON was one of those killed that rainy January day. The Confederates lost a total of 110 men. Robert S. Hawkins was elected to take RICHARD’s place. We have no idea where RICHARD was buried, but we may imagine he was interred somewhere near the battle field among his comrades. There is a mass grave located near the battlefield which has a marker that closes with the following lines, “We do not know who they were, but we know what they were.”

Contemporary literature indicates, however, that the armies were frequently followed by long trains of professional undertakers who would pick up those fallen who were likely to have family to pay for their burials and transport them back home for burial.

ENOCH SIMPSON’s widow, Martha Johnson Simpson, sister of RICHARD E. JOHNSON, was running a boarding house back in Sumner County during the war to help make ends meet. She had boarding with her the local school teacher, Fannie L. Graves.

Fannie’s brother, Bollman Huger Graves, wrote a letter to his sister from Bowling Green, Kentucky, on February 12, 1862. The original letter is in the possession of Erick Montgomery [1999] who has graciously shared this interesting letter with us, and given us permission to transcribe it here. A Xerox copy is in the possession of the author, and this transcription is made from that copy. Fannie Graves eventually married a son of Martha Johnson Simpson.


Camp Bowling Green, Kentucky February 2nd, 1862

Miss Fannie L. Graves,

Dear Sister,

I embrace the present opportunity of responding to your very wellcome letter, which came only to hand through the ______ of Thomas P. Johnson [a half brother to Martha Johnson Simpson] and was exceedingly gratified to hear of your good health and that you were so well pleased with your new boarding house, I was very sorry to hear of the death of Mr. Johnson. [RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON] I was not personally acquainted with him, but saw him last summer at Camp Trousdale and was well pleased with his appearance as a gentleman, a brave and patriotic soldier. I suppose some of _____’s command has arrived home since the battle of Fishing Creek. I recon those boys must have seen a hard time from all accounts. The courier of yesterday states that they had nothing to eat save a small ration of beef without salt broiled on the coals with a little parched corn for bread, The battle of Fishing Creek is the greatest disaster that has befallen our army. Our loss was great both in men—stock, we lost 800 mules and horses, 14 pieces artilary, a number of small arms, tents and other camp equipedge. There is no prospects of a battle at this point soon, I think our enemys intentions is to try to out flank us and get in between us and Nashville in order to cut our supplies, but I recon we will interest them for a while before they accomplish such a movement. They will have many dead bodies to walk over before they reach the Donic City, Nashville. There is four Yankee regiments on this side of Green River under cover of their artilery, which is planted on the opposet bank of the river, but when General Hindman from Arkansas marches toward them with his Southern boys, the ­­­is ____the river in double quick time. We have two brigades near Cave City, General Hindman and Breckenridge, also a large amount of cavalry. Hindman has burned the hotel at Cave City and blowed up the Tunnel three miles this side of Cave City near Bell’s tavern; besides he has torn up the railroad for several miles beyond the tunnel which will take the Abs [abolitionists?] sometime to repair.

We have ___very snugly fortified Bowling Green in some eight other places and are yet building new forts, mearly because we have nothing else to employ our time at. We are pretty well drilled, though we drill every nice sun shiny day that presents itself; have general inspection ever Sunday if the weather admits. We are in Col. Clairborne’s Brigade which is composed of the following regiments [viz] Col. Allison’s 24th Tennessee, Col. Martins 23 Tennessee, Col. Hill’s 5th East Tennessee Col. Mitchell’s 45th Tennesse Col. Claiborne’s 1st Arkansas and Col. ____[original has blank line] 14th Mississippi, also 2 battalions of Cavalry and 12 pieces or two battins of flying artilary. You see we have four Tennessee Regiments of Infantry in our Brigade and when we were in Col. Shaver’s Brigade ours was the only Tennessee regiment that belonged to it, and Col. Allison mutually withdrew from it in order to get with the other Tennesseeans. We are very comfortably situated have plenty to eat, such as beef, fresh and pickled, flour, sugar, coffee and ___mixed, rice and occasionally pork and turnips or cabbage in a word, we have plenty of everything but salt, and have plenty of that when we can find it in town for sale. We are getting along finely enjoy camp life very well and have civil amusements of nearly all kinds such pull over hats, bullpen steal goods, bast, pitching gaits, running, jumpping, town ball, and many other plays that strengthens our constitutions and add to our health, I received a lot of letters from Virginia a few days since one from J. M. Crenshaw, Allen Holt and Robert Wright. The boys out there are all well and in fine spirits, not expecting to fight before spring, then they think a general forward movement will be made. Allen Holt says if he lives to get back to Tennessee he will never sing “carry me back to Old Virginia” any more. I saw a letter from Ft. Donelson today and some of the boys of Capt Casson’s company say that they have never been home yet and do not expect to go before the expiration of their enlistment. Then they expect to go but they say the one not for hire another year, especially to Uncle Jeff. I understand the entire force of militia has been recently called out, but I hear so many camp rumors that I hardly know whether to creddit it or not. The boys have their own fun out of the militia from Tennessee when they come in camp. They had much rather be called Citizens but the boys give them the propper appelation, that of militia, This is the first letter that I have written today and I feel some indispassion to desist as I have not written you for some time. My health is very good at present. I have been sick, but am about as stout as I ever was, I am not as fleshy now as when I left home, I weighed 160 lbs when I came into camp, now I weigh 140 lbs. As active and gaily as when I used to be at Castallian at the many balls and parties we used to attend there. I support a large, bushy pair of whiskers and muscache. I have not heard from brother B. M. but once since he has been at Nashville.

…..Mr. Henry Owen’s mother is dead, Owen took her death very hard. I deeply sympathise with any one who looses a kind and affectionate mother, you and I, deer sister, have experienced the loss of one of the best of mothers, almost in the days of our infancy, but yet not insencable of the love of a kind mother she has paid the debt we all owe and we too have to follow the same path that carried her to the grave, and I perhaps very soon. We are all bound to obey the summons that call us from this world of woe and It grieves me sorely to acknowledge that I am yet living and leading the life of a sinner and can only promise to try to become a better man and live a more moral life in future than my past has been. I have a copy of the Holy scriptures, which I have been and intend to continue reading in my liesure hours. We have preaching in Camp every sabbath that the wether will admit, but owing to the very bad wether which we have had, have not had but one or two sermons since Christmas. The boys are all in very good health and spirits…….. your affectionate brother, Hugar

[Original letter in possession of Erick Montgomery, used by permission.]

Another contemporary letter concerning Fishing Creek was copied by the Works Progress Administration [WPA] in “Civil War Letters” [copies are available at the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville, Tennessee.] It is from O. R. Hight to his mother, Mary C. Hight, dated February 3, 1862, and sent from Gainsburough, where the Confederate army had retreated after the disaster at Fishing Creek. The official report of the loss by the confederates was 126 killed, 309 wounded and 95 missing. The Confederate estimate was 700 Federals killed. The official Union figures were 39 killed and 207 wounded Federal forces. [Confederate Military History, pg 55.]


Dear Mother,

I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at this time. I have nothing strange to rite [sic] to you at this time.

We are here at Gainsburough on Cumberlan river. We came here last Saturday, but I don’t think we will stay here long. I recon you have herd [sic] all about the fight that we had last Sunday was two weeks ago. We had to leave our houses. We have drawn more tents. The report is that we kild [sic] about 15 hundred of them and that they kild about 3 hundred of our men, I don’t know how true it is. They kild general Zollicoffer, and we think that he kild one of their colonels. We sent a flag of truth [sic] back after his body, but they had done sent round to Nashville by railroad. They excepted [sic] our flag and let them come in. They have got some of our wounded men prisoners and they say that they may come home as soon as they get able is they will promis not to take up arms again the North anymore. They say that there is 40,000 of them there at fishing creek They taken several canons from us, and mules and wagons. When we got done crosing the river we burnt the boat to keep them from gitting it, and burnt the comisary.

Well, mother, I will send you 10 dolars to get them rails made with, and if you kneed them you can have them made, and if not, you can do what you please with it. I will send you more if you kneed it. I sold my watch for 20 dollars, and they paid us 22 dollars.

I want you to make a crop, or start one till I come home. And I will make it. I want you to plant a big crop of potatoes and coton. Let Mr. House have what ground he wants, and you tend the rest. If you will try you can git a horse for its feed. If you havn’t got feed anough rite to me and I will send you money to by it with. If you can git the horse. Times is hard and they will be harder, and you had beter fix for them, and pay your taxes and take care of what stock you have got.

You rote that old House said that he would do as he pleased when he got there. Let him come, I will show him when I come home. Rite to me as soon as you git this. No more at present.

Sandy [William A.] Escue had grown up almost next door to RICHARD E. JOHNSON and was in the same regiment. [Ferguson, Sumner County, Tennessee in the Civil War, pg. 82-83.] He was eventually elected first Sergeant after the Fishing Creek battle. He and the unit, containing several of his cousins and friends, were in several battles after that. At Missionary Ridge, Sandy was captured and sent to Illinois with some of his comrades. VIRGIE related that “Uncle Tom Rippy” had a thumb shot off at Shiloh. This man was probably alive when VIRGIE was a child and she may have known him. She heard tales of the Civil war from Sandy’s widow, Lou, and the memories of those tales were conveyed to the author as a child. She told them to entertain her family and pass on the oral traditions of our family. Her stories made the Civil War seem fresh and recent in my mind, though it had occurred some 100 years before.

The 1850 census in District 15, page 197, showed that Thomas Rippy, age 40, born in North Carolina, lived with his wife, Rosanna, age 39, and their five children, as well as Nancy Rippy, age 85, born in Ireland. The family included a son named Thomas W. Rippy, age 10 in 1850, who was probably the “Uncle Tom Rippy” who fought at Shiloh. The older Tom Rippy would have been age 50+ during the Civil War, and likely was not a combatant. They lived next door to the JAMES ESCUE. family.

In May, the reorganized brigade was sent to Earl Van Dorn’s District of Mississippi. By May of 1862, almost half the survivors were sick with chills and fever. On January 12, 1863, about a year after RICHARD’s death, there were only 283 effectives, out of 338 present, and 610 on the roll. [Ibid. pg 81-85.]

In August of 1862, a Federal force made up mostly of men from Kentucky was in control of Gallatin in Sumner County. Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan came to Gallatin secretly and took over the telegraph office during the night. He “persuaded” the Union telegraph operator to cooperate with him in sending spurious messages to the Federals about trains coming and going. The Federals were suspicious but he succeeded in convincing them the messages were genuine. After he had accomplished his purpose, the townspeople gave him a party.

Sandy had gone to prison in November, 1863, at Rock Island, Illinois. D. W. West from Sumner was there with him and wrote home mentioning that he was there. Another young man there, Hardy Caldwell, Jr., had been at the battles of Fishing Creek, Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. He had a splendid singing voice and sang for the prisoners to keep up their spirits. [Ibid., pg 82.]

The war years were difficult for the people of Sumner County. The occupying Yankee forces were brutal to the population. Rations were in short supply, and apt to be confiscated by roving bands of the Yankees. Citizens were reportedly routinely executed without trial, shot in the head and left in the ditches for their families to find. Men were dragged from their homes and shot in front of their families, and the wives of the soldiers and officers of the occupying forces would come out to watch the executions for entertainment.

After the War


General Payne was the commanding officer of the “army of occupation” in Sumner County after the war. When a young man who had been wounded in the right breast by a shell fragment came home on furlough from the confederate Army, he was arrested by Union soldiers and given a choice of the “oath” or a northern prison. The man took the oath. Payne was not understanding of the feelings of the people.

After RICHARD’s death at Fishing Creek, MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON had her hands full with the children, post war “reconstruction,” and debts. The debts of her husband’s estate were $367, according to her brother, W. C. Simpson, the administrator of the estate [Bk. 1858-1866, pg. 366, Estate #1851]. She had five minor children at home in 1865 when she petitioned the court to set her “dower” apart in conformity with the law. She petitioned the court to sell the remaining land to pay the debts as soon as possible. The dower was a life interest in one-third of the real estate which was protected for the widow and which she got before debts were paid. Since RICHARD’s estate was small to start with, she didn’t have much left. She and the children probably had a tough road.


To William C. Simpson, Administrator of Richard E. Johnson decd, and Elizabeth Rippy and Husband Wm. Rippy, Mary heath and husband Benjamin Heath and Robert Johnson, Martha Johnson, William A. Johnson, James Johnson, Jesse Johnson Minor heirs of the said Richard E. Johnson decd.

You are hereby notified that I shall on the first Monday in October next apply to the county court of Sumner for the purpose of having my dower in the real estate of my deceased husband, the said R. E. Johnson assigned and set apart to me in conformity with how in such cases meat and provision this 25th day of September 1865.

M. A. Johnson” [signed.]

[Part of Lawsuit #926, Sumner county, TN.]

In an instrument undated, contained in the same lawsuit mentioned above,


W. C. Simpson, Adm of R. E Johnson decd vs. Mary Ann Johnson et als.

In this cause under the order referring the same to me, I would report from the sworn statement of the administrator and his account of sales and inventory that the personal assets in his hands amount to only thirteen dollars and fifteen cents [$13.15] and that the indebtedness against the intestate so far as ascertained amounts to Three hundred and sixty seven dollars [$367.00] besides interest, which renders it absolutely necessary that the lands mentioned in the pleadings be sold to enable the administrator to pay the debts of this intestate. It will be necessary to sell all the lands of the intestate, subject to the widow’s dower. [Signed] John L Bugg, Clerk by J. A. Trousdale DC.


George B. Guild was appointed guardian for the minor heirs of R. E. JOHNSON; ROBERT JOHNSON, Martha Johnson, William A. Johnson, James Johnson, and Jesse Johnson. [Book 1858-1866, pg. 619.]

The land was not sold at first. Somehow the sale did not go through. [pg. 114] Then [on page 222 in Book 1866-1869] the land was sold to William Equels. He bought 157 1/2 acres in District 15. It was bounded by Thomas Rippy, JAMES ESCUE, Edward Rippy, and A. S. Simpson, and by the heirs of ENOCH SIMPSON. This Thomas Rippy may be the man referred to by VIRGIE as “Uncle Tom Rippy, who got his thumb shot off at Shiloh.” Aaron Sanford Simpson was MARY ANN’s brother, had married the sister of his step-mother Martha, and the sister of RICHARD E. JOHNSON.

MARY ANN’s dower had been laid off in October of 1865 by JAMES ESCUE, John Rippy, and James Rippy. The inventory of RICHARD E. JOHNSON had been given [page 540] in December of 1865 after her dower had been laid off. An order, [Book 26, page 131] dated August 15, 1867, shows the buyer, William Equels, sold to MARY A. JOHNSON for $157.50 land in Dst. 15, adjoining land of JAMES ESCUE, Thomas Rippy, A. S. Simpson, and Wesley Rippy, the same land formerly owned by RICHARD E. JOHNSON of which MARY A. had her dower of 52 1/2 acres. The land had been sold by the court, W. C. Simpson, Admr., and was bought by William Equels. He was a county official and his signature, as receiving the taxes for the estate, is found on the 1867 receipt. He conveyed it to MARY A. JOHNSON, May 20, 1867. Witnessed by A. T [I? J?] Health and I. M. Rippy.

It isn’t totally clear what the above land transactions mean, but it appears that possibly they tried to sell the land and failed, then later, William Equels bought the land and then sold it back to MARY ANN. This might have been a “friendly” sale for her benefit, to secure the title to the entire land in her name.

A “prorata sheet of the estate of R. E. Johnson, decd” was listed in his estate papers, showing the people to whom he owed money and how much. The assets of the estate were only $69.32, and the debts were $594.19. Some of those to whom he owed money were, J. A. Reddick, E. & H. Redicks, John H. Malone, E. W. Durham, I. J. Edwards [Edmunds?] Judgment, A. C. Anthony, note, ENOCH SIMPSON, note, A. Simpson, account.

After several years as a widower, on [May 11? or] November 3, 1870, JAMES ESCUE married RICHARD E. JOHNSON’s widow, MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON. On the 1870 census, she is listed in his household and listed as age 43, along with JAMES ESCUE, age 63, Nancy J. Escue-3, an old maid at 36, John W. Escue-3, age 24, and Sarah K. Escue-3, age 17. The household living next door was “Sandy” [W. A.] Escue-3 and Lucinda Holmes Escue, who had two children at home, Baker E. Escue-4, and a nine-month-old baby.

JAMES ESCUE-2 had at least semi-retired as he is listed as a ”former brick mason” and is shown as owning $1,000 in real estate and $500 in personal property. It states he was born in North Carolina. He built the Shiloh brick church somewhat after this census, so we know he is not totally retired by this time. [Sumner County News, April 13, 1961.]

Daniel Escue-2, JAMES’ brother, and his wife, Henrietta, apparently came through the war reasonably financially intact. On the 1870 Sumner County U S Census, they still owned $7,000 in real estate and $1,800 in personal property. Their 30-year-old daughter, Jane Escue-3 Bona, and 10 other children and grandchildren, lived in the home with them. A “Robert Eschew,” who was black, lived next door and we can presume he was one of their former slaves.

ROBERT FOSTER JOHNSON-5, the son of RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON-4 and MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON, grew up in reconstructionist Tennessee. BOB’s father had died during the Civil War. He grew up next door to the JAMES ESCUE-2 family, and married RACHEL “LUCINDA” ESCUE-3 on June 6, 1870, the same year his widowed mother married RACHEL’s father, JAMES. ROBERT and LUCINDA took his two younger brothers, James A. and Jesse S., to raise, and probably as “hired hands,” to help them. The boys were almost old enough to make “hands” on the farm. They lived not far away from LU’s father, and BOB’s mother. We suppose that is one way to “keep it all in the family.”

BOB’S great uncle, David Johnson-3, the brother of AUSTIN, lived not far away, and was age 69 in 1870. He was living with his younger wife and their two children, Georgie Johnson-4 and Katie Johnson-4.

The war years had been difficult for the families. Besides the death of RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON-4, the occupying forces had burned the house of LUCINDA ESCUE-3 during the war. She told her granddaughter, VIRGIE, she made uniforms for the Confederate soldiers, and that the Union troops had come to the house and said they were going to burn it, but gave the family time to get their things out of the house, including the doors and windows.

On March 8, 1873, a deed was registered from MARY A. ESCUE [Mary Ann Simpson Johnson Escue] to her son, R. F. JOHNSON, land in District 12, for 87 1/2 acres. It was bounded by Edward Rippy, witnessed by L. L. B. Braswell, and W. A. [Sandy] Escue.

In the 1886 [Book 37, page 477] records, the Johnson Heirs sold land in District 12 of Sumner County, Tennessee, 83 acres, was bounded by C. B.[Calvin] Holmes, and the deed was dated 1877. It was signed by James A. Johnson-5 [mark]; Mary C. Johnson [mark]; R. R. Heath [mark]; Mary J. Heath [Mark]; A. T. [J?] Heath [mark]; M. A. Health, William W. Rippy [mark], Elizabeth Rippy, W. A. Johnson, Sarah H. Johnson, and J. S. Johnson. It was witnessed by E. C. Braswell, M. Fikes, W. A. Escue, and E. S. Braswell. It was registered July 9, 1886.

The years from 1870 to 1880 brought many changes to the families. MARY ANN SIMPSON JOHNSON ESCUE died during those years, maybe as late as 1877, when her name was last found on a deed. In 1880, JAMES ESCUE was listed on the census as living with daughter, Sarah K Escue., and a granddaughter, Mary Escue. The census said he had “chronic rheumatism.” Sandy and Lucinda Holmes Escue had six children by 1880, ranging in age from one to thirteen years old. Their children were: Baker E. Escue, James Escue, Luella Escue, William Escue, Brodie Escue, and a baby girl, Minnesota Escue.

By 1880, there were literally hundreds of DORRIS and JOHNSON families in the area. The Escues had thinned out between 1830 and 1840, when many apparently left the area. The ESCUE name was quite interesting because it was spelled many different ways, from Asquogh, Askey, Askew, Eschew, Aschew, and Esque, as well as Escue. It was found once spelled “Askeel.” The spelling apparently changed from day to day and family to family. JAMES’s brother, Daniel, had his name spelled different on every census he was listed on. Prior to 1800, most Escue families’ names were spelled with the first letter an A. After 1800, it varied.

An ownership map of Sumner County, District 12, in 1878, shows JAMES ESCUE living on the road just south of the Middle Fork of Trammel Creek and west of the Baptist Church. Sandy Escue lived just across the road. R. JOHNSON [ROBERT F.?] was on the next road west. C. B. Holmes lived just a little to the south of them, and Q. S. [Quintin Sarver] Bell and his wife, Mary Frances Holmes Bell, lived just a little way south of that. Bird Trout’s widow, Marjory Holmes Trout, had a farm nearby. Two men named “W. Dorris” lived in the northeast corner of the district. R. T. Johnson lived almost to the Kentucky border. [See: Other Sources Used.]

RICHARD E. JOHNSON’s uncle, David L. Johnson-3, lived at least until 1880 and was listed on the census. The census states David and both his parents were born in Virginia.

JAMES ESCUE-2 died about 1883, only a couple of years before his son, Sandy, died. Sandy’s widow, Lucinda “Lou” Holmes, lived until 1922 and did not remarry. She was VIRGIE’s favorite aunt, and used to read to VIRGIE, when she was a child, from the Bible and Bible story books.


ROBERT FOSTER JOHNSON-5 [VIRGIE’s papa’s papa] lived until October 3, 1921, and his wife, RACHEL LUCINDA ESCUE JOHNSON [papa’s mama], lived until November 23, 1921. They are buried side-by-side in the Escue Cemetery in Sumner County, with a single tombstone which now lies flat on the ground. Under his name it says “Resting in hope of a glorious resurrection.” Under hers, it is inscribed “How desolate our home ... of thee.” Sandy and Aunt Lou are also both buried there, but have no tombstones. The graveyard is behind a farm house about a quarter of a mile north of the Liberty Church, which still stands, but is now a private dwelling. The cemetery is halfway up a steep slope between the valley floor and the top of the ridge. It is covered with tall standing timber and is surrounded by a chain-link fence. It has long been neglected, and most of the stones are gone or lying on the ground. There are probably more than 100 graves there, according to Theda Womack, but only a handful are still marked.

We don’t know if VIRGIE’s parents made the trip[s] to Tennessee from Arkansas at the death of either of their parents. They may have made several trips. VIRGIE was married by the time her grandparents died. She and ARBY were quite poor at that time, however, or they may have already been in Texas by that time.

Children of Robert Foster-5 & Lucinda Escue Johnson

James Johnson-1; Richard-2; Austin-3; Richard-4; Robert F.-5; Felix Hill-6; Leatha Virgie-7


  1. Edmond Johnson-6, born April 20, 1871, married Vinnie Ann Graves January 31, 1894. Their children were Lela Johnson-7; twins, Roy Black Johnson-7 and Coy White Johnson-7; Baker Johnson-7; and Gladys Johnson-7. The author’s mother, Gladys Laverne Gray, was named for Gladys Johnson-7.

oy Johnson-7 married Annie Neale Troutt, and had Roy Johnson, Jr.-8 Roy, Jr., married a woman named Edna and had one son, James [Jimmy] Johnson-9. Later Roy, Jr., remarried and had another child, a daughter, Cathy Johnson-9. Roy, Jr.’s son, Jimmy-9, married Elaine and had a daughter, Alina Johnson-10, who married a young man named Dan in 1990. Jimmy was a policeman in Dickson, Tennessee, in 1990. Annie Neal Troutt-Johnson lived to be a very old woman. [Living, 1999.] [References: Personal knowledge of Leatha Virgie Johnson Gray, Gladys Gray Sams, Gwendolyn Evitts, interview with Annie Neale Troutt Johnson in 1990, and the author.]


  1. Isadora Catherine Johnson-6, born March 9, 1873, died October 8, 1873. [Oral history from Erick Montgomery.]


  1. FELIX HILL JOHNSON-6, born August 22, 1874, in Sumner County, Tennessee. He is the author’s great-grandfather. Photographs show FELIX was very handsome, with thick dark hair when he was young, but by the time he was grown, he was completely bald, except for a fringe of hair around the sides and back. He farmed tobacco some, operated a country store, taught school, and eventually sold insurance, which was what prompted him to move with his family to Arkansas in 1911. He is well-remembered by the author. He married SARAH ALICE DORRIS on January 6, 1897. He died February 27, 1959, in Conway County, Arkansas. Both SARAH ALICE and FELIX are buried in the Kilgore Cemetery in Conway County, Arlansas.


  1. Sarah Malvina [Mallie] Johnson-6, was born March 17, 1877, and died November 27, 1958. She married Jasper Bunyan “Bun” Reddick, they had two daughters:


  1. Ara Reddick-7, married Harvey Clendining and had a son, Harvey Clendining, Jr. Ara divorced Harvey before 1940 and married Emmett Thompson. Ara lived in Franklin, Kentucky, where she had a beauty shop. Theda Womack says that “Ara was one of the most beautiful women I knew.” Theda supplied us with the information on Vera and Ara from personal knowledge in a personal letter to the author in 1992.


  1. Vera Reddick-7, who married Wheeler Perry. Their children were:

  1. Russell Perry, born 1921, who married Geraldean Clemmons and lives near Bethpage.

  2. Jewel Perry born January 8, 1924, who married E. H. “Bud” West and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

  3. Sarah Perry born August 6, 1930, married Howard McCollum

  4. Mallie Perry born about 1935, married Owen Woodard and lives in Bethpage

  5. Paula Perry born October, 1944, married Frank Powel and lives in Sumner.

[Ref: Theda Pond Womack, personal knowledge.]

The author’s mother remembers “Aunt Mallie” as a slender, energetic lady. Gladys loved “Aunt Mattie’s” rare visits to Arkansas when she visited FELIX and SARAH ALICE.


Photograph of Mallie’s house, Gallatin, Tennessee, Circa 1990. From collection of Gladys Gray Sams.

5. Robert Calvin Johnson-6, born March 26, 1879, married Georgia Graves in 1900 and had two sons, Vernon Johnson-7 and Cleo Johnson-7. Robert Calvin died August 8, 1945. [Oral history Leatha Virgie Johnson Gray.]


6. John William Johnson-6, born September 11, 1881, married Hattie Hodges and had children named Fount Johnson-7, Ollie Johnson-7, and Bessie Johnson-7. His second wife was Minnie Perry. He died October 27, 1947. [Oral history Leatha Virgie Johnson Gray.]


7. Charlie Baker Johnson-6, was born July 11, 1884, and married Fannie H. Angela. Their children were Earl Johnson-7, Lucille Johnson-7, and Reese Johnson-7. Uncle Charlie was a diabetic. [Theda Womack related in a letter to the author dated November 5, 1990, that she had the birth dates of the children of ROBERT FOSTER JOHNSON from Charlie’s family Bible.] He died December 5, 1970.


8. Harry Thornburg Johnson-6, married Eva Mai Creasy and had a daughter, Pauline Johnson-7. Harry and Eva were divorced about 1915, and there was a lawsuit involving the “baccky crop.” Eva got an injunction so the crop could not be sold. ROBERT-5 or Robert-6 signed a bond for Mr. Green, who also had an interest in the crop. Harry’s second wife was Pauline Holder. Uncle Harry was also a diabetic. [The author’s mother knew Uncle Harry and Uncle Charlie.]



Though ROBERT F. JOHNSON’s children grew up in Reconstructionist Tennessee in the difficult years after the Civil War, they received some education, and FELIX HILL JOHNSON scored almost a perfect score on his teacher’s certificate. His handwriting was very practiced and neat.

Chapter III

Richard Johnson-2 in Sumner County


By the early 1800s, Virginia was becoming a land in which the yeoman farmer or planter was having a difficult time making a living. By the mid-1700s yeomen farmers had started to leave the area for the Carolinas. By the turn of the century, even the middle aged grandsons of the great land barons were finding life in Virginia difficult and were leaving for new lands further west in an effort to secure viable plantations and farms for themselves and their sons. It was not unusual for a middle-aged man such as our RICHARD JOHNSON and his children to pack up en masse and move to Tennessee or the Carolinas in search of new farms. It was also not unusual for this move to coincide with the death of the previous generations’ patriarchs. With the death of GEORGE HUNTER shortly preceding the move to Tennessee, our JOHNSON family seems to have followed the pattern. Tennessee might have been chosen because RICHARD had a revolutionary grant of land in that area. With his oldest sons reaching marriageable ages it was imperative that lands be secured for their livelihoods. RICHARD and LUCY were nearing fifty years old.

Colonel Lewis described the labor on a frontier farm in Kentucky about the year RICHARD and LUCY moved, comparing it to Virginia. “I think the richness combined with the immense quantaty of fertile lands in the western country will be a means of establishing a great deal of indolance......Were I in the same situation as a numnber of the pore are in Virginia & to labour on their pore land as hard as they do. The situation of the slave here [in Kentucky] is far parferable....every man [in Kentucky] has more corn thin they know what to do with as well as meat.” [Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews, pg. 126.]

The earliest deed of purchase found in Sumner County, Tennessee, for RICHARD JOHNSON-2 was dated March 11, 1807, when he bought 292 acres of land on Bledsoe’s Creek from George Gillespie and Henry Bledsoe, near James Byres. He paid $972 for the land. [Murry, Sumner County, Tennessee Deed Abstracts 1806-1817, pg. 15.] By 1816, RICHARD JOHNSON’s tax list shows that he owned 167 acres on the East Fork of Bledsoe Creek.

In 1818, RICHARD JOHNSON-2 sold 50 acres of land in Sumner County, Tennessee, to John Mabry for $300 on Bledsoe’s Creek on John Gillespie’s east line. [Sumner Deeds] Benjamin Johnson’s son would marry into the Mabry family.

In 1819, RICHARD JOHNSON-2 gave land for the construction of a house of worship to the trustees of Providence M. E. Church. [Methodist Episcopal] The trustees were: Richard Baskerville, John Crenshaw, RICHARD JOHNSON-2, Samuel Johnson-3, Richard C. Johnson-3, AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 and Chism Daves. AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 was a trustee of the church at the young age of 18 or 19 years. [Sumner Deeds.]]

The reference here to Richard C. Johnson-3 as trustee of the church leads Erick Montgomery to conclude that “Richard Johnson, Jr.,” who was the son of Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON-2, was the same man as Richard C. Johnson. Since the name “Richard C. Johnson” harks back to the several men in Hanover County, Virginia, this again makes one wonder about the connection, if any, between the Louisa County family of our RICHARD-2 and the Hanover County Johnsons.

In 1820, RICHARD JOHNSON-2, Sr., was in Sumner County, but there are also two other men by the same name on the Sumner County Census. The “Richard” on page 162 of the census records is a young man with his family. This young man might be our RICHARD’s son.

The listing on page 161, for a male over 45 and a female 26-46 is probably our RICHARD-2 and his wife, LUCY. There are only two grown males and a nearly-grown female left at home. This female was probably Nancy Johnson-3. [Sumner County, TN, U S Census 1820.]

The listing in the census for “Richard C. Johnson,” on page 160, couldn’t be our RICHARD-2, because he would have been much too young to have fought in the Revolution. The Richard C. Johnson-3 who is found in Sumner County in 1820 on the census is apparently our RICHARD’s son. [Sumner County, TN, U S Census 1820.]

According to his obituary, RICHARD JOHNSON-2 had been ordained a deacon in the Methodist Church in Virginia in September 1799 by Bishop Francis Asbury before he moved to Tennessee.. His obituary mentioned that he was well known in Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky churches, so it is probable that at least part of the time he rode his horse to various congregations and preached. In 1849, at the time of his death, it stated he had been a minister for over 50 years. He was 90 years of age at the time that statement was made. In addition to being a minister, he apparently also farmed as well. [Nashville Christian Advocate, Issue #44, Fri. Aug. 31, 1849, p. 4, Col. 3.]


Strange Times

1811 was a year of strange and unnatural portents. The great comet of 1811 first appeared in April and was visible in the northern sky most of the year, reaching its greatest intensity in October of that year. That same year, a great flock of passenger pigeons settled in the Ohio Valley and consumed countless tons of mast. They swept the forest clean, and when the food was gone, left the area. Their incredible numbers in the area caused amazement. On September 17th, there was a total eclipse of the sun. [Merritt, Jefferson’s Nephews, pg. 250.]

The years between 1811 and 1813 were strange years for the people living in Tennessee and the few people in Arkansas. The border between the two states is called the New Madrid [pronounced “New Mad’-rid”] fault area and contains a major earthquake zone. Between December, 1811, and March, 1812, there were over 2,000 separate earthquakes in the area, some of a huge magnitude. While Middle Tennessee is not in the worst of the zone, the area did suffer an intensity of 7 or 8, which meant tree branches broke off and fell in the quakes, chimneys fell, the ground became wet, and springs and wells were effected, and people would find it difficult to stand during the worst quakes.

A little after 2:00 a.m. on December 16, 1811, the people were shaken awake by the quakes. Their log houses swayed, but generally did not fall. In fear, they groped their way outside in the dark, away from falling debris and remained shivering in the winter air until morning. After-shocks through the night kept them from returning to their homes. The ground rose and fell as waves passed and the soil opened in deep cracks. Reelfoot Lake was formed in western Tennessee and is eighteen-miles long and up to five-miles wide and five to twenty-feet deep.

When the first quake hit, the earth moved in waves, and great fissures opened and spewed out sand, water, and gas. A heavy fog engulfed the region for a few days. At least three of the over 2,000 quakes were believed to have been over eight on the Richter scale.

On January 12, 1812, another huge quake hit with the same intensity and destructiveness of the first one. One, maybe even larger, hit on February 7, 1812.

No one knows how many were killed or injured, but the sparseness of the population and the flexible construction of their log homes helped decrease the injury and death. The log cabins were quite elastic in nature, but many frame homes did not withstand the quakes.

The same year, a volcano named Tambora exploded and spewed ash into the atmosphere over the northern hemisphere. The dust circled the globe and blocked out the sun for years. The summer of 1812 did not come to the United States or to Tennessee. It was known as “the year without a summer,” and crops failed due to the cold. Georgia had snow in July! Some of the people must have thought the world was coming to an end, with the shaking of the ground and the absence of the summer that year. It must have been a time of intense worry and fear, as well as a time of hardship for the people.

As if that wasn’t enough, on August 30, 1813, the Creek Indians massacred 553 whites at Fort Mims, Mississippi Territory, just north of where Mobile, Alabama, is today. Tennessee Governor Blount authorized 2,500 men to put down the hostile Creeks. By October of that year, Andrew Jackson had recalled members of his forces in the field. Colonel Edward Bradley commanded the Sumner County forces. Among staff officers for this regiment were Richard Johnson, Ensign and Adjutant. [Old Sumner, pg. 61.] We are not sure if this would have been RICHARD or his son, Richard, or another Richard Johnson. Richard, Jr., would have been about the right age. RICHARD JOHNSON, Sr., would have been a little old for this trek, at age 52, but since we know he was still riding the Methodist circuit at 90, he might have been in good enough shape to participate, so it may actually have been RICHARD, Sr. In any case, there was a man named Richard Johnson on the campaign.

The whole “Indian Campaign” was not one of the prouder moments in Tennessee’s history. It was in reality a fiasco and a shame for the men involved in this campaign. Andrew Jackson’s military experience at this point wasn’t all that great with Indians, and the men were not responsive to discipline. The majority of the “heroic” deeds and fighting consisted of murdering hapless Indian women and children, and scalping them for trophies.

RICHARD and LUCY’s son, AUSTIN JOHNSON-3, married ANN ELIZABETH CORLEY-3 in Wilson County, Tennessee, September 4, 1820, when he was about 21 years old. She was the daughter of AUSTIN CORLEY-2, from Hanover County, St. Martin’s Parish, Virginia, and had moved to Tennessee only four years after the JOHNSONs did. One would guess that the two families may have known each other in Virginia, though apparently their Revolutionary services did not overlap. William Corley-2, ELIZABETH’s uncle, lived in Louisa County, Virginia, after 1800. [Marriage Bonds of Wilson County, TN & Revolutionary pensions of William & Austin Corley.]


The children of Austin Johnson-3

by his first wife, Anne Elizabeth Corley

  1. Martha Jane Johnson-4 was born July 6, 1821, died 1905.

  2. RICHARD EDMUND JOHNSON-4 was born in 1823, died 1862.

  3. Mary Frances Johnson-4 was born between 1823 and 1825.

The marriage of AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 and ELIZABETH CORLEY-3 was a short-lived one. She may have been about 15 years old when they married, and was deceased by 1829, leaving behind three young children. Other than this little information about ELIZABETH, we know almost nothing about her. We do know a little more about her family, however.

Apparently, ANN ELIZABETH CORLEY JOHNSON died about the first part of 1829, and AUSTIN-3 remarried on September 30, 1829, to Barrodill B. White, who was the “wife” on the 1830 census. AUSTIN’s brother was the bondsman for the marriage. [Marriage Bonds of Sumner County.]

They had three more children, born between 1830 and 1939. [Marriage Bonds of Sumner County, Tennessee, and 1830 US Census of Sumner County, Tennessee.] [Names of the Children are from the estate of Austin Johnson-3 in Sumner County, Tennessee, Deed Records of Sumner, and oral history of Erick Montgomery.] In 1830, the census showed that AUSTIN owned one male slave aged 14 to 26 years old.


Children of Austin Johnson-3

by his second wife, Barrodill B. White

  1. Malvina E. Johnson-4, lived with her half-sister, Martha-4, after the death of their father.

  2. Barrodill Johnson-4, lived with her half-sister, Martha-4, after the death of their father.

  3. Margaret Ann Johnson-4, born August 22, 1834, at Castalian Springs, Sumner County, Tennessee. She never married. She died June 22, 1909, at Rockbridge, Sumner County, Tennessee, and is buried in the Simpson Cemetery in Sumner County.

[Sumner County Deed, Deed Book 17, March 17, 1840, page 149, names the children and parents; oral history from Erick Montgomery is the source of information on Margaret Ann Johnson.]

These three children are found on the Sumner County, Tennessee, 1850 census in the household of ENOCH SIMPSON and his second wife, their half-sister, Martha. Martha would have been eight or nine years old when Barodill White married her father. We don’t know if she lived with her father and his second wife, or if she stayed with other relatives until she married. The fact that she raised the half siblings seems to indicate that she was close to them, whatever her feelings for her “step-mother” were.

AUSTIN JOHNSON-4 bought lot #109 in Cairo in 1833, from Will Cage and Lucilins Winchester commissioners, as proven by a deed in Record Book 1833-1838, page 7.

Apparently Barrodill White Johnson was deceased by 1840. We don’t know why the first two wives died so young, but it is entirely possible that they succumbed to complications of childbirth. The greatest cause of death for young women at this time was complications from repeated child bearing. AUSTIN-3 married a third time, on September 21, 1840. His wife was Mary M. Holt.


Margaret Ann Johnson [1834-1909], daughter of Austin Johnson and his second wife, Barrodill B. White. Copied from the collection of Beatrice Hawkins Brizendine, Bethpage, Tennessee, in 1978 by Erick Montgomery.

Children of Austin Johnson-3

by his third wife, Mary M. Holt

  1. Thomas P. Johnson-4, born 1844, was mentioned in a letter in 1862.

  2. Rebecca Johnson-4, born 1846.

AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 apparently died shortly after the birth of Rebecca-4 about 1846. His name was found listed on a deed as late as 1845. His children by Barrodill White would be raised by his older daughter, Martha-4, in the household of ENOCH SIMPSON. [Sumner County, Tennessee US Census, 1850]. By the time AUSTIN-3 died, his older set of children were almost grown. They had received a legacy amounting of about $400 from their mother’s brother, their uncle Edmund B. Corley. Their grandfather, the Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON-2, had been appointed guardian of these funds by their uncle’s will, then their uncle, David L. Johnson-3, had succeeded RICHARD-2 as guardian of these funds. The children received some education from this legacy. [Estate of E. B. Corley from Wilson & Sumner Counties, Tennessee.]

The fact that the county records listed a “guardian” for the children by 1830 made the author think AUSTIN-3 was also deceased before 1830. At first, it was believed there was another man of the same name [though probably related] who was also living in the county at the same time. If not for the more-thorough research of Erick Montgomery, backed up by his extensive oral history, it would have been easy to assume that both of the later marriages and children concerned a man with the same name. The credit for straightening out this tangled web goes to Erick Montgomery. [Austin Johnson Estate, Sumner County, Tennessee.]

In 1819, “close by the Greenfield tract,” a man named Peter Bryson and his son, James, owned a blacksmith shop. They kept an account book which showed business done by the smithy. In 1829, the listings for amounts owed or sold included George Johnson-3 and RICHARD JOHNSON-2. In 1830, AUSTIN-3 was listed in the account books, as well as George-3 and RICHARD JOHNSON-2.[Durham, Great Leap Westward.]

The local smith served the community for hardware needs and mechanical things. Nails cost about a half cent each and were made by hand. By contrast in prices, it only cost $21 to educate a child for an entire year, so nails were relatively expensive items. It cost 68 3/4 cents to shoe a horse or mule on all four feet. Salt at that time cost $1 per bushel and pork cost 3 cents per pound, it cost 12 1/2 cents to sharpen a plow, and whiskey cost 12 1/2 cents a quart. Men’s shoes cost 62-1/2 cents a pair. A day’s wages for a laborer was about 50 cents. It has been said that if a settler moved on, he would burn down his house to recover the nails to build the next place. I am not sure this was universally true, but with the relative prices of nails so high, it might have happened more than once. [Durham, Great Leap Westward & Estate of James Wilson, Sr., Sumner County, Tennessee]

AUSTIN JOHNSON having lost his first two wives to death, and having children by all three of his wives, children who may have either been raised by step-mothers or by other relatives, may not have had a close relationship with his children. He doesn’t seem to have been financially well off, though we don’t know the reason for that. One hint that at least Martha Johnson Turner Simpson may not have been close to her father is contained in the lawsuit between her second husband, ENOCH SIMPSON, and her former brother-in-law, Nelson Turner. [Sumner County Loose Records, Lawsuit #13467.] The deposition of Elizabeth [Turner] Buntin [her former sister-in-law] stated that Martha had said, about her orphaned son, John’s estate, that her father wanted to manage John’s money but she stated he should not have it in his hands and stated that no person should have his [John’s] money but Nelson Turner for she believe [sic] that he [Nelson] would be a father to that child and stated that James [her deceased first husband] always could take time to go to Nelson once a weak [sic] or oftener and said as to Nelson Turner and his wife she thought as much of them as she did of her father [AUSTIN JOHNSON] or more.”


Chapter V

The Johnsons

James Johnson-1; Richard-2; Austin-3; Richard E.-4; Robert F.-5; Felix H-6; Virgie-7


Information taken from the Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON’s obituary, a copy supplied by Erick Montgomery, indicates that RICHARD JOHNSON was a devout Christian man and had been ordained a deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church by Bishop Francis Asbury in September, 1799, in LouisiaCounty, Virginia.. L. M. Woodson wrote the obituary. E. Carr also added a few remarks about what a good man RICHARD was.

Died June 22d, 1849 of dropsy….in the 90th year of his age.

He was ordained a deacon of the Methodist E. Church by Bishop Asbury in September 1799, and in November 1812, he was ordained an elder of said church by Bishop McKendree at Fountain Head, showing that he has been a minister for more than fifty years.

His zeal….did not abate as age crept on, but he preached the last Sabbath he was able to ride on horse back, and when age and disease laid him on his bed to die he had outstanding appointments.

His aged companion died some ten years ago, full of faith

[Nashville Christian Advocate, Issue #44, Friday, August, 31, 1849, pg. 4, col. 3.]


It is difficult for us, today, to understand the religious views held by our ancestors two hundred years ago. In the Cumberland settlements, starting in 1797, there had been a tremendous spiritual revival. This event had begun in Logan County, Kentucky, the place where there was probably the greatest concentration of sinners on the frontier, it was called “Rogues’ Harbor.” [Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews, 189.]

Bishop Asbury, the bishop who had ordained RICHARD JOHNSON-2, “preferred his itinerant preachers to be unlettered, and said that a simple man was adequate to speak for the simple, plain people. Asbury preferred preachers who had received the “true call” over those ministers who were “man made.” Although the Methodists did have a religious book publishing concern, and the schools founded by Asbury became successful at a later time, nevertheless, prior to 1816, American Methodists failed ...in founding schools for children of their people.” [Merrill, Jefferson’s Nephews, 198.]

More than any other denomination, Methodists were instrumental in Christianizing the slaves, but the motive, according to Merrill, might have been selfish, because the slaves then stopped stealing and lying and became better servants.

Two famous black preachers, John Jasper and Black Harry, who accompanied Bishop Asbury on his rounds, were well known in Methodist circles. The Methodist Church at this time embraced the black worshipers into the congregation. Most church services were integrated throughout the antebellum period and blacks were welcomed into the “white” churches. [Boles, Black Southerners 1619-1869, pgs 155-159.]

Methodists were consistently hostile to education and learning, to certain forms of recreation, and to fine arts as well. The Methodists angrily denounced the use of organs, instruments, or choirs and the church was opposed to dancing, drama, and fiction.

Apparently, RICHARD didn’t obtain his entire living from preaching, but was also engaged in farming at some points in his life. The obituary indicated RICHARD was well known over the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, and he had “appointments” already made to preach when he died at age 90. The article was filled with praise for the Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON-2 and his dedication to his religion.

Dropsy” is an archaic term for what is called heart failure today. The heart is enlarged and does not pump blood well, which causes the lower extremities to collect fluid or swell with edema. This edema, in turn, causes a loss of circulation to the legs which would swell to huge proportions, without today’s medications. The skin on the lower legs becomes very thin and dark and easily torn. Sores can form from lack of circulation and any tiny tear in the skin would fail to heal. End stage heart failure causes fluid to accumulate in the lung space and, effectively, smother the patient. In a person as old as RICHARD JOHNSON this would not be unusual. It is not usually a sudden onset disease, however, and he probably had suffered some problems for many years before his death. Nevertheless, to have lived to age 90, in a day prior to antibiotics, testifies to his general good health and good luck.

The 1830 United States Census in Sumner County, Tennessee, lists RICHARD JOHNSON-2 as between 60 and 70 years old, and his wife, LUCY, in the same age range. RICHARD’s obituary indicated LUCY died about 10 years prior to his death, about 1839. Living in the house with them on the 1830 United States Census was a male child between 10 and 15 years old, and two males and a female between 20 and 30 years old. The census does not list these people by name, but by age-category and by race. There were apparently no slaves in the household.

RICHARD JOHNSON-2 was the guardian for AUSTIN’s three children, Martha J., RICHARD EDMUND, and Mary Frances Johnson-4, for the inheritance they received from their uncle Edmund B. Corley’s estate even though their father was still alive. ELIZABETH CORLEY JOHNSON was deceased by the time her brother died and left the legacy to the children in 1830. AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 remarried in 1829. This also accounts for the age range on the 1830 census for AUSTIN’s wife which does not match the age range for ELIZABETH.

In 1832, AUSTIN JOHNSON borrowed money from his children’s legacy and gave a mortgage for his land to RICHARD, as guardian of the children’s legacy from E. B. Corley. The land mortgaged was 100 acres “situated on the waters of Rocky Creek. The same where the said AUSTIN JOHNSON now lives.”

One accounting by RICHARD JOHNSON, Sr.-2, to the court for the children’s estate was “princible and intest” of about $400, and the money RICHARD spent on the children’s “scooling.” RICHARD was at least literate, but his spelling was not the best. He also signed his pension with a reasonably good signature. RICHARD’s family, though not very wealthy, had enough financial substance to provide a basic education for their children.

Interest for one year on the children’s $400 legacy was $48. Expense for the children’s education and books was $21 for a year. In 1836, RICHARD gave oversight of the children’s estate to his son, David L. Johnson. Interestingly enough, it was not given to their father, who was living at that time. AUSTIN does not appear to have been financially successful in his lifetime, though, as a trustee of the church for which RICHARD donated the land, he was probably not a “black sheep.”

Their estate of $400 was a reasonable amount to give the children a start in life. Common labor was paid 50 cents per day during this period of time, so they had the equivalent of more than a years’ wages from a working man. The oral history collected by Erick Montgomery says the children lived with their grandparents, RICHARD and LUCY, after their mother died, and that possibly they lived first with one relative and then another during their growing years. By the time they were “barely grown” they had lost their mother, their father, and a step-mother as well. The children also inherited $100 each from their grandfather, AUSTIN CORLEY.

We are not sure of the death date of AUSTIN JOHNSON, but it must have been around 1846. Guardian records are found in the months preceding that date, so we know he was alive then. Also, we aren’t sure just where AUSTIN lived in the county and he seems to have moved around quite a bit. One entry mentions Rocky Creek. In 1838, RICHARD JOHNSON sold to Nancy Dickerson for $200 land lying on Rocky Creek “same land where AUSTIN JOHNSON is now living.” This makes one wonder if AUSTIN was unable to pay the mortgage he had given to RICHARD for the funds he borrowed from the children’s legacy from E. B. Corley.

David Johnson signed the property sale of AUSTIN’s personal property estate January 14, 1848. It consisted of mostly a few hand tools [carpenter’s] and a horse and saddle, worth a total of $84.25. William Simpson was one of the buyers at the sale. David Johnson-3, AUSTIN’s brother, was also the successor-guardian for the legacy from E. B. Corley-3 for the three oldest children. These records are included in the “packet” of “estate” records for AUSTIN, and “muddy the water” on dates. By including the deeds, and other records, however, we know now that these records are not truly part of AUSTIN’s estate.

Martha Johnson-4 married James H. Turner by 1838, at least eight years before the death of her father, and her portion of the legacy from Edmund Corley-3 was turned over to her husband February 1, 1838, by David Johnson-3, guardian. The receipt [Estate #680, Sumner County, TN] was signed by James H. Turner and Martha J. Turner. She received $135.62 as her remaining portion of the legacy from Edmund B. Corley. This was 150% of the amount her father’s personal property sold for at the time of his death six years later. She also received a bequest of $100 from AUSTIN CORLEY’s estate in 1841.

A newspaper announced that AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 had a letter at the post office that should be claimed in April of 1838.

In March of 1840, AUSTIN JOHNSON-3 and his second wife, Barrodill White Johnson, deeded land :


for love etc. to children Malvena C., Margaret A., and Barrodill Johnson. This is an 8th part of the estate of Robert White dec’d In dist. 2, begin tree. N91 poles to stake in Matthew Kincannon’s line, w with line 90 poles, s 91 1/2 poles to stake in Murry’s line, e with line 90 poles to the beginning. 50 acres. Also another tract. Begin on trees, n 121 poles to stake, e 66 poles to stake in Yancy’s w line, s with line 120 poles to stake, w 66 poles to begin. 50 acres. Also nominate Thomas M. White Guardian for children. Wit. Thomas M. Patterson [Sumner County Deed Book 17, pg. 149.] Thanks to Erick Montgomery for this reference.


This was apparently land Barrodill inherited from her father. She would shortly die and AUSTIN remarried within the year. Possibly she was already sick and anticipating her own death. A husband had a courtesy right in his wife’s inherited property if there were children, and essentially a life-estate. At his death the property would pass to the deceased wife’s children. For some reason, however, the property was deeded directly to the minor children with a guardian appointed for them. This might have been an attempt to secure the land from debt collectors, or make sure that the land went directly to the children, rather than having to wait until their father died.

The 1840 United States Census for Sumner County, Tennessee, lists AUSTIN’s brother, David Johnson-3, as between 30 and 40 years old [he was born November 18, 1800] and there is another male about the same age living in the household. One female between 30 and 40, and one female between 40 and 50, and a female child, between 5 and 10 years old, were also in the household. David owned six slave children under 10 years old, and one adult male slave between 24 and 36 years old. This would indicate David was buying the cheaper slaves and “growing his own” labor force.

RICHARD JOHNSON-2 died January 22, 1849, at nearly 90 years of age. LUCY HUNTER JOHNSON had been deceased about 10 years when RICHARD died. According to Erick Montgomery, LUCY is buried in the Johnson Cemetery in Sumner County, Tennessee, which is “located on a pig path.” LUCY has a tombstone there. Erick Montgomery says that RICHARD lived with one of his daughters in the last years of his life. He was apparently still preaching well up into his eighties, though, so must not have been too infirm if he could ride a horse far enough to go to preach at distant churches.


Benjamin Johnson-3, Son of Richard and Lucy Hunter Johnson


Benjamin J. Johnson-3, the son of LUCY HUNTER JOHNSON and the Reverend RICHARD JOHNSON, using US census records as guides, was born between 1791 and 1795. He came to Tennessee with the family when he was a young child. In Tennessee, he first married Rebecca Turner, the daughter of John Turner. She was a sister to Frances Turner, who was married to Benjamin’s brother, Richard Johnson-3. The younger brother of these two women, James H. Turner, married Benjamin and Richard Johnson’s niece, Martha J. Johnson-4, AUSTIN JOHNSON’s daughter.

Rebecca Turner Johnson was born December 27, 1795, and died August 5, 1847. She is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Sumner County. She and Benjamin had the following children:


  1. Austin Nelson Johnson-4, born about 1815, was married November 29, 1837, to Mildred Mabry and later to Matilda Crowder. He had children by both the women. More will be told about his life in detail later. He died after 1880 in Sumner.

  2. William Johnson-4, born May 2, 1820, died October 30, 1881. Married Abigail C. Bradley, daughter of Abram Bradley and Zelpha Dorris. Elizabeth Jane, whose surname is unknown, was his second wife. He is probably the William Johnson who testified for the lawsuit between ENOCH SIMPSON and his uncle, Nelson Turner, in 1846.

  3. James M. Johnson-4, born about 1825-6, married Margaret Beason on September 15, 1846.

  4. Mary Jane Johnson-4, born September 20, 1827, died April 18, 1898. She was married to Richard W. Bradley December 21, 1846. Her husband was a brother to William Johnson’s wife, Abigail. Her husband would testify in the SIMPSON-Turner lawsuit as well.

  5. B. Franklin Johnson-4, was born April 4, 1829, and died October 12, 1899. His wife’s name was Elizabeth. He also testified at the depositions for the lawsuit.

  6. Susan A. Johnson-4, born in 1831, married Hampton Garrison. She testified for the Turner side of the lawsuit.

  7. John R. Johnson-4, was born about 1837 and died June 1869. His wife was Emily A. E. Hodges.

  8. Stephen J. Johnson-4, was born about 1838 or 1839. He married Sarah M. Shaw on October 13, 1860, in Sumner County.


Benjamin Johnson’s wife, Rebecca Turner Johnson, died and he married Mary “Polly” C. Payne. They had two children, but the names of the children are not known.

After Polly’s death, Benjamin married his third wife, Phebe Jane Northam, and had five more children, making a total of at least 15 children from this man.


  1. Mary E./L. “Minnie” Johnson-4, born August 2, 1856, died January 12, 1878, and is buried at Maple Hill.

  2. M. Elizabeth Johnson-4, born 26 June 1859, married Jim Brooks on December 23, 1880, She died May 10, 1895, and her husband remarried..

  3. Davis B. Johnson-4, born August 29, 1861, died October 8, 1944, in Sumner County and is buried at Maple Hill. Married Merica D. Short, daughter of Isaac Martin and Jenetty White Short.

  4. Cornelius S. Johnson-4, was born March 3, 1865 and died July 17, 1897. His wife was Emeline Frances Short and he is buried at Maple Hill. His wife was a sister to Davis Johnson’s wife, Merica D. Short.

  5. Lucy “Lou” Johnson-4, was born February 19, 1868 and died May 16, 1903, in Sumner County and is buried at Maple Hill. Her husband was H. H. Smith.


Benjamin Johnson-3 may have had an additional “extramarital” child. In Sumner County, Tennessee, lawsuit #9250, from the Loose Records of Sumner County, we find in 1829, “The State Vs. Benjamin Johnson.” The grand jury charged to inquire for the body of the county presented February 5th, 1829, that Benjamin Johnson had to answer a charge of bastardy upon the oath of a woman named Polly Little, “a single woman,” that she was delivered of a female bastard child and that Benjamin Johnson was the father. It is also possible that this child might be a grandchild of Benjamin-3.

Samuel Brown, who was supposed to execute the warrant from the grand jury did not do so and he was called to court because he had failed to do his duty. No more is known at this time about the conclusion of the case or the charge.





Will of Benjamin Johnson-3

Signed March 10, 1868

Proved July 1868


In the name of God Amen.

I, Benjamin Johnson in the county of Sumner and the state of Tennessee, being in sound mind and memory and considering the uncertainty of this frail and transitory life, do therefore make, ordain, and publish and declare this to be my last will and testament.

This is to say: First I have bequeath to my beloved wife and dispose of as follows: to wit, to my beloved wife Pheby Jane and her bodily heirs by me and apperti--- situated thereon known and described as the homestead which I now live lying in the State of Tennessee county of Sumner beginning at the crossing on the L & N RR thence running west with said road to the double post oak known as my own and John Grovers corner. All south of this road to I set apart for her and her bodily heirs by me. I also set apart all household and kitchen apparrets. I also bequeath to belove wife Pheby Jane all the perichable stock that I have. I also add my two horse wagon. I also add my spinning facotry. I bequeath unto 8 of my children namely A. N. Johnson, William Johnson, J. M. Johnson, Mary Bradley, Franklin Johnson, Susan Garrison, John Johnson, S. J. Johnson jointly the farm known as the Meadows farm and that portion of the homestead lying north of the tract beginning the crossing L&NRR. I therefore charge Steven Johnson one hundred and twenty five dollars per horse. I also charge A. N. Johnson with extra provision one hundred and seventy five dollars. I also charge John Johnson to be paid unto William Johnson, Jas Johnson, Franklin Johnson an Susan Garrison and Mary Bradley equally. I also have one cart and buggy I wish to be sold to be applied to my debts. Lastly I appoint J. C. Buntin my exec. Sign and seal in our presence this 10th day of March 1868, Ben Johnson Seal, W. Pond. E. H. C. Sarver..
















photo of Benjamin and Phoebe Jane. xxx





























A Tragedy in the Family, Over Three Generations

Austin “Nelson” Johnson-4, apparently the oldest son of Benjamin Johnson-3, was born between 1815 and 1818 in Sumner County. We aren’t sure exactly when he died. He is mentioned in a Mabry lawsuit in 1866 and again in his father’s will in 1868. He was married twice. His first wife was Mildred “Minnie” Mabry, the daughter of John Mabry, a neighbor of the JOHNSON family. [RICHARD-2 had sold him land.] Minnie apparently died between 1858 and 1860, and “Nelson” Johnson married Matilda Crowder, a daughter of Harbert and Nancy Conner Crowder.

The nine children of Austin Nelson Johnson-4 and Minnie Mabry were, Benjamin Johnson-5, born about 1838; Mandy M [Mary A.?] Johnson-5; James N. Johnson-5, born about 1842; Susan J. Johnson-5, born about 1845; Margaret R. [M?] Johnson-5, born about 1849; Sarah P. Johnson-5, born about 1851; Elijah B. Johnson-5, born about 1852; John R. Johnson-5, born about 1855; and Elizabeth A. Johnson-5, born about 1858. [The Johnson Family album entry on the GenWeb for Sumner County lists children named Mary A. Johnson and Margaret M. Johnson.]

Nelson” Johnson, and his second wife, Matilda “Tilly” Crowder, had six children, including L. William Johnson-5, born about 1866; Evor [Roena? Enoa or Eva?] Johnson-5, born about 1867; Elvira Johnson-5, born about 1869; Martha Johnson-5, born about 1872; Zora Johnson-5, born about 1879; and a daughter, Nancy F. Johnson-5, born about 1863. This second group of children brought the total for Nelson Johnson to 15 children.

Nancy Johnson-5 was apparently having a long-term affair with a married man who lived next door to the family. The man was James W. Martin, but he went by the nickname of “Polk.” Nancy and Polk apparently had several children, one of whom was Brodie Johnson, born in 1881. The other children of Nancy Johnson-5 were William Nelson Johnson-6; James Virgil Johnson-6, born in 1888; Harvey Michael Johnson-6; Phoebe Johnson-6; Cassie Johnson-6; and Myrtle Johnson-6. [Sumner County Poor House Records.] Nancy Johnson’s children were admitted to the Sumner County “Poor House” on May 17, 1894. The poor house records also indicate that a child named Michael Johnson died that August, so it might be possible she was the mother of that child as well. The reason given for the children being admitted to the poor house was “poverty.”

The United States Census for Sumner County, Tennessee, for 1880 lists the two families next door to each other, with the Martins at house #133, and the Johnsons at house #134. Polk’s wife was named Margaret. Polk and his wife had several children. He was listed as age 30 on the 1880 census, and Margaret Martin was listed as age 40. The children were Henry Martin, age 10; Jane Martin, age 8; Thomas Martin, age 6; Julia Martin, age 4; Mary Martin, age 2; and Robert Martin, age 1.

Nelson Johnson was listed on the 1880 census as age 65, Matilda was listed as age 30. Nancy was listed as age 17, William as age 15; Evor as age 12; Elvira, age 10, Martha, age 8, and Zora as age 1. Nelson may have died right after the census was made, but probably before his wife and Nancy were killed.

In the spring according to oral history, Polk apparently decided to come get Nancy to live with him. [The exact year is not known, but the Poor house records indicate that a coffin was paid for Tilly Johnson in January 1897.] Her mother, “Tilly,” objected. Heated words were exchanged and Polk got a gun and shot and killed the old lady, then shot and killed Nancy, after which he went out into the yard and shot himself to death. Elvira, Nancy’s younger sister, who had been born in 1869, was hiding behind the door and saw Nancy and Tilly shot to death. Elvira’s son, Gil Hodges, as a very old man, related the story about the double-murder and suicide as told to him by his mother, the eye witness. Theda Womack and several other Sumner County residents were aware of this piece of oral history. The poor house records record coffins purchased for paupers in January 1897 for “Mrs. Matilda Johnson and Rowena Johnson” for which the county paid $3 each.

Nancy’s children were sent to the county “Poor Farm,” in May of 1894, from whence they were “farmed out” to other people. Not only were these children subjected to the social stigma of being “bastards” in the Victorian times, compounded with poverty, they now had the added stigma of being sent to the county “poor farm.” We won’t ever know why Nancy’s older half-siblings didn’t take the children in. Were they too poor to feed their own children, or was there some other reason? Life must have been terribly difficult for these children. Not only did they lose their mother and grandmother, but they lost their home as well, just at a time when we know they needed it the most.

The “Poor Farm” was located on County House Hollow road in Cottontown, close to the Strother farm. It was a self-supporting 200+ acre farm with a white frame house. Behind the buildings was a paupers cemetery, located in a wooded area behind the original house. Payments were made for pauper’s coffins.

Each year a committee of citizens were appointed to oversee the administration of the poor farm. A resident “manager” of sorts lived there and supervised the inmates. He was paid between $200 and $300 per year. The minutes of the meetings would sometimes indicate that he was expected to “make a hand on the farm.” Sometimes a regular hired hand would be employed for about $15 per month. A list of the names and ages and conditions of the inmates would also be appended to the meeting minutes, along with any expenses for poor people who were supported by the committee, but did not actually live on the poor farm. There were a few able bodied people who lived there, but most were very elderly, “idiotic,” or “feeble.” Apparently, though, the poor farm raised enough produce and meat to supply the people living there and to sell enough meat and produce to help support the farm’s cash expenses.

Orphan children who had no estate or support from their families, would be sent to the poor farm or to work for area businesses and farmers, in a system of foster care where the children “earned their keep.” This was similar to an indenture or apprenticeship, though not quite as binding. Brodie Edward Johnson was released to a farmer named Charles Haile [Hale] living at Castillian Springs. Mr. Haile was apparently brutal to him. The oral history relates that the farmer’s wife felt sorry for Brodie and gave him $2 cash and told him to leave. He left the farm and traveled over several states. He eventually came back to Tennessee and married.

Nancy’s other son, William “Nelson” Johnson-6, was apparently adopted by Mrs. Martha Dennis, the widow of Tyree Dennis, who had been the overseer of the poor house until his death in 1895. Nelson Johnson was found living with her family on the 1900 Sumner County census. She died in 1901, however. He was listed as age 15 on the 1900 census. This information was obtained from Suzie Branham, a decendant of Martha Dennis. James Virgil Johnson-6 lived at Shakle Island. Phoebe Johnson-6, supposedly, moved to California, Cassie Johnson-6 went to Memphis, and Myrtle [Myrdal] Johnson-6 went to Cooksville, Tennessee, where she “worked for a couple.”

Brodie Johnson-6 eventually married Clara H. Brown. Their children were Norman Edward Johnson-7, Margaret Irene Johnson-7, Ophelia Johnson-7, Grace Eller Johnson-7, Ezra Leon Johnson-7, and Brodie Lasco Johnson-7.

Norman Johnson-7 didn’t get along well with his dad, Brodie Johnson-6, and felt mistreated by his father. When Norman-7 was a young man still living at home, he had contracted with someone to buy a mule for $100. He worked out the price of the animal with the owner rather than paying cash, which he didn’t have, and trained it, but when he went to leave home, his father, Brodie, would not let him take the animal, because, his father said, he had “earned” it while still living at home, and thus, his father was entitled to the “wages, ” and possession of the animal.

Not withstanding the feud between the father and son, they purchased lands together near Rock Bridge and both names were on the deed. Brodie ran the place though, and treated Norman like a hired-hand, to Norman’s way of thinking, anyway. Rumor had it that Norman carried whiskey with him, instead of water, when he went to the fields to work, but was a hard-working man. Norman-7 felt that Brodie-6 favored his sister, Ophelia-7, over the others. Many years after the fact, Ophelia would not tell the details of the family feuds and went to her grave holding them tight.

The two families of father and son lived in two houses on the same piece of property. In April of 1939, apparently without warning, Norman Johnson-7 shot and killed himself in an obvious suicide. His father, Brodie, who was by all reports a non-demonstrative man, became even more sullen and introverted after the death of Norman. In July of the same year, Brodie and several of his sons and grandsons were working in the fields with teams of mules spreading straw. He sent the young men to town to get something while he stayed at home. He also told them to buy him a white shirt. They thought that he might be feeling poorly, as he had asthma, and sometimes used some form of medicine, that he burned and breathed the vapors, to open his lungs. While they were gone, he shot himself to death with a .22 rifle. Some of the family heard the shot, but thought it was a neighbor hunting. Ophelia, the favorite daughter, who had been absent from the house attending a church revival, was the one to return to the home and find Brodie dead.

Norman’s son, James Howard Johnson-8, born in 1937, was a toddler at the time his father and grandfather killed themselves. James Johnson’s daughter, Sheila-9, has had many difficulties in trying to piece together the story of the tragedy of three generations of this family. From 1889, until the 1940s, the family lived under the specter of bastardy, murder, suicide, and poverty.

Information on the family of Nelson Johnson and Benjamin Johnson was contributed by Jan Johnson Barnes, Sheila Johnson, Erick Montgomery, and Marie Johnson.