Standing at Braswell’s on the north side of the Cape Fear at what’s known as Avent’s Ferry, the anticipation must have been overwhelming for the folk who were starting their trek west. It was 1778 and times were changing fast. Rooted in the lead-up to the Revolutionary war, a series of General Assembly acts authorized the state to grant unsold colonial lands. In places like Mecklenburg, unsold acreage in Arthur Dobb’s 100,000 acre tracts was also authorized to be sold by way of Secretary of State land grants.
Situated on the Great Pee Dee Trail, Avent’s Ferry was the primary starting point for many removing from places like Wake and Johnston Counties. It also served those who moved from further north, leaving behind their homes in places like Bertie and Martin Counties. Some moved down the trail and never came back north while others returned home or at least made visits. The names of families that likely crossed at the ferry include Green, Strait, Kent, Segraves, Traywick, Baucom, Barker, Holland, Osborne, Gurley, Braswell, Rogers, Pope, Austin, Lee, Hamiliton, Hill, Jones, Honeycutt, Hobbs, Rowland, and maybe even THOMAS.
My family settled in Anson County, but from where did they come? I’ve suspected they came out of areas surrounding Wake County, but how can I be certain? Rather than delving into the who-done-it of my own family history, I’d like to share several important lessons learned on recent visits to the North Carolina State Archives. In particular, I’d like to share information that may be of help to those of you researching family in southern Wake County.
Named in honor of Governor Tryon’s wife Margaret, Wake County was formed 12 March 1771 out of land cut from Granville, Johnston and Cumberland. The people that really interested me lived in southern Wake County and therefore I asked, …if part of Wake was cut from Cumberland, then where was the line prior to the formation of Wake? If part of Wake was once Cumberland, I should be able to find earlier mention of its residents in the annals of Cumberland County ….right???
Poring through historic county maps and clicking through online formation animations, I was deeply bothered by something I was NOT SEEING. The southern county line of Wake appeared to never move! I questioned the folks at archives and though we all saw the same thing, nobody had a clue as to what happened. This all changed this week when I passed the back corner table where friend Jack McGeachy was working to abstract New Hanover court minutes. Telling him of my concerns, he asked if I had seen the book of North Carolina County Formations that included detail maps? Jack graciously walked me to the Genealogy library downstairs where he showed me the North Carolina Atlas of Historical County Boundaries compiled by Gordon DenBoer and edited by John H. Long. The below overlay map of early Cumberland indicated its northern most county line was “estimated.” It appears a wedge of land overlapped present day Wake County and that the boundary was disputed through 1782. That’s important find number one.
Secondly, I’ve always known that existing court records in Wake were solid though no deed books survive prior to 1782. This week I learned that several deed books covering the early years of Wake County were burned in an 1832 fire at the Clerk of Court office. To a small degree you are able to work around this through a close study of Secretary of State land grants. Also, and since other records are pretty solid for Wake County, you can glean a bit of information from the registering of deeds found in the county court minutes.
So, not only are we robbed of the chance to identify family through their land conveyances, now we have to work around records obviously corrupted by a disputed county line! And for us all, it is what it is and there’s little we can do to make it better. Our best opportunities lie in understanding the situation and by then making the best of what we have.
As for my own THOMAS clan, Benjamin was fathering his family during the period when the southern bounds of Wake County were in dispute. It was a time he would likely begin to show himself in record. Robbed of that opportunity, will we be able to locate him some other way? Note, …an important note too, is that a Joseph Thomas and others lived within the disputed wedge of Wake/Cumberland County. Through DNA, descendants of the Joseph Thomas family match and are therefore related to the descendants of Benjamin Thomas of Anson County. There must be something in the wedge of disputed land that we need to uncover.
One last find, and one that likely plays no role in our family is the learning of a county that I had never heard of. Have you ever heard of Fayette County? Formed on 4 Jul 1784, the county was eliminated 25 November 1784: