THE WILSON FAMILY
By Steven R. Butler
I am related to the Wilson family by virtue of the marriage of my grandfather, William Ollie Jenkins, to my grandmother, Ida Lee Seay, who was the daughter of Matthew E, Seay and Margaret Inez Ward, who was the daughter of Morris Ward, Jr., who was the son of Morris Ward, Sr., and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Wilson, a daughter of Edward Wilson of North Carolina and Alabama.
Unfortunately, the history of our branch of the Wilson family (probably English in origin) in America has seemingly been lost to history. Our earliest known ancestor in this line is Edward Wilson, who is treated below.
Edward Wilson was born about 1762, probably in Bladen County, North Carolina. The names of his parents are presently unknown, but it is believed that John Wilson of Bladen County, North Carolina, was his brother, at the very least a cousin.
Military service records in the National Archives show that on July 20, 1778, when he was about sixteen or seventeen-years-old, Edward Wilson enlisted as a private in Captain William Blount's Company of Bladen County, North Carolina Militia for a term of nine months. Military records on file in the National Archives and an extant muster roll of Capt. Elisha Rhodes' Company of North Carolina Militia also include the name of Edward Wilson, but Rhodes' company was from Bertie County. For that reason, it's almost certain that the man listed is a different Edward Wilson to "ours."
As a private in Blount's company for nine months (until the end of April 1779), "our" Edward Wilson would have participated in only one battle, the Battle of Brier Creek Bridge in Northern Georgia, March 3, 1779, which was a British victory that resulted in heavy casualties for the Patriots. Although it's possible that he re-enlisted and served for longer than nine months, there seems to be no record of any further service. Unfortunately, he did not apply for a Revolutionary War federal pension, even though he lived long enough to apply, His application would have almost certainly yielded much more information, which has apparently been lost to history.
Sometime in 1784, at the age of about twenty-two, Edward Wilson married sixteen-year-old Charity Godwin, almost certainly in Bladen County, North Carolina. Together, they had the following named children, all born in North Carolina:
Our earliest public record of Edward Wilson is his name of a tax list for Bladen County, North Carolina, for the year 1775. (See William L. Byrd's Bladen County, North Carolina Tax Lists, 1775 through 1789, p. 33.)
During his lifetime, Edward Wilson bought and sold several tracts of land in both Bladen County and Columbus County, North Carolina. Here is a list of known transactions in those two counties, some of which, for some unknown reason, were recorded twice:
From time-to-time, Edward Wilson made his mark (he was illiterate and couldn't sign his name himself) on a deed, as a witness to the land transactions of others. On October 9, 1816, he witnessed the sale of land from Uriah Flowers to Bartholemew Floyd (C/367). On December 26, 1818, he witnessed a sale from Hardy Robbins to John Somersett (C/352). On December 2, 1826, he witnessed a sale of land from William Hays to Stafford Sumersett (D/402).
Sometimes, Edward Wilson's land was mentioned as lying adjacent to the land of another person, for instance in the deed of sale from Uriah Flowers and James B. White to Francis Blake, on November 12, 1814 (B/355). Another time, Wilson's property was mentioned in the transfer of land from John Waters to John Green (B/227), on January 20, 1817, a document that was witnessed by his son, Godwin Wilson. Edward Wilson's property was also mentioned on February 14, 1814, when John Galliway sold land to Jethro Robbins (A/369).
In 1808, Columbus County, North Carolina, named for explorer Christopher Columbus, was formed from parts of Bladen and Brunswick counties. From all appearances, all or most of Edward Wilson's real property was located in the new county. In 1810, the town of Whiteville, named for James B. White and originally called "White's Crossing," was laid out, and, as can be seen in transaction no. 18 above, Edward Wilson was one of the earliest purchasers of property in the new community, which was and still is the seat of Columbus County.
Soules Swamp, which is mentioned in several of Edward Wilson's land transactions, lies just to the south of Whiteville. This is the area where, from all appearances, most if not all of Edward Wilson's property was located.
About 1803, prior to the formation of Columbus County, Edward Wilson's wife, Charity, died. In 1804, he remarried. His second wife was Rebecca White, who may have been related somehow to James B. White and/or John H. White, both of who were prominent figures in Columbus County, North Carolina at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Together, Edward and Rebecca had the following named children, all born in North Carolina:
As can be seen from his land transactions, Edward Wilson lived in Bladen and Columbus County, North Carolina for almost all his life. But then, in 1835 or thereabouts, when Edward was about seventy-three-years-old, an age at which most people are reluctant to make any major changes in their lives, he and his second wife and most of his now-adult children removed to Pike County, Alabama, where a lot of North Carolinians had settled during the years both before and since Alabama became a state in 1819. In all likelihood, the decision to move was made by one or more of Edward's children, and rather than leave their father and mother behind, they persuaded them to come along.
Whatever Edward Wilson's reason for leaving North Carolina, such a move was not uncommon. "Between 1815 and 1835," wrote author Blackwell P. Robinson, "North Carolina was so undeveloped, backward and indifferent to its condition that it was often called the "Ireland of America" and the "Rip Van Winkle" state." As a result, he commented, "North Carolina dropped in population from fourth place among the states in 1790 to seventh place in 1840, though it had about the highest birth rate in the nation. Soil exhaustion, the lure of fertile and cheap lands in the west, the lack of internal improvements and educational facilities and unhappy conditions generally led many people to leave the state."1
Their destination of choice, more often than not, was the former Mississippi Territory, which on March 3, 1817 was divided by the Federal government into two portions. The western half was admitted to the union as the State of Mississippi on December 10 that same year, while the eastern half was organized as the Territory of Alabama. Two years later, on December 14, 1819, Alabama too was admitted as a state. According to author William A. Owens, the largest number of settlers came from southern Virginia and the Carolinas.
"They entered Alabama," wrote author William A. Owens, "by way of the Tennessee and Alabama rivers." Or they traveled by land, the poorest on foot, those better off by wagon train, taking "either the upper road or the Fall Line Road, both of which began in Virginia, crossed North and South Carolina and intersected at Montgomery, Alabama." As "mighty streams of emigration" poured into the state, "spreading over the whole territory of Alabama, the axe resounded from side to side and from corner to corner. The stately and magnificent forest fell. Log cabins sprang, as if by magic, into sight. Never before or since, has a country been so rapidly peopled."2
Sometime after Edward Wilson arrived in Alabama, he applied for a federal land grant, which was issued on August 15, 1837, entitling him to eighty acres and thirty-eight and � hundredths of an acre in Pike County. Here is a description of the property: "The east half of the northeast quarter of section one of township ten in range twenty-one, and in the District of Lands subject to sale at Sparta, Alabama." Nearly two hundred years later, this land is still rural, partly-wooded agricultural property, located about 6.9 miles northeast of Troy, the seat of Pike County. The confluence of Dunn's Creek and Brown's Mill Creek marks the approximate center of the property, through which Gardner Bassett Road runs diagonally, southwest to northeast (and vice versa).
As might be expected, Edward Wilson was enumerated in the 1790 and 1800 federal census for Bladen County, North Carolina, and also the 1810, 1820, and 1830 federal census for Columbus County, North Carolina. The 1840 federal census is the first and only one in which he was found living in Pike County, Alabama. By and large, these census records conform to what we expect to find regarding the number, gender, and ages of his family. They also reveal that Edward Wilson was a slave-owner. In 1820, he had only one slave, a man in the 26 to 44 age group. By 1830, he had four-one male under 10, one male 36 to 44, one female under 10, and one female 10 to 23, In 1840, there were six enslaved people in his household, one more than he listed by name-Ben, Eliza, Clarissa, Aleck, and John-in his will in 1837, the sixth person apparently a female child under the age of ten.
Unfortunately, Edward Wilson's residence in Pike County, Alabama was short-lived. From all appearances, he died sometime in late 1845. On February 3, 1846, his will was submitted to the county court for probate.
Here is a transcript of Edward Wilson's Last Will and Testament, which is recorded in Pike County, Alabama Will Book A, p.6:
There are at least two curious things about Edward Wilson's will.
First, there seems to be no official record, either federal or local, of how he came to own the tract of land he identified as the "southwest � of the North East � of Section one in Township Ten and Range Twenty one." I've looked in the records of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and also Pike County, Alabama deed records, and there's nothing.
Secondly, although Edward Wilson's will make it quite clear that he wished all his property, both real and personal, to remain in the possession of his widow, Rebecca, following his demise, in February 1846 the Pike County court appointed his son, Godwin Wilson, administrator of his estate. In the performance of his duties, Godwin inventoried and sold most of his father's property, including the slaves that Edward had bequeathed to Rebecca. Rebecca herself bought three of them: Ben and Eliza, obviously a couple, and a boy, Jacob, for which she paid $300, $302.50, and $166 respectively. Edward Wilson's other slaves, which by the time of his death numbered eight, were sold to various neighbors. Clarissa and her son, Henry (apparently an infant or toddler), sold for $605 together. The girl, Patty, sold for $258. Aleck, identified as a boy, sold for $525, and John, also identified as a boy, sold for $371.
Moreover, although Edward Wilson had specifically bequeathed his two tracts of land to his widow, on November 2, 1847, his sons and daughters, together with their husbands, formally relinquished any right, title, or interest they might have in this property, in favor of their mother, Rebecca, for the token sum of five cents. I don't understand why this transaction, which was recorded in Pike County, Alabama Deed Book F, p.62, was necessary.
Unfortunately, the name of the cemetery in which Edward Wilson was buried seems to be lost to history.
On May 10, 1849, nearly five years following the death of Edward Wilson, his widow, Rebecca, married a Pike County widower named Eli Creswell (or Croswell or Crauswell). Owing to their advanced age, they had no children together. A little more than a decade later, on September 6, 1861, Rebecca became a widow for the second time. The following year, she followed both her husbands to the grave. Eli is buried at Aberfoil Cemetery, a tiny rural graveyard near Linwood, Pike County, Alabama. It is not known if Rebecca is buried there too.
Elizabeth Ann Wilson
Elizabeth Ann Wilson was a daughter of Edward Wilson and his second wife, Rebecca White Wilson. She was born about 1813 in Columbus County, North Carolina.
About 1831, she was married to Morris Ward, Sr., son of Matthew Ward of Columbus County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, there is no official record of this marriage.
For more information, see MORRIS WARD, Sr.
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