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Alfred Butler: The Early Years

By Steven R. Butler, Ph.D.

My earliest confirmable ancestor was a man named Alfred Butler, who, according to his U.S.-Mexican War discharge certificate, was born about 1824 in Bertie County, North Carolina. I feel compelled to point out however, that I am presently of the opinion that his place of birth, as stated on this document, might be the result of erroneous information provided by Alfred himself, and that he was born instead in either Cumberland County, North Carolina or Greene County, Alabama. Innocent errors on official documents are not uncommon; I have made them myself and so have other members of my family, most notably my grandmother, Alice Butler, who in 1935 not only misinformed the authorities that issued my grandfather's death certificate that he had been born in 1878 but also had it engraved on his tombstone! I have no doubt that at the time she provided this information she believed it was correct. Unfortunately, she was wrong; my grandfather was actually born in 1880, as a preponderance of contrary evidence confirms. For much the same reason, I presently think that Alfred Butler's family was originally from Bertie County, North Carolina and that they left that place before he was born but somehow, most likely as a child, he got the mistaken idea that he had been born there too. I should add that I have no proof of any of this. Presently, it is just a "hunch."

The only thing we know with certainty about Alfred Butler's youth is that sometime before 1846 he left North Carolina and went to live in Greene County, Alabama (if he was not born there).

For years, I have endeavored to learn the identity of Alfred Butler's parents. Although I have so far been unable to establish a familial connection with absolute certainty, an abundance of circumstantial evidence has convinced me that he was almost certainly the eldest son of a man named Kennard Butler and his wife Nancy Ann Johnson, who made their home in Greene County during the early nineteenth century, and I am confident that future research will confirm an ancestral link, which absent any documentary evidence I must presently treat as conjecture.

Kennard Butler was born in North Carolina about 1800. His father was Isaac Butler, who I think might be the same Isaac Butler of Bertie County, North Carolina who served as a Revolutionary War soldier in the Tenth North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington at Valley Forge and elsewhere.

Kennard Butler's wife was Nancy Ann Johnson, the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran named Richard Johnson and his wife Sarah. She was born in 1796 in Virginia (probably in Southampton County). The date and place of Kennard and Ann's marriage is presently unknown but I speculate that it took place in either Bertie County or Cumberland County, North Carolina about 1823. Together, they had two sons who I now believe were almost certainly Alfred and a brother named Levin Butler. Kennard and Ann Butler also had two daughters, whose names are certain: Lovely De Unity or just Lovely Unity (born about 1826 in Alabama), who at the age of fourteen married Robert Johnson (probably a cousin) in 1840, and Jully M. (date and place of birth unknown).

My best guess is that Kennard Butler and his family removed from North Carolina to Greene County, Alabama about 1825. It appears that Kennard's father, Isaac Butler, who was probably a widower, also migrated to Alabama around this same time or even perhaps a little earlier.

In the 1830 federal census for Greene County, Alabama, the only one in which Kennard Butler is listed by name, his household included two males under five years of age (probably Alfred and Levin), one male age 20 to 30 (obviously Kennard himself), two females under five (almost certainly Lovely and Jully), three females age 5 to 10 (identities unknown), one female age 10 to 15 (perhaps Kennard's sister Mary), and two females 30 to 40 (one of these is obviously his wife Nancy Ann but the identity of the other is unknown), for a total of eleven persons. Unfortunately, apart from revealing that Kennard Butler also owned no slaves, the 1830 census provides us with no other information, unlike later censuses, which give a person's occupation, the value of their property, and so on. Although we may guess that Kennard Butler was a farmer, as were most other Americans in that age, but there is no way to be certain. He could just as easily have been an artisan or craftsman of some kind. The town of Erie, which was then a bustling river port, had approximately 1,500 residents. In May 1996 I did extensive research in the Greene County courthouse in Eutaw, Alabama and found no deed records on file for Isaac, Kennard, or Ann Butler, which leads me to believe that they were townspeople. The fact that neither Kennard nor Ann owned any slaves, so far as it is known, also suggests that they were people of modest means.

Unfortunately, the only other public records in Greene County that mention Kennard Butler are the estate inventories of some other residents, which merely list him as a claimant. The latest of such claims, in respect to the estate of one Lewis A. Stolenwerck, is dated May 25, 1835. After that, there is nothing.

The fact that Kennard's wife Ann is listed as the head of a Greene County, Alabama household in the 1840 federal census and Kennard himself is conspicuously absent from this or any subsequent censuses, leads to but one conclusion: Kennard Butler died sometime between 1835 and 1840, but when and where and how?

Unfortunately, there is neither a will nor any probate records regarding the estate of Kennard Butler in the Greene County courthouse that might provide the answers. Furthermore, his name cannot be found on a tombstone in any Greene County cemetery that has been searched and indexed. Wondering if he might have died in the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836, I examined the casualty lists of that conflict but his name is not on any of them; nor does his name appear on any roster of the volunteers who fought in the 1836 Creek Indian War in Georgia and Alabama. The only other plausible explanation is that he simply succumbed to some illness and was buried somewhere in Greene County without a headstone to mark his grave (or if a marker was erected, it has since fallen down and been covered with earth, where it cannot be seen).

Kennard Butler's wife survived him by more than four decades. In 1840, the same year that Ann Butler was named as head of the household in the federal census (with two sons and two daughters, all age 10 to 15), one the girls, Lovely, was married to Robert Johnson (probably a cousin), on August 13. Owing to the fact that there is no record of marriage for Jully Butler in Greene County (or anywhere else, so far as it is known) and no listing for her in any subsequent census, we may assume she died either shortly before or shortly after reaching adulthood.

Continue to: Alfred Butler in the Mexican War, Part One


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