The Ancestry of Nathaniel Martin
Nathaniel Martin’s parents were James Martin, who was born in the late 1770s in Virginia and died 9 October 1856 in Martintown, Green County, WI, and Rebecca Pearcy, born circa 1790 in Bedford County, VA, who survived until at least 1860. That Nathaniel had these particular parents is not in doubt. But as one goes back in time, there are some major blanks in his family tree. Certainly it is fair to say that we know less about Nathaniel Martin’s forebears than we do about those of his wife, Hannah Strader.
The lack of available material is especially profound regarding the origins of Nathaniel’s father, James Martin. What we do have is not reliable. For example, Nathaniel’s biography in the 1901 volume, Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Rock, Green, Grant, Iowa, and Lafayette, Wisconsin, states that James’s father was born in Ireland. We can’t trust that. The same source also states that Nathaniel’s maternal grandfather James Pearcy was born in England. This is known to be untrue. James Pearcy was native to the Colonies. The immigrant was his father -- Nathaniel’s great grandfather -- John Pearcy. The tendency in old-fashioned biographies to get the timing of family emigration from Europe wrong is notorious. There is ample reason to suspect that this factor was in play in the 1901 sketch in regard to the Irish side of the family. James Martin’s parents were probably either native Virginians or came as children from Pennsylvania. The latter possibility looms large because James was likely to have been a native of Franklin County, VA. That was a county whose original population of white settlers had come as a result of a major migration in the mid-1700s of Irish, Scots, and German families from Pennsylvania down the Carolina Road (also know as the Great Indian Warrior Path) to the piedmont just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There were Martins among those families, including one James A. Martin noted on the list of original settlers, who was of the right generation to be a great-grandfather of Nathaniel. Unfortunately the surname Martin is so common it turns up in lists of original settlers of just about every sub-region of the thirteen colonies. Until better clues narrow the possibilities, it is impossible to be sure just what family James Martin (father of Nathaniel) sprang from. The doubt is great enough that we can’t totally discount the possibility that James’s parents did personally hail from Ireland. All that can be said with any degree of confidence is that James appears to have been a resident of Franklin County in 1809 when the James Pearcy family -- including Rebecca, who was then about nineteen years old -- moved there from neighboring Bedford County. (A larger version of Bedford County had spawned Franklin County in 1785. The Pearcy clan lived in the part that retained the Bedford designation.) One way or another, he was in Franklin County when he and Rebecca married one another on the 18th of October, 1811. (Old family notes say the marriage date was the ninth. This is probably an error. It could be the date the marriage bond -- the 18th Century equivalent of a marriage license -- was signed.)
There is one shred that might indicate a means to uncover James Martin’s ancestry. His eldest son was named Redmond Martin. This is a very unusual first name and probably indicates Redmond was the maiden last name of James’s mother. A man named Lawrence Redmond acquired a land patent for four hundred acres in Louisa County, VA 12 April 1753. A man named Ignatius Redmond took his oath of allegiance to the Colonies in 1777 in Pittsylvania County, VA. It is worth asking if either or both of these men might have been relatives.
If the heritage of James Martin remains frustratingly obscured, we can be consoled that the genealogical background of Rebecca Pearcy extends much further into the light of day. This is particularly true concerning her immediate male ancestors, namely her father James Pearcy and her grandfathers John Pearcy and Paulser Smelser. These men lived long enough -- and documentation about them is plentiful enough -- to create reasonably accurate biographical sketches of them. Furthermore, with those three figures as “research anchors,” it is possible to be sure of the identities of several more of Rebecca’s ancestors, including some of the females.
John Pearcy of England settled in Bedford County, VA in the late 1760s and lived out the rest of his long life there, much or all of it on his substantial holdings along Goose Creek. In the 1810s, as an elderly widower, John bequeathed and/or sold the estate to his youngest sons Edmond, Henry, and Nicholas. Edmond was by that point a resident of Botetourt County and consequently sold his share to Henry and Nicholas. The latter duo each ended up with about three hundred acres apiece, Nicholas and his wife and children taking possession of the original home. After Nicholas’s death in 1854 the property soon passed out of family hands, but thanks to the unbroken chain of deed transfers preserved in county records, it is easy to show that the modern-day address of the original home is 1704 Quarterwood Road, Montvale, VA. It is still rural property. The village of Montvale, population approximately 700, is about a mile to the northwest. Montvale is about ten miles west of the town of Bedford and about ten miles northeast of the city of Roanoke. The home at 1704 Quarterwood Road and its outbuildings even now (or at least as of the early 1980s, when John’s elderly Florida-based great great granddaughter Frankie Pearcy McAlpine paid a visit) contain parts of the historical structure such as the log-lumber inner frame of the main house and the brick foundations of the outbuildings, which were probably in John’s day the kitchen and the spring house. (A spring house was an 18th-Century version of a refrigerator. It was a root-cellar-sized structure designed so that cold springwater ran through it. Sealed containers were placed in the water, which kept the contents nicely chilled.)
(Shown at right and slightly below left are two views of the house and outbuildings of 1704 Quarterwood Road as they appeared in 1999. These photographs were taken by descendant Jo Ann O’Brien during a cross-country family history research trip.)
The well-preserved nature of records in Bedford County is a blessing not to be taken for granted. The city of Lynchburg, located at the eastern boundary of Bedford County, was the only major urban center in Virginia that did not fall to the Union during the Civil War. In various other parts of the state, county courthouses went up in flames and it is not possible now to look up pre-1865 vital-stats records. By contrast, Bedford County enjoys a much better situation. The Bedford County Museum has so much documentation regarding the Pearcy family that the staff maintains a designated surname file. In addition to this bit of fortune, descendants can also be thankful that the original family was well-educated. Various children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of John rose to positions of prominence as lawyers, doctors, teachers, holders of government office, and major property owners. They left writings -- including correspondence and Bible family-group entries -- that preserved a substantial amount of genealogical lore. One great-grandson, Joel Nathaniel Pearcy (1860-1931), an attorney based in Salem, OR, wrote a family history in the 1910s that included the names and birthdates of the original family. One of Joel’s uncles, George Pearcy (1813-1871), was a Southern Baptist missionary to China from 1846 to 1854. The Mt. Zion Baptist Church members back in Bedford County thought so well of him that over the years a number of profiles have appeared, drawing upon the trove of writings about him and by him -- including letters he wrote while in China preserved within church archives. These profiles describe George’s roots, including his descent from his grandfather John Pearcy.
What we don’t know with absolute certainty is John’s own genealogical origins. The John Pearcy who settled in Bedford County was definitely from England and appears to have been born in the late 1730s. Early family genealogical writings specify Devon, England, and all of this points to him being a certain John Pearcy born 10 April 1737 in the village of Uffculme in the Blackdown Hills. This would make him a son of yet another John Pearcy, one who was also a native of Uffculme, born about 1710. The elder John married Elizabeth Webber 17 April 1736 in Uffculme, the timing indicating John was the firstborn child of their union. These parents apparently stayed in England to the end of their days. They played only a brief role in the life of “our” John, because according to family legend, John ran off to sea when he was a boy, perhaps even as young as ten or eleven, and made his fortune captaining a ship for ten years.
Anyone with a healthy dose of skepticism who comes across an adventure story like that knows the truth has been stretched. And indeed it must have been. John settled down in Virginia as a married man just after turning twenty-one years old, assuming the 1737 birth year is correct. He didn’t have time to have been a ship captain for ten years unless his crew accepted him as their leader when he was a child. What kind of sailors would do that? However, once the mud is cleaned from the eyeglasses, this quite reasonable picture emerges:
In the mid-1700s, the wool raised in the Blackdown Hills was prized by Dutch textile manufacturers. The Dutch factories generated clothing not only for Europeans, but for the many colonists headed to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina on King George’s ships. The Pearcy family appears to have been well-to-do, and to be well-to-do in Uffculme in the mid-1700s is essentially the same as saying the clan was engaged in shipping wool to the Netherlands. Young John, as a firstborn son and heir, would have been encouraged to gain direct expertise in the family trade, and probably spent an apprentice period going back and forth across the English Channel, either with his father or -- more likely -- with a captain who worked for Uffculme-area employers including the Pearcy clan. Young John, as a person of good family, would have advanced rapidly in authority until by his late teens, he might well have been been put in charge of a vessel and/or its cargo. It is reasonable to assume he subsequently became involved in more ambitious enterprises that resulted in him crossing the Atlantic. Once in Virginia, he decided to stay. Perhaps his father was dead by then. Perhaps he wanted to be out from under the thumb of his father. Maybe he just liked the idea of forging a life for himself in a new place rich with opportunity. He had enough of a nest egg by the age of twenty-one that he could marry and start a family -- no small thing in an era when men of the upper class usually required quite a bit more time than that before they were established enough to settle down.
John did not begin the American chapter of his life in Bedford County. His son James (father of Rebecca Pearcy Martin) testified in 1832 that he had been born in 1762 in Buckingham County, VA, and remained there until the age of six, i.e. until about 1768, whereupon the family relocated to Bedford County. It stands to reason that James’s two older siblings might also have been born in Buckingham County, which would put John’s arrival there in the second half of the 1750s. But Buckingham County, like Bedford County, is in the heart of Virginia, well inland and therefore not where John got off the boat. Where he landed, and how long he stayed there, is unknown. This makes the locale of his marriage a guess as well. Happily, we do have a solid date for the wedding. This comes not from public sources, but from lore maintained by descendants, originally preserved in family Bibles. John’s bride was Anna Margaret Spencer. He married her 29 December 1758.
Anna Margaret Spencer was a Virginian, born about 1738. Chances are she came from a more easterly part of Virginia than Buckingham County, but precisely where is unknown. She was a daughter of Thomas Spencer, about whom nothing further is available. However, just having Thomas’s name is something to be thankful for, as that makes him one of the three great-grandparents of Rebecca Pearcy who can be identified. How we have this name is currently a mystery. Probably some family genealogist found the name mentioned on the 1758 marriage bond during research conducted before the Civil War, when the document still existed in Buckingham County archives. Marriage bonds often included the name of the father of the bride.
The family of John Pearcy and Margaret Spencer grew steadily from 1759 to 1779. It included ten known children, the first four or five born in Buckingham County, the rest born after the relocation to Bedford County. The very first was William, born just three months into the marriage (assuming his birthdate of 30 March 1759 is correctly reported). The full list of ten is William, Mary, James, Sarah Jane, John (III), Charles, Isham, Edmond Talbot, Henry, and Nicholas. (A prominent Pearcy family researcher adds Nancy, born about 1781, but this is not conclusive. Contrary evidence indicates Nancy was either a granddaughter or a daughter-in-law of John and Margaret.)
The land John and Margaret owned along Goose Creek was prime acreage, a mark of how prosperous the family was. The piece acquired in the late 1760s was only the beginning. New tracts were added over the course of thirty years until the estate consisted of more than a thousand acres. The Cherokee and other native tribes had used this swath of land on a regular basis for centuries, recognizing its plentiful virtues, which included fertile soil, good water, fishing and hunting opportunities, and superb view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Shown at right, a modern-day view of Goose Creek Valley.) The colonists recognized another quality -- Goose Creek ran fast, which was perfect for waterwheel power. There were more mills along the stream than in any other part of Bedford County, even back when Bedford County’s boundaries encompassed areas that are now part of Campbell County, Franklin County, Botetourt County, and the City of Lynchburg. There is nothing said in county histories or in family notes that confirms whether John owned a mill, but it would stand to reason that he may have. Here we may have an explanation why his great-grandson Nathaniel Martin was intrigued by the idea of installing a woolen mill at Martintown.
Having so much land naturally meant that John owned slaves. Being slaveowners, or living among neighbors who owned slaves, was the rule, and this would remain the case for multiple members of the next two generations of the family. For example, grandson George Pearcy, the missionary, spent his long period of convalescence after returning from China dwelling on the plantation of his father-in-law Samuel Miller in Pittsylvania County, VA. In John’s time, slave-ownership was the accepted norm. What stands out is the choice of various children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to move to free states such as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oregon. The piedmont and hills were less given-over than other parts of the South to the plantation lifestyle and all it entailed, and attitudes of individual family members were varied -- an interesting subject, leaving a person wishing a full archive of letters survived to shed light on the differences of philosophy within the clan.
John was turning forty as the Revolutionary War kicked into gear. There is no evidence he took up arms. As a prosperous man, and as a native of England, he might well have possessed Tory sentiments. This was not the prevailing view in the area and if he did have these opinions, he probably kept them to himself. His two oldest boys, William and James, came of age in time to fight in the 1780s in the latter part of the conflict. Both appear on the list of Bedford County men who fought for the revolution. Had they been older, given their social position, they might well have been officers. As it was, both only held the rank of private. (For more about James’s service, see his section below.)
All of John and Margaret’s children remained in Bedford County well into their adulthoods. This is worth noting, as it hints strongly that the couple were good parents whose kids wanted to stick around -- a remarkable display of a strong bond in an era when the frontier was steadily expanding westward and new opportunities were beckoning. Some of the kids, like Charles, Henry, and Nicholas, would remain in Bedford County until their deaths. Others -- and eventually, nearly all of the later generations -- did yield to the lure of new lands, but John and Margaret were old when the process began and did not have to be personally confronted with the exodus in its full scope. The first to leave appears to have been Sarah Jane with her husband Henry Miller, who departed about 1800, but even Sarah and Henry do not appear to have left out of unhappiness with Bedford County and the company of all those Pearcy family members, but went to manage property John had acquired in Kentucky. This scenario may also have been the case with James, who left in 1809 for Franklin County, VA, and then eight years later went on to Wayne County, KY.
Margaret died first, perhaps as early as 1807, but surely by 1811. The precise dates of death for the couple were not preserved in the family genealogies and must be guessed at by the deeds being transacted in Bedford County. In 1811, John transferred Goose Creek parcels to sons Edmond and Henry in a manner that strongly infers Margaret was deceased and John no longer needed to hold on to his entire estate so as to support Margaret in her widowhood. John himself appears to have survived until 1816 to personally transfer more Goose Creek land to son Nicholas. Then in 1819, Nicholas and Henry bought Edmond's portion, splitting it more-or-less equally between them. The language used in the 1819 deeds describe the land as part of John’s estate -- as in, John was deceased.
Many Pearcy genealogies include quite different death dates, claiming that John died 28 July 1834 and was survived by Margaret, who survived a few more years to die just shy of her one hundredth birthday. This is an error on the part of Joel N. Pearcy in his 1910s genealogical essay. Joel had obtained a copy of a letter written 25 July 1914 by an eighty-seven-year-old native of Bedford County, Rowland Buford, to Annie Owen, a granddaughter of Charles Pearcy, son of John and Margaret. Rowland Buford’s grandfather and several of his brothers were among the early settlers of Bedford County. Rowland himself had grown up going to school with various Pearcy boys, including Joel’s father Nathan, and for part of that time, the class was taught by Nathan’s eldest brother, Abner Pearcy (son of Nicholas). Rowland Buford forwarded to Annie Owen a copy of the last will and testament of John Pearcy, a document filed with the county clerk 8 February 1834 and probated 28 July 1834. Buford goes on to say that John’s widow Nancy inherited the estate, and upon her death it went to John’s brother Nicholas, presumably because John had no issue. (He had not married Nancy until he was almost sixty years old.) These are references to John Pearcy born in 1768, the son of John Pearcy and Anna Margaret Spencer, and to John’s widow, Nancy Agnew Pearcy, daughter of William Agnew. Yet Joel N. Pearcy for some reason concluded that Buford was wrong and the will was that of the elder John Pearcy. Why he did so is a mystery. Perhaps he thought that the younger John Pearcy was long gone to Kentucky -- perhaps mistaking him for James. Joel N. Pearcy was a native of Oregon and may never have visited Bedford County, VA in his entire life. Rowland Buford, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was talking about. Unfortunately, Joel’s essay became one of the key sources of information about the Pearcy clan. For a hundred years, his error has propagated, leaving us with all too many genealogies that use 28 July 1834 as the date of “the” John’s death -- a date that isn’t even a precise death date of any family member, just the date when John the younger’s will entered probate.
The farm at 1704 Quarterwood Road shows signs of a family cemetery on a rise near the house. There are no headstones, but chances are good this was the place where John and Margaret were laid to rest.
Paulser Smelser, the other well-known great-grandfather of Nathaniel Martin, was another settler of Bedford County, VA. He and his family owned and lived on Goose Creek property quite near the Pearcy holdings. Both families appear to have made this area their main base of operations at about the same time, i.e. the late 1760s. However, unlike John Pearcy, Paulser Smelser arrived having spent the preceding years even farther to the west. An ample amount of documentation -- deeds, tax records, court filings, etc. -- shows that Paulser was active in what is now Montgomery County, VA by the beginning of 1754. In mid-January of that year, Paulser agreed to a one-year lease of 440 acres of the James Patton tract along Crab Creek, a stream that runs into New River just a bit north of the modern-day town of Radford. The lease apparently came with an option to buy, which Paulser exercised within a few years. The 440 acres remained in Smelser hands until sold by Paulser’s eldest son John Smelser in 1787.
Montgomery County is fully within the Appalachian Mountains and the place was very much the frontier at the time of Paulser’s arrival. It was at that point part of Augusta County, but Augusta wasn’t so much a county as an “off the edges of the map” sort of zone. When formed from Orange County in 1738, Augusta County consisted of the entire swath that the colony of Virginia imagined to be under its sovereignty but which had yet to come under the active supervision of European-Americans. It was all lumped into the designation Augusta County because bureaucratically speaking it wasn’t yet worth being carved up into smaller jurisdictions. The boundaries included all of what is now Kentucky, most of what is now West Virginia, and much of what is now modern Virginia from the piedmont to the Kentucky border. Even by 1754, only the eastern fringe of this expanse had been settled by whites. Native tribes, aided by and encouraged to violence by the French, were lashing out against encroachment. One relevant example is the incredible tale of Mary Draper Ingles. In July, 1755, Shawnee raiders killed four New River-area settlers and captured five others, including twenty-three-year-old Mary and her young children. Mary escaped several weeks later and even though she had been taken hundreds of miles west to a spot along the Ohio River near present-day Cincinnati, managed to make her way back to her husband and neighbors along New River to tell the tale. (She and her husband lived in the cabin shown at left, a structure built after her return.) Her story was preserved in material written by her son John Ingles, published in 1824, and her grandson John Peter Hale, published in 1886. The story became the basis of the bestselling 1981 novel Follow the River by Alexander Thom. Earlier it was the basis for a long-running historical play (often staged in Radford) “The Long Way Home” by Earl Hobson Smith. These resulted in the ABC-network made-for-tv movie Follow the River in 1995 and the film The Captives in 2004. Mary and the others were taken from a spot described as being part of the James Patton tract. James Patton himself was one of the four killed in the raid, shot as he tried to fend off a set of attackers with his broadsword. The tract was over a thousand acres in size, but it could well be that on that infamous day, the Shawnee traversed Paulser’s portion of the tract on their way to the Patton and Ingles cabins. In a way, Paulser could be described as an adventurer simply by choosing to reside in this unsecured territory.
Paulser must have been at least twenty-one years old in 1754 in order to have made a land agreement in his own name. Since the transaction occurred at the very beginning of 1754, we can probably rule out a birth in the calendar year 1733, but how much before 1733 he was actually born is guesswork as there are no references to his age in surviving documents. His origins are unconfirmed, but his name suggests he was Palatinate German, aka Pennsylvania Dutch. Several of his neighbors along New River were individuals whose names appear on the list of Palatinate German passengers of the Winter Galley, which arrived in Philadelphia harbor 5 September 1738. These neighbors were Adam Wall, Casper Berger (also killed in the July 1755 Shawnee raid), Philip Harlas, and Johan Michael Preis (Price). It stands to reason Paulser would have settled down “among his own kind.”
There is reason to think Paulser may have never viewed the New River property as a long-term home, but more as an investment to develop and sell once he had found a better place. He had hardly arrived before he began setting the stage for a move to Bedford County. The first indication is that he had 189 acres surveyed in Bedford County 5 April 1755. This was before the Shawnee raid occurred but it may be that he felt it prudent to have a haven to the east to retreat to if hostilities flared up. (Mary Draper Ingles and her husband William spent an interval in Bedford County after the raid, requiring a period of respite before they were willing to resume their lives along New River.) In the mid-1760s, Paulser was ordered by the Bedford County court to view a prospective road easement in order to help settle a lawsuit between two individuals, Abeshart and Johnson, the implication being that the proposed road would run near land Paulser owned. But though he was surely physically present in Bedford County from time to time during the 1750s and 1760s, he seems to have been based in Augusta County until the end of that period. Some of the indications he was still in Augusta County include a conviction in Sweet Springs District Court in 1764 of having slandered one Joseph Ghent -- apparently Paulser had aired the opinion that the reason why Ghent owned so many slaves was that Ghent enjoyed having his way with the females. In 1768, a man named George Taylor purchased part of what had been the James Patton tract along Crab Creek; in the deed descripton, Paulser is noted as a corner neighbor. The turning point -- the juncture at which Paulser and family actually established a new home -- appears to have come in 1769 when Paulser purchased 225 acres on both sides of Wilson’s Fork of Goose Creek from previous owner Michael Woods. There were some lingering connections to the old stomping grounds. Paulser’s name appears in 1773 and 1777 court records of Fincastle County -- the Crab Creek land having become part of Fincastle in 1772, having been part of a huge version of Botetourt County from 1769 to 1772. In 1777, Fincastle ceased to exist and the area became Montgomery County. However, these traces are not compelling enough to imply Paulser had not yet moved to Bedford.
Paulser appears to have been a single man when he came to Augusta County, and the timing of his marriage suggests he waited until he had exercised his option to buy the 440-acre Crab Creek parcel before he was willing to become a family man. His wife may have been a Miller, but this is conjecture. Her first name was definitely Catherine, as recorded in Paulser’s last will and testament. They may have married as late as 1760, when Catherine was about nineteen years old, though a somewhat earlier marriage seems more likely. They produced eight known children: John, Elizabeth (Betsy), Abraham, Stephen, Paulser, Jr., Rebecca, Mary, and Jesse. John was almost certainly the eldest son and Betsy the eldest daughter, but otherwise that sequence is not to be taken as the order of birth. Jesse, for example, was probably one of the older kids. Unfortunately there does not appear to have been a family Bible record preserved as happened in the case of the Pearcy family, and the timing and order of childbirths can only be guessed at. There may have been other children who died young. The eight above are named in the will.
Paulser was a man of significance in Bedford County, if perhaps not as major as John Pearcy. Court records show that in 1772, he was appointed overseer of a road. In 1775, he had more land surveyed. In 1777, he contributed a significant sum for the so-called Cherokee expedition.
The close association of the Smelser and Pearcy families once they were both established along Goose Creek is apparent via many individual bits of evidence: John served as an executor of Paulser’s will. James Pearcy married Betsy Smelser, and Mary Pearcy married Jesse Smelser. In the 1830 census, Henry Pearcy and household appear on the very same page as John Smelser and Jesse Smelser and their households. In 1819, when Nicholas Pearcy acquired half of his brother Edmond’s portion of the original Pearcy estate, Nicholas also bought the lot on Jones Fork of Goose Creek that contained the so-called “Smelser Meeting House.” (Nicholas was by then a deacon of the local Beaver Dam Baptist Church and an advocate of Luther Rice’s proposal to send Southern Baptist missionaries to Asia. Nicholas’s son George Pearcy was only six years old in 1819 but the meetings in that hall may well have been where he was first encouraged to become one of those crusaders.)
As the winter of 1777-1778 progressed, Paulser recognized that the health problems he was suffering from might be terminal -- a correct assessment as it turned out. That his constitution failed at this point suggests he may have been older than supposed, because a birth as late as 1732 would mean he was only in his mid-forties at the time of his mortal decline. He made out his will 7 December 1777. By late the following spring he was dead. Precisely what day he perished is not absolutely certain, but the will was “proved” 25 May 1778 when Michael Carn, a witness to the signing, swore to J. Steptoe, clerk of the Bedford County court, that it was the legitimate and legal document, and then was proven again on the 27th by witness Thomas Campbell, leaving the three executors, Catherine Smelser, John Pearcy, and John Sharp, free to carry out its terms. Lacking any better date, 25 May 1778 appears in various genealogies as Paulser’s precise death date.
Paulser’s will was kept within county archives and a clerk’s handwritten transcript of it from the 19th Century survives today in the archives of the Bedford Museum. Paulser was very specific about his bequests to his widow and children. We can all be grateful for that because it establishes the identities of the eight children, one or two of whom would otherwise be forgotten. The nature of the bequests also sheds light on the attitudes of the era, making clear that inheritance was an institution whose main purpose was to ensure the control of property by white males. Catherine was given the home farm and everything upon it, but only on the condition that she remain a widow. Remarriage would have required her to sell all the personal property, slaves, and livestock and divide the money equally among the surviving kids. The five sons were all given large chunks of land, with Stephen and Paulser, Jr. splitting the home farm (Catherine in essence keeping control of it not in her own right, but on their behalf), John and Abraham splitting a parcel purchased some years before from Edmund Smith, and Jesse receiving the land newly surveyed in 1777. By contrast, the girls received diddly-squat, it obviously being taken as a given by Paulser that whatever wealth they might have as adults would come from the husbands they would acquire, and so he only needed to contribute a token amount toward their dowries. Betsy was given two cows and calves and ten pounds in cash. Rebekah and Mary were given joint ownership of Peter, one of the household slaves, with Rebekah given the option of claiming sole ownership as long as she paid Mary half of Peter’s value.
Catherine appears to have died about 1794, though the source of this death date is unclear.
James Pearcy was the thirdborn child of John Pearcy and Anna Margaret Spencer, born 4 May 1762 in Buckingham County. To some degree he could also be thought of as the eldest son. He did have one older brother, William, but William's paper trail vanishes with the inclusion of his name on the list of Bedford County men who served in the Revolutionary War. It could be William did not survive the war. If he did, he might otherwise have died in early adulthood. He is the only child of James and Margaret for whom there is no marriage noted. Assuming he did die, this left James playing the role of eldest son from the 1780s onward.
James was too young to fight in the early years of the war, but he was swept up in the conflict later on. His pension application survives, complete with an account he dictated about himself. He provided a long paragraph about his service (the length due in part to the need to include as many details so as to substantiate his eligibility to receive benefits) and a four-sentence paragraph of general autobiography. Four sentences isn’t much, but we are lucky to have it. On the positive side, since he completed the application 25 September 1832 when he was already seventy years old, he was able to supply a full tally of the four main places in which he dwelled over the course of his lifetime -- Buckingham County 1762-1768, Bedford County 1768-1809, Franklin County 1809-1817, and then Wayne County, KY, where he would eventually pass away. Later his widow applied for benefits as his survivor. That material is also in the file and gives us another scrap or two about James, including his death date of 23 June 1843.
James served about eight months in the Colonial Army as an infantry private under the command of Captain David Beard and General Nathaniel Green, fighting in the Battle of Guilford in North Carolina and then at the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive engagement of the war. In his pension file declaration, James claims to have been “well acquainted” with George Washington and Lafayette. Given that James was not an officer, he was probably exaggerating his familiarity with the two leaders. Undoubtedly there was some sort of ceremony after the battle during which Washington and Lafayette personally thanked the men who had fought and won, perhaps going as far as to shake their hands and exchange a few words with each one face to face. That was probably the only type of occasion when James might have had the chance to actually meet them and speak with them.
It was only a couple of years after coming back from Yorktown that James began his life as a husband and father, matching his own father’s example of doing so at twenty-one. Actually, it was just short of that age, with the wedding taking place 25 Apr 1783. His wife was Betsy Smelser. James was the only one of the sons of John and Margaret to wed so early, the rest all waiting much longer. It is worth wondering if it was a shotgun wedding. The best genealogies of the family have the first child, John, born 22 March 1781. This could well mean there is an error in the record -- one prominent researcher as it as 1784, which could mean he was part of a set of twins, the other being his sister Martha. If the earlier date is correct, the couple conceived their first child three years before they wed, at a time when James had just turned eighteen and Betsy was only about sixteen. This does not seem likely. Either the date is not right, or it has some other explanation -- for example, it could be that John was actually the son of James’s older brother William, adopted after William died. If there were complications of any sort at the beginning of James and Betsy’s relationship, these stresses did not harm its longevity. The pair were spouses for over sixty years, all the way to the death of James in 1843. One side effect of them getting started young, though, was that their kids were barely younger than James’s youngest siblings and it is sometimes hard to be sure which generation of the family is reflected in Bedford County marriage records filed in the first two decades of the 19th Century. Some of James and Betsy’s kids had names identical to those of some of his nieces and nephews.
The children were born from the early 1780s up into the first few years of the next century, the last being born about 1807 when Betsy was in her early forties. The precise number of children is unclear. There is no doubt there were at least ten, but it is twelve if all of the possible children are included. In order of birth, the full twelve are John, Martha, Jacob, Catherine, James William (known by his middle name), Rebecca, Nathaniel (or Nathan), Charles, Mary (known as Polly), Matilda (Millie), and Elizabeth (Eliza), as well as Sarah, whose birth-order position is uncertain -- she is mentioned as one of James’s heirs in an 1849 land transaction. A man named Moses Wright bought land that year that James and Betsy had owned, and all the living heirs were required to confirm that they had no further claim. Sarah is on that list, but does not turn up in family records made prior to that date, hence the mystery. The children arrived at an almost clockwork-like pace of every other year through the birth of Rebecca. But between Rebecca and Nathaniel is a gap of six or seven years. The odds are high that at least a couple of children were born during this span, say one about 1892 and another in the middle of the decade. Sarah’s birth could easily fit into one of these positions, but aside from that possibility, James and Betsy may have lost one or more babies whose existence has left no detectible trace. There is also the possibility James was not siring children during these gaps because he was absent from the home. The 1790s was a period when European-Americans were rapidly pushing out the native tribes of the lands just west of the Appalachian range. The economic opportunities for someone with enough cash to obtain land or, for instance, fund a sawmill in a fast-building locality, were perhaps too good to pass up. Sometimes these frontier areas were too raw to be suitable for a wife and kids, so it could be James went on his own. There is no direct evidence now that he was involved in such a foray, but it is easy to imagine he may have been the person who first investigated the Kentucky land that his brother-in-law Henry Miller was sent to oversee in 1800 or so.
If James did not “check out things out west” in the 1790s, then we have to assume he spent his twenties, thirties, and most of his forties simply being a gentleman farmer and minor official of the Goose Creek area of Bedford County, serving as his father’s main lieutenant. We know from his pension application that he and Betsy moved in 1809 to neighboring Franklin County, VA. By then, his mother was probably deceased. His father was transferring ownership of Bedford County land to other sons; it stands to reason John may have had a parcel in Franklin County that was given to James. The move was probably a small one -- perhaps only a few miles. It was not more than a couple of dozen miles. There is one other possible impetus for this move. James and Betsy’s son Jacob was charged with a felony 6 June 1807. Jacob went “on the lam” to Botetourt County and eventually on to Randolph County, WV, where he operated under the Piercy and Percy spellings of the surname, perhaps as a way of hiding his origins. This incident may have negatively affected the reputation of James and Betsy, spurring them to head for Franklin County after a couple of years of coping with the gossip. Another potential blow to their reputation may have been the birth of their grandson Nathan Pearcy in about 1808. Nathan Pearcy, who as a grown man would eventually settle in Daviess County, MO (a place where many Bedford/Franklin County folk moved in the late 1850s and early 1860s), appears to have been born out of wedlock to James and Betsy’s daughter Catherine Pearcy a few years prior to her marriage to John Richardson.
The pension application refers to another move, this one bringing James and Betsy to Wayne County, KY in March, 1817. This was thoroughly unlike the earlier move to Franklin County. It represented a “clean break” and probably is a strong indication that James’s father had died by then, meaning that James no longer had either of his parents alive to anchor his bond to the area where he had been raised. Moreover, he may have received enough of an inheritance to fund a big, bold change of venue. Much harder to explain is why he and Betsy would choose Wayne County as the spot where they would come to roost. It is a mystery choice. Did they want to get away from their past associations? If so, Wayne County was as good a hiding place as any. No other members of the extended clan demonstrated any tendency to head for any part of south-central Kentucky. A few had already left for West Virginia. Over the decades to various members of the clan would venture farther and farther to such places as the Ohio River Valley, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, and even the Far West, but none came to Wayne County. The handful that did eventually make it into Kentucky set themselves down in the northern or eastern fringes of the state.
The clean break aspect was even true of some of James and Betsy’s immediate family. Most of the kids had come along to Franklin County, but a full six declined to move to Wayne County. Before their lives were done, these six would be widely scattered. Of that group, John died in Indiana, Jacob in West Virgina, Rebecca (probably) in Wisconsin, and Charles back in Bedford County. Only five children came to Wayne County. Three of them were daughters Polly, Matilda, and Eliza, who didn’t really have much of a choice because they were still unmarried minors as of 1817. Another was Nathaniel, who was twenty at the time of the move but had not yet married, so again his decision was influenced by the fact that he had not yet established himself outside his birth household -- Nathaniel would spent sixteen years in Wayne County before moving to Morgan County, IL and then, a couple of decades later, to Decatur County, IA. The one child who deliberately chose to be part of the migration, but did not have to be, was married son William. This may be a clue. It could be that William was the person primarily responsible for the decision to move. It could be that William was the son who was helping maintain the family farm in Franklin County. Once he set his sights on Wayne County, it would have left James and Betsy in the lurch unless they came along.
Wayne County was an out-of-the-way spot back then. This is still true even today, with the 2000 census showing fewer than 20,000 human inhabitants. The Pearcy clan is well represented there. William and his wife Senah (Clatcher) had a large family, and large (or even huge) families tended to be the mode among their children and grandchildren. Many descendants remained with the county. Given the exponential increase in numbers with each generation, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that a thousand descendants of James and Betsy live in Wayne County today. That would be five percent of the local population.
Being in Wayne County also exaggerated the tendency for the family name to be recorded under spellings other than Pearcy. (This was true elsewhere, but not to the same degree.) Well over half of the modern-day descendants of James William Pearcy use the Piercy variation. When researching the 19th Century documentation of the family in Wayne County, one must search not only for Pearcy, but for Piercy, Piercey, Peircy, Peercy, Pierce, Perry, and even Powers (the latter perhaps being due to the proximity of Wayne County neighbors named Powers). The pension file application was submitted under the Piercy variant, though within the document it is also rendered as Pearcy.
James reached the age of eighty-one, showing more longevity than his siblings except possibly for Henry, who may have reached eighty-two. He and Betsy may have maintained a home of their own until near the end, but if so, they had plenty of younger family members with them. It is also likely that James gave up the role of head-of-household well before his death, ceding it to son William, or sharing a home with Polly and son-in-law Lorenzo Dow Kannatzer. Betsy is shown in the 1850 census as a widow residing with the latter pair and their kids.
Betsy is assumed to have still been in Wayne County when she passed away. Her precise date of death is not available, but it is assumed to be some time in the first half of 1857. She had qualified in 1848 for a widow-of-a-veteran payments of $13.33 per month for the rest of her life. This stipend was paid in lump sums of eighty dollars every six months in March and September. The last payment to her went out in March, 1857. This can reasonably be taken to mean the bureaucrats were informed that she had died and so the September, 1857 payment was not sent. Even to have reached calendar year 1857 means she was at least ninety-two years old when she died. In the March, 1855 renewal of the pension application, she claimed to be already be ninety-seven, but this can be taken as the standard sort of exaggeration that occurs whenever the matriarch of a clan gets so old everyone starts saying, “Wow, she is almost a hundred years old!” and the woman herself is too deep into her senility to offer a correction.
Much of what there is to say about James Martin and Rebecca Pearcy’s origins or their youth has already been described above or in the biography of their son Nathaniel. They probably met in Franklin County, VA soon after Rebecca and her family moved there. The pair were wed in late 1811. By early 1812, they appear to have set out on their own without any of their family members and forged a life for themselves in Monroe County, in what is now West Virginia. The paper trail is blank for the next twenty-five years. When it comes to the usual footprints such as censuses, tax lists, deeds, court case files, the family is invisible. We are left with indirect measures to tell us how they lived their lives.
We have the hint that James may have been more than “just a farmer.” For one thing, he married Rebecca, and she was not “just a farm wife” material. She was from an educated and prosperous family, and she appears to have been educated herself -- no small thing for a woman of her era. Moreover, Monroe County was not the sort of place to go just to farm. Yes, there were fertile bands of flat alluvial soil along some of the waterways, but Monroe County’s greatest economic asset was its abundance of fast streams, perfect for the water power needed for mills -- sawmills, grist mills, woolen mills. Rebecca came from mill country as well, and was the daughter of a man whose clan’s wealth back in England had come from textile milling. Their sons Nathaniel and Isaiah founded mills. James is highly likely to have had a career as a miller of some sort. If he had been just a farmer, some or all of his sons would have been just farmers, too. But of the four sons whose lives can be examined, all had non-agricultural professions.
Precisely where they lived is another part of the blank, and again, it is the indirect evidence that gives us any clue at all. The birthplace stats columns for their children in censuses taken in the second half of the 1800s confirm James and Rebecca maintained their home in West Virginia throughout the years the kids were being born. And though James and Rebecca are invisible, the same is not true of John Burwell or Jacob King, who would become their sons-in-law in the late 1830s. Logically, the Martins lived near the Burwells and the Kings. Together, the clues add up to a Martin home somewhere in the northern part of Monroe County near the border with Greenbrier County, with Second Creek (a teeny-tiny hamlet, then and now) being a valid spot to push the pin into the map.
One of the tiny scraps we have that frames a lifestyle scene is that music was nurtured within the family. This would be true down through the generations. Some descendants even depended upon music as a source of income, examples being Nathaniel’s great-grandaughters Hazel Cannon Rodgers, a piano teacher, and Margaret Eliza Hodge, a violin teacher. All of the sons of James and Rebecca were said to have played the fiddle. One can just imagine the family members and neighbors gathered for a Saturday night Appalachian hoedown in the 1830s.
The children began arriving at once and at a pace that left Rebecca pregnant three quarters of the time for the first half-dozen years of the marriage. The pace of later births was somewhat more sedate, but fast enough that by the end of the 1820s the tally had come to ten. They were Sydney, Redmond, Isaiah, Elias, Nathaniel, Rebecca, Nancy, Samuel, Polly, and Charles. We have nine of the names from the list in Nathaniel’s 1901 biographical sketch, and that sketch confirms the total came to ten. The one missing child is Samuel, whose name is included in the genealogy created by Nathaniel’s great-granddaughter Sarah Jeanette Hodge in the 1940s. Sarah’s source for the name Samuel is unknown and it remains an open question whether she was correct.
Finally in the late 1830s, the paper trail resumes, and even a skeptic would have to agree the Martins were in Monroe County by then. Monroe County’s records include the marriage book entry for Sydney Martin, who married Jacob King 16 March 1838. A couple of years later the 1840 census was gathered, and James is finally noted as a Monroe County head-of-household. The 1840 census was the last Federal census that failed to list the names of all the occupants of a dwelling, but the ages and genders are noted, yielding a tally that is perfectly consistent for a household composed of James, Rebecca, Sydney, son-in-law Jacob King, and the latter’s kids (some from his earlier marriage), along with Samuel and Charles Martin, the two boys still young enough to be at home. Sydney and Jacob and family reappear in this same locale in the 1850 census.
By that 1850 census, James and Rebecca were no longer themselves residing in Monroe County, though. After thirty years or more, they had finally moved on. They must have felt free to do so given that all of their offspring except Charles were grown. Taking Charles along, James and Rebecca moved to Raleigh County, VA (now WV). The pair appear in Raleigh County in the 1850 census. What spurred this move is unclear except that at about this time quite a few people of Monroe County moved to Raleigh County, including some who had been fairly close neighbors of the Martins.
That 1850 census enumeration is peculiar. All of the surviving children are listed as if they were there dwelling with the old couple. This was not even close to being the truth. The only child who is likely to have been a member of the household was Charles, then about twenty-one years old. Some were very far away, the farthest example being Isaiah, who was out west panning for gold in the Trinity Alps of northern California. It was as if the enumerator asked James to list all the children living with him and he, perhaps hard of hearing or a little senile, did not hear the “with him” part of the sentence and listed all his living children, which at that time consisted of Sydney, Redmond, Isaiah, Nathaniel, Rebecca, Nancy, and Charles, the other three having already died.
In the early 1850s, with Nathaniel and Isaiah running the extremely successful sawmill in Martintown, many of the other family members were drawn to the vicinity. James and Rebecca -- probably still with son Charles in tow -- were among those that gave in to the tropism. Family records do not say necessarily say they lived with Nathaniel. They might have instead been with daughters Rebecca Burwell or Nancy Mew, both of whom lived slightly south of Martintown on the Illinois side of the state line. However, it is reasonable to assume James’s final days were spent in Martintown. There is no question he was buried there. James passed away 9 October 1856 -- the date happend to be his and Rebecca’s 45th wedding anniversary. He became the second family member to be buried at the crest of the hill above the mills and main house, in what would become the Martin cemetery. (The first was his grandson William Martin.) His tombstone states he had lived seventy-seven years (this conflicts with census records that put his birthdate in about 1775). (Photo at left taken by Robert Carpenter 1993.)
Rebecca went on to marry again within a year or so of his death -- a somewhat astonishing development. Her new husband was a Norwegian Lapp and his name appears in various forms in sources, due in part to the different way names were composed in his homeland, and in part to his accent. Louis was the American form of his first name, and the “most correct” spelling of his last name seems to be Enger. He also went by Lewis Johnson, apparently because he seems to have off-and-on resorted to the Scandinavian naming custom, using Johnson because his father’s first name was John. In the 1858 court case in which he tried to seize power-of-attorney over Nathaniel’s estate, his name is transcribed as Lewis John Engert. It is rendered as L.G. Anger in the 1860 census. The latter document is the only one available that includes an age. It said he was thirty-nine. This does not seem credible and is probably an error. It is unlikely Rebecca managed to attract the attentions of a man thirty-one years younger than herself -- unless perhaps his only reason for pursuing the union was his hope that it would allow him to gain control of Nathaniel’s considerable wealth. Rebecca was still alive as of the 1860 census (residing in Martintown with Lewis). She does not appear in the 1870 census, when she would have been eighty years of age. Chances are high she passed away during the 1860s.
And so we have come down through history and arrived at Nathaniel himself. His own biography page covers his life in full and there is no need to cover it again here, but it is appropriate to offer capsule biographies here of each of his siblings:
Five of the group appear to have remained in the general vicinity of their birth, venturing no farther west than the Appalachian Mountains:
The other five children of James and Rebecca came west. Isaiah came with Nathaniel (or Nathaniel came with Isaiah), as noted on Nathaniel's biography page. The pair could be called adventurers, exhibiting the classic tendency of 19th Century American youngsters to boldly set off westward into frontier territory just to see what they could make of themselves -- the famous Manifest Destiny syndrome. Eventually the other three siblings did migrate, but they did not do so until Nathaniel’s mill was up and running and the Martintown and its immediate area represented a secure and stable place to put down roots.
Here is the Perry County, MO home of Isaiah’s brother-in-law Jesse Gibler as it looked in 1895, just after Jesse’s death. The older woman in the center is Jesse’s widow Rebecca Hartson Gibler. This house was probably a near duplicate of the one next door, the site of Isaiah’s death. One can almost picture Isaiah collapsing while passing through the garden gate.
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