The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Hunting Forebears - or, Just What We Need - More Cousins!

By Carl Boyd © 1991

Issue: July, 1991

This Boyd family research and that of our Hankins, Hurt and Comer Ancestors to follow, is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Will and Molly Boyd, who were married one hundred years ago on Christmas Eve, 1890.

Trying to learn about our ancestors has enabled me to better understand my family and, perhaps, myself. Our ancestors were each very much "the Common Man" (or "woman") with a liberal sprinkling of good and bad qualities. Many of my impressions are not documented but reflect the time in which they lived and the events going on around them at that time. In other words, they were products of their past and the culture in which they were living, as we still are.

I can remember, when I was young, asking Dad about some family history. For some reason Dad was reluctant to tell me much and warned, "You may not like what you find out." I never discovered anything that seemed awfully bad to me, but perhaps I didn't dig too deeply or the passage of time has changed all that. Even when I was young, an illegitimate birth ("woods colt"), a divorce or miscegenation and many other family problems were spoken of in hushed tones, if at all.

The move by the Boyds from Patrick County, Virginia to Russell County, Virginia was made at a time when a great western migration was taking place. I've heard that Jonathan (probably with his cousins) had earlier made trips to Russell County and I would guess also to Kentucky. This was really a rather conservative move. More venturesome families were heading for the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, even Texas and a little later, Oregon. Some of those who travelled from Patrick to Russell eventually moved on but Jonathan and most of his brood (or "clan"?) were responsible for the quip that "Boyds and broomsedge have about taken Russell County."

In 1830, great hardwood forests covered much of Russell County. "Painters" (panthers or mountain lions), bears and wolves still roamed the area. (Polly once brought the sheep in the house to protect them from the wolves at a time when Jonathan was away.)

Actually a western movement had been going on ever since colonists landed on American shores. As more immigrants arrived, children grew up and agricultural exports increased (first mainly tobacco, later cotton) and more land was needed. For a time in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains held people back, but "Long Hunter," explorers and eventually land hungry settlers went farther. Western migration was blocked for a time in Pennsylvania by the Indians in Ohio and the French in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia became the highway to Cumberland Gap and Kentucky. For a number of reasons during the 18th Century, thousands of "Scotch-Irish" immigrated to the New World. Proud's History of Pennsylvania is quoted as stating that by 1729, some 6,000 "Scotch-Irish" had come over and for several years prior to 1750, about 12,000 arrived annually. I believe, but have no proof, that our Boyds were among these Ulster Scots who earlier had left Scotland for Northern Ireland (chiefly for economic reasons) and perhaps unknowingly helped the British in their subjugation of the Irish in Ulster. That will require much more research. I still don't know the parents of Joseph Boyd, born about 1769, so at this time we have to use him for a starting point.

Before we start the trip, I want to comment on the prominence of religion in the lives of our early settlers. Patrick County seemed to be a "hot bed" of Primitive Baptists. In his book, Tombstone Inscriptions of the Cemeteries of Patrick County, Virginia, O.E. Pilson lists 27 Primitive Baptist Church Cemeteries in Patrick County or just outside of it. My encyclopedia Americana states that the Primitive Baptists were organized in North Carolina in 1827. In researching Baptists, I learned that they sprang from the Puritan Movement in England and so did the Congregational Church in New England and even the Unitarians. Baptists were located throughout the British Isles. The encyclopedia further states, "In Ireland the Movement sprang from the activity of members of Cromwell's Army." In Russell County we find a list of members of the New Garden Primitive Baptist Church, 1837-1860 which included Jonathan and Polly as well as Jonathan's sisters, Elizabeth and Rosina ("Ziney"), and brother, Robert. Nancy Boyd may have been Jonathan's mother, his daughter or his sister-in-law (Robert's wife).

I was told by Tom Call that the Church yard had to be quite large there because of a rule that mules must be tied a certain distance form the meeting house for obvious reasons. Now on to the trip.

Boyds Go West (A Little)

On June 8, 1829, Joseph Boyd deeded 200 acres of land to his six children, Jonathan, Elizabeth, Nancy, Patience, Robert and Ziney. This property in Patrick County was "on the headwaters of Jack's Creek, containing 200 acres... bounded by the lands of Abel See (Lee?) and Jape (Jake?) Hubbard... which he purchased of Jacob H ..." and was under the east brow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This land was later sold and about 1831, Jonathan Boyd, his wife Polly, his parents, Joseph and Nancy (Aaron?) Boyd, Polly's mother Nancy Burnett, younger brothers of Polly as well as the sisters and brother mentioned above, moved to Russell County, Virginia. Family history has it that Jonathan was accompanied by two cousins with one settling in that part of Russell County that later became Buchanan County and the other going to settle in Kentucky. The 1840 census of Floyd County, Kentucky, lists a Joseph Boyd about the same age as Jonathan; the 1850 census of Russell County shows Isaac Boyd also about the same age, who came from Patrick County at about the same time. Later, Elisha Boyd and wife Leah, came to Russell County from Franklin County (about 1837) also. Elisha was the son of Joseph's brother, Robert and Elizabeth Rakes Boyd.

I often think how nice it would have been if someone on the trip had kept a diary or had written letters describing the trip, but we know that Jonathan signed documents with an X and the 1850 census indicated Polly could read but not write.

Family tradition says that two cousins came with Jonathan. From research, I believe they were Isaac and Joseph, both near Jonathan's age. Each of them had one male child born in Patrick County. All the other children of Jonathan and Isaac were born in Russell County, and all the rest of Joseph's were born in Kentucky. More later about these families.

One can only speculate as to how long they were on the road. It must have been two hundred miles, give or take a few miles. I would guess they traveled at least a month. Eventually they settled in the Gardner Area. I don't have the 1840 census so we will pick up on the family in 1850.

Staying Put Or Moving On

We have no way of knowing for sure that Jonathan planned to settle in Russell County. Families often stopped for awhile, sometimes years, and then started west again. Nancy, Jonathan and Polly's oldest daughter was born in Russell County in December 1831, so they may have stopped near Gardner to wait for this event and then hearing of the impending sale of Warder lands, decided to make their home there.

The 1850 census was the first U.S. census to give all the names in the family as well as ages, places of birth, occupation and some financial information. We now find Jonathan and Polly have the following children: Nancy 18, Lovina 15, Celia 13, John L. 8, Robert A. 5, Isaac L. 3, Melissa 1. The oldest son, Joseph has married Priscilla Robinson from Robinson Creek, Pike County, Kentucky and lives next door. They have a two month old son, Elijah F. Jonathan's sister Elizabeth has married Harvey Peck, a farmer, and they have seven children. Sister Nancy married Abraham Reynolds, a millwright from Maryland. I don't think they made the trip to Russell County at the time of the others because their first six children, ranging in ages from eight to twenty years were all born in Wythe County, but their last child was born in Russell County in 1850.

The third sister Patience married William Helton, a farmer and they have five children. Brother Robert is farming and he and his wife Nancy, have seven children also. Rosanna ("Ziney") has a daughter, Caroline 13, and they live with her parents, Joseph and Nancy, now eighty-one and eighty.

At the time of the 1860 census, Robert, Elizabeth, Patience and Rosanna and their families are missing and presumably have moved away. Nancy may have been widowed as she and her daughter, Caroline Reynolds now live with her mother, Nancy, widowed, blind and ninety years old. Blind or not, it is said she could still turn the heel when knitting socks as well as anyone and of course she didn't even need a lamp nor a candle.

Rosanna's daughter Caroline had married David C. Miller, 8 July 1858, and in the 1860 census we find the young couple with a year old daughter and Rosannah in the home of Joseph Carter of Morgan County, Kentucky. Next door lives Jonathan's oldest sister Elizabeth Peck who now may be widowed with all of her children still in the home "except the oldest son.

Because Jonathan's oldest daughter, Nancy, who married (Simeon?) A.J. Samples, died in Lee County, Kentucky in 1915, I had assumed they had moved there before 1860. There is record of them selling one hundred and eighty-three acres of land near Swords Creek, Virginia in 1858. However, they do not appear in the 1860 Kentucky census. Were they overlooked or did they go elsewhere?

Jonathan's sister Patience who married William Helton was not found in the 1860 Kentucky census nor was brother Robert. (There were four other Robert Boyds in three Kentucky Counties though!) These absences lead me to believe that Robert, Patience and their niece Nancy and their families probably went to another state or territory. Many people from Southwest Virginia did join the Mormon Movement in Utah so this will be explored, I hope. Of course it's possible that they were missed by the census taker.

This census was made only a year before the beginning of the War Between the States and it must have been increasingly obvious that storm clouds were gathering. Probably none were slaveholders with the possible exception of Nancy who had married a member of the Samples family who were large slaveholders.

I don't have a lot of information about Jonathan's sons in the war, but I believe all of them served in the Confederate forces except Charles H., who was born in 1851. Joseph the oldest was a Lieutenant in the 22nd Virginia Cavalry. I once saw a picture of Veterans of Russell County and John L. was in it, but I don't know what outfit. Isaac, my grandfather, was with the Home Guard and stationed near Abingdon. Alice Ryan Spencer tells that when the war was over he was sent to tell the Citizenry of Lee's surrender. He barely escaped having hot soap thrown on him by a woman making soap. The woman attacked him and said he was a liar that Lee would never surrender.

I don't have the 1870 Russell County Census, but the Marriage Register 2 for Russell County 1853-1870, shows that Isaac Boyd married Sarah A. Hurt on 29 August 1868. He was twenty-one and she was sixteen. Isaac's sister, Celia married James B. Hurt on 26 June 1855. He was a half-brother of sister Nancy's husband.

I have parts of the 1880 census of Russell County. I had thought that Dad's Mother had died in 1881 but the census shows Isaac to be a widower on 1 June 1880. Nancy E. (Aunt Ellen) was ten years old, had attended school that year and could read. Apparently Charles W. (Dad) age nine, had not been to school yet, nor had any of the other children. Maggie was seven, Nora six, Otis four and Phebe three. Margaret (Maggie) died at the age of sixteen from either diphtheria or typhoid fever.

Next door were Isaac's parents, Jonathan and Polly (79 and 67). Living with them were two grandchildren, Selia, age 10, and Tonas, age 6, children of Melissa, Isaac's younger sister. We knew Selia as "Winnie" who later married a Mr. Fenton. It was said that Tonas committed suicide and Alice Spencer said, according to Aunt Ellen, he hung himself on a peach tree. He must have been at least 18 or older because Jonathan mentions him in his will. Jonathan gave Melissa one dollar only and her share to the two children. Marie Fenton Dietrich (Melissa's granddaughter) wrote that Melissa went on a wagon train trip to Utah and mentions conflict with the Indians. This may have been why the two children were with grandparents. When and if I get to do my Mormon research, I'll look into records that might reveal history of her.

Three dwellings away lived Anthony and Queenie Howard who were ex-slaves once belonging to the Howard family. I had heard Dad or Mother speak of them. Alice Ryan Spencer said her parents would have them over for dinner once a year.

Jonathan and Polly's youngest child, Charles H., was born about 1851. I had not been aware he existed until I read Jonathan's will. Actually, I did know his daughter Sarah, who was "Cousin Sally" married to Drayton Thompson. I remember two of their children, "Slim" (Garnet) who drove a (Greyhound?) bus and Blanche, who married Herbert Samples. I think Cousin Sally had two brothers, Will and Doug. If I have the right Will, he was referred to as "Black Will" because of his black beard and hair. According to Tom Call of Hampton, Virginia, when Will was young he wore a black hat and rode a coal black horse and was quite a "ladies man."

In the 1880 census I found Charles H. Boyd, twenty-nine, with his wife Mariah, twenty six, William S., age six and Sarah K., age three. Mariah' s mother Catherine Wiser, age 42 (widowed or divorced) lived with them. I believe they lived in Wysor (Wiser?) Valley just over the hill from our place on land he obtained from Jonathan.

Dad never talked a lot about his childhood. I suppose Polly, his grandmother, took care of him. At least she is the one that is said to have wrung the neck of his pet crow, after it went to the spring house and bathed in buttermilk and then found the lid off the flour barrel and proceeded to dust himself in the flour. Dad attended school through the "5th Reader" which was as far as the "Readers" went. This was the original ungraded classroom. Students progressed at their own speed and when they finished the "First Reader" they went on the "Second Reader" and so on, learning to write and "figure" (do arithmetic) as they went. Dad was a whiz at "figuring" in his head without pencil and paper.

Dad did tell me about eating cornbread baked on the hearth in a three-legged, two gallon cast iron pot which I still have. The concave lid, on which coals were piled for baking, is missing. I wonder if it is buried somewhere about the homeplace where someone fed chickens in it or the dog.

He also told me that he wore homespun clothes and that one dye that was used was walnut shells which made a khaki colored fabric.

Charles William Boyd and Mary Jane (Mollie) Hankins were married 24 December 1890 at Jonathan Hankins home in Baptist Valley in Tazewell County, Virginia. The Minister performing the ceremony was Dad's uncle, John L. Boyd, a Primitive Baptist Minister.

I believe my parents met at a Primitive Baptist Association Meeting but I don't have more details. While the Primitive Baptists opposed dancing, they apparently tolerated some music and what Mother called a "play" which she finally admitted was a little like dancing. I'm not sure where they lived at first but it may have been where Aunt Ellen later lived and after that moved to Tumbling Cove near Saltville in Washington County.

Alice Spencer tells a story told to her by her mother, about a dog named "Bug" that Dad took with him to Tumbling cove. I don't know how far it was by road, but my cousin, Allen Ryan, and I hiked there through Mutters Gap and it must have been twelve or fifteen miles. We camped on Tumbling Creek near the school house and found the place where my parents lived. How he did it, no one knows, but "Bug" returned to his old home where Aunt Ellen and Uncle Billy Ryan were now living. One day Uncle Billy was in the garden and saw a (copperhead?) snake. He was deathly afraid of snakes, (there are none in Ireland) and with his Irish accent said, "Get him, Boog!" So "Boog" grabbed the snake and shook it fiercely. When the dog let go, the snake wrapped around Uncle Billy's neck with the reaction you might expect.

The last census figures I have are for the census taken 30 April 1910 in the Cloverdale, Amsterdam District in Botetourt County near Roanoke. Mom and Dad had eleven children with Otis being the youngest and only one month old. The first six children through Lenora had all attended school during the past year and could read and write. The five youngest, Clyde 7, Clarence 5, Sarah 3, Hattie 1 and Otis P, one-twelfth, had not attended school and according to the census report, could not read or write but I doubt the veracity of that statement for the older boys.

While Dad lived at Cloverdale, he and his brother, Uncle Otis operated a canning factory. They canned tomatoes, apple butter, apple sauce and sweet potatoes. Most of these vegetables and fruit were grown by Dad with the ready made workforce available in the summer months when the children were out of school. I think they also bought produce.

However, as well as the business was doing, when Dad got a chance to buy some shares of his brother and/or sisters in the homeplace, he jumped at the chance. He returned to Plum Hollow and built the house that sits there now. I was born in that house in 1916.

I hope to put together a family history of a more personal nature from my own viewpoint at a later date. Do write me if you have anecdotes to include.

Editor's Note... For those of you who wish to contact Mr. Boyd about Boyd ancestors, his address is Post Office Box 795, McBride, British Columbia, Canada VOJ 2E0. It appears that this one Boyd not only went west but north!