Dated 17 Apr 1716, a court session held for Chowan Precinct took place in the house of Robert Hicks on Queen Anne’s Creek where the following was recorded:

“Ordered that a ferry be kept at Luke White’s, or some other convenient place in Rockyhock, and that a road be cleared from thence at Ballard’s Bridge, with least inconvenience to the owners of the land”

In the above1737 Mosely map you can see Luke White’s Ferry on the east bank of the Chowan River. South of the ferry is Rockyhock Creek where a bridge once called Ballard’s must have crossed. Of importance to my Burris family history, I discovered the above in a published report by fellow researcher Frances Cullom Morgan. More than any other I know, Frances has succeeded in the inimitable task of untangling the Jones Family of eastern North Carolina. As is with the families in her story, my family once lived along the Chowan River too. Generations of our Burris family must have crossed the waters at Luke White’s Ferry.

paul johnsonIn response to my questions asked about our Burris family lands on the west or Bertie County side of the Chowan River, friend Gregory Tyler directed me to read K. Paul Johnson’s book Pell Mellers (Race and Memory) in a Carolina Pocoson. I was told to read it because, as Gregory put it, “these are your people.” You see, some of my Burris family lived in the area called Pell Mell and are certainly related to Paul Johnson through his ancestor Alexander Hawkins Johnston who married Sarah Burris in 1795. Paul’s family is my family.

In his enlightening book, Paul tells the story of Pell Mell and the tri-racial mixing of races which was prevalent in the area around this uniquely Carolina land feature known as a pocosson. He tells how some folk refer to pocossons as being swamps on hills. He goes on …”where the town of Askewville now stands, the Pell Mell Pocoson is a huge peat bog covered with thick forests of long leaf pines. The pocoson’s soil was so poorly drained that much of it remained uninhabitable until modern drainage systems were introduced.” And as for naming, some believe the Pell Mell Pocoson of Bertie County honors the grand plaza of London running the north bank of the Thames River. Paul, on the other hand, conjectures that in this case, the descriptive “implies sarcasm in the Windsor gentry’s use of Pell Meller to refer to the poor and illiterate residents of the pocoson.”

My introduction to all this lies with my ancestor Solomon Burris who served in the American Revolution out of Anson County. Located nowhere near Bertie County, Anson is situated far away in the southern piedmont of North Carolina. According to his pension request filed in Stanly County, Solomon Burris states that proof of his life record lies in a bible. Asked “have you any record of your age and if so, what is it?
Solomon responded:

I have no record of my age. My father has my age down in his bible and he carried it to Bertie County in this state and has long since died –and I know not what became of the record.

And from a 1772 tax list, we know that Solomon is identified as being the son of Joshua Burris. Documents in Bertie further imply that Solomon has a brother named Joshua Junior and that Joshua Burris Senior’s father may be a person named James Burris. However, Solomon’s perceived relation to Joshua introduces us to the Burris family conundrum. We know from the tax list that Solomon is the son of Joshua. But, as family land and other records are so plentiful and mixed, it’s difficult to correctly attribute each one to the right Joshua. For instance, was it Joshua Senior or Junior who moved to South Carolina? Do we really know?

Beyond the believed descendants of Joshua Burris Senior, it’s important for you to understand that there are others of our name whose identities and relations have yet to be determined. To this end, discussion in a recent Burris Family User Group has awakened in me the need to look deeper into our story. There’s got to be more beyond what I believe to be a comfortably written history settled upon by past research efforts. We are a large and complex family and it seems the mysteries and bits yet untold should be made known.

Enter Ken Burres.

Joining our Facebook usergroup Solomon Burris and Family of North Carolina, Ken quickly introduced his family as descending from a person named Dempsey Burres who first appears ca. 1840 in Marshall County TN. By the way, all who descend from any Burris/Burrus/Burres family out of Bertie County are welcome to participate in our usergroup!

In the 1850 Marshall County census, Dempsey Burres is identified as being born in North Carolina (see below). Proving beyond doubt that he is a blood cousin, Ken Burres’ Y-DNA matches a known descendant of our Solomon Burris. He is certainly one of us and represents a branch of our family seeking to find their way back home. Note that Y-DNA accurately follows the paternal line and unlike autosomal DNA, does not easily degrade. Therefore, we know Ken’s father is a Bures as is his father and so on back to the day where his ancestor and ours share a common Burres/Burris parentage.

Dempsey Burros [Burrop] 55m tar NC
Cela 24 f SC
Matilda 22 f TN
Martha 18 f TN
Solomon 18 m TN
Alfred 14 m TN
Ja’s Rone 7m TN
Cela Rone 6m TN

Giving this a serious stab and wanting to learn more of our new cousin, I’ve made multiple visits to North Carolina State Archives. And as for this post, it’s not at all to be seen as a conclusion of that effort. Merely a beginning, there’s value in gathering and presenting initial findings along with any hypotheticals in prediction of where we may be heading. And, as we’re in the holiday season, I’d especially like to offer something worth passing on, worth reaching across the mountains and sharing around the dinner table with turkey and gravy or a big ham. In this post I’ll outline what’s been found to date along with suggestions of where we may go from here.

The following report connects our people to two areas along the Chowan River. This post looks primarily at records for our family on the west side of the river within the Pell Mell Pocoson along a stream called Blount’s Branch. Secondly, we likely have family who once lived on the east side of the Chowan on a creek called Rockyhock near Luke White’s old ferry. I’ll discuss those records in my next posting.


In 1750, John Wynns sold to James Burros 200 acres on the south side of the Flat Swamp of Killam and east side of the old road and bridge. There are other Burris related transactions for land on Flat Swamp that also mention a stream called Blount’s Branch. Adjoining the lands of “White,” James Burros’ 200 acre purchase was witnessed by Thomas Hansford. Sixteen years later, in 1766, James Burrous happened to be one of the buyers at the estate sale of Thomas Hansford deceased. Then, in 1778, Thomas Hansford’s son Jenkins Hansford made the trip west to Anson County where he served as chain bearer for a land grant issued to Joshua Burris. The two must have been friends. Remember, it is assumed that Joshua is the son of the above James Burros. As is with our Burris family, Jenkins Hansford made his way west though is known to have returned to Bertie where an estate record marks his death in the 1790’s.

In 1759 Burrell Bell sold to John Kaile 100 acres on the westward side of Blount’s Pocoson joining Luke White Sr., James Burros, and Burwell Bell. Luke White Senior in this transaction is the son of Mordecai and Mary Hardy White and Mordecai is the brother of Luke White the ferryman. And, note that the deed mentions Blount’s Pocoson.

Who was John Kail in the above conveyance? Of coincidence (or not?) in all this, my paternal Thomas family once lived within ten miles of Pell Mell Pocoson. In telling the story of his Kail ancestors, my possible very distant cousin Gerald Thomas of nearby Hertford County researched family lore of Native heritage pertaining to his early Kail family. Gerald’s work is very much worth reading and can be found at: A Critical Examination of a Family Legend: John Cale Purported Indian.

The following three deeds mention Blount’s Creek in connection with Flatt Swamp:

Burrell Bell to Henry Haste, 125 acres on Flatt Swamp, the main road, James Burris, Yeates, and Blount’s Branch.”

• On Sep 7, 1759, Burrell Bell to Joshua Burross for 171 acres on the south side of Flatt Swamp joining Absolum Harrell.

• Sep 8, 1759, Burell Bell, gent to Joseph Harris for 228 acres on Mare Branch joining James Fletcher, Wm. Williamson, James Burress, and Flatt Swamp.

In 1773 Mordecai White sold to our Joshua Burrass, 420 acres adjoining the Pell Mell Pocoson. And, Mordecai’s 420 acres originated in a land grant (Grant 777, Bertie) issued to him on 27 Nov 1760. Only the paper shuck which held the survey and warrant survives along with the following description gleaned from the entry book:


The naming of Morbin Branch in the entry record offers a huge clue in helping to place this piece of our family land. The description from the entry takes on new meaning after reading the following which was found at the old Genweb page Geographic Features of Bertie County:

“A small tributary stream that enters Cucklemaker Swamp was called Marvel Swamp [Branch] as found in the first Bertie land deeds dated 1760 when Mordecai White received a royal grant from Lord Granville for 420 acres of vacant land. Marvel Branch/Swamp was also spelled Morben, Morbin and Morrville. This waterway can be located and identified as it crosses Polly Road between Ross Church and Askewville.”

Platting Mordecai White’s grant and crosschecking the same against the Bertie County GIS site, it appears in the following that the entry description is likely accurate. One line of the survey follows Morbin Branch while the southwesterly line crosses the Pell Mell Pcososon. The running of several roads was likely dictated by the shape of the grant. And nearby, the town of Askewville lies to the northwest with the historic Ross Church located near a southeast corner of the tract. Of huge importance, note that Flat Swamp enters Cucklemaker Creek in the extreme southeast of the image. Cucklemaker is believed to be named for an Indian Chief and it’s some place on the run of Flat Swamp where Blount’s Branch is located. So, truly not far from the lands of Joshua Burris, his believed father James once acquired land on Blount’s Branch in Bertie County.

Windsor North, NC, 1:24,000 quad, 1981, USGS

Joshua Burris did not hold on to the above land for very long as in the late 1770’s his branch of the family moved to Anson County where he entered a land grant dated 1778. Possibly in reflection of the move, Joshua sold the above to James Adams of nearby Halifax County. For sake of record, the following is a brief title history for the above tract of land:

Grant 777, Bertie, ent. 27 Nov 1760. MORDECAI WHITE 430 acres.

Deed M- —, Bertie, 10 Feb 1773, reg. May 1774. MORDECAI WHITE planter and wife MARY of Bertie to JOSHUA BURRASS planter of Hertford 420 ac joining Pall Mall Pocoson, George Mewborn, Merbin Branch, Jonathan Miller, Also signed by Mary White Wit: Herbert Pritchard., Joseph Laurance. [Mordecai White married Mary Hardy]

Deed M —, Bertie, 14 Feb 1776, reg. Feb 1776. JOSHUA BURRASS of Martin Co to JAMES ADAMS of Halifax 420 ac at Pell Mell joining George Mitchell, Morbin Branch, Jonathan Miller. Wit: Watkin William Wynns, Thomas West Whitmell.

Records show that Joshua Burris and his namesake son maintained ownership of parts of the family lands in Bertie after their removal to Anson County. However, as mentioned before, sorting out the various pieces of land is difficult. I imagine that part of the family continued to live on land in Bertie or at least visited back and forth between the two locations. Holdings in Bertie were eventually sold by Joshua Burris. Again, would that have been Junior or Senior? I’ve yet to work those records so at some point we may glean more things which may possibly change our history. However, with all said, our family story told through documentation seems to go quiet ca. 1780’s. Is the problem due to a cease in the appearance of our family in records or is it due to an overlooked hiccup in our family research? Believing the latter to be partially true, most of the past research aimed at ferreting out our family only covers the years prior to our removal to Anson County. This winter I hope to push the effort seriously past the late 1700’s through 1840 in hopes of filling in this void. For now, let’s pick up with the 1800 Bertie County census at which time there were no Burris living in the county. None! Hmmm, there were none of us listed as living in Bertie County in 1800 …and then our story takes a twist.

In May 1802, a “deed of gift for the lands upon which John Laurence lived was divided “equally between his two daughters Sarah and Elizabeth.” The transaction further states that “Daniel Burris did on the — of —- intermarry with the said Elizabeth Laurence and that the said Daniel and Elizabeth Burris …” Daniel and wife Elizabeth transferred their rights to a person named Alexander Hawkins Johnston. At issue was 50 acres adjoining the lands of Thos. H. Pugh, Henry Hall, and William Laurence. The land was deeded over to Alexander H. Johnston who happens to be the paternal ancestor of K. Paul Johnson, author of Pell Mellers (Race and Memory) in a Carolina Pocoson. In his book, Paul tells of the Johnson family reunion, of driving down Hwy 13 from Akoskie, and of convening at the old Johnson Cemetery where Hardy Johnson is known to be buried. The old Johnson Cemetery is located near Polly Road which is identified in the above illustration as dead ending within Joshua’s 420 acres. Note that Alexander H. Johnson married Sally Burras 31 Mar 1795 in Bertie County. Bondsman was Lewis Redit and the bond was witnessed by Stevens Gray. No less so than Ken Burress or you or I, Paul Johnson is our cousin. It’s my belief that Sally may be Daniel Burris’ sister. That’s only my idea as nothing at this time is known of Sally Burras. And as for Daniel and Elizabeth Laurence Burris, their marriage bond survives so we can rest assured that they married 6 Jan 1801.

Aniel Burris

Moving forward, in 1810, the name Daniel Burris first appears in Bertie County census as follows:

1 m 0-5, 1m 16-25, 1m 26-44, 1f 26-44

Remember that cousin Ken Burres above shares our DNA and is a known descendant of a person named Dempsey Burris who, in the 1850 Marshall County census, is listed as being born ca. 1795 in North Carolina. I believe Dempsey is the male above who is identified as being 16-25 years old. As for the younger male, I believe he’s going to be another son named Miles Burris. Ken’s Dempsey was 55 years old in 1850 Marshall County at the same time Miles appears as 50 years old in neighboring Maury County TN. Yet to find further mention of Dempsey, Miles first appears in the following Bertie County deed:

Deed BB-568 Bertie, 4 Oct 1823 Bertie. JOHN SORRELL of Hertford, George Wynns of Bertie to MILES BURRIS of Bertie. Being one third part of a tract of land (on Mouths branch) Island Creek running thence up the said creek various courses to a pine in Forky Branch, then along a line of marked trees to a pine in a small branch No. of said branch, thence southerward along a line of marked trees along the edge of Gramphin Hill to a white oak in Isaac Speight’s line, then on the said Speight’s line to a red oak, then along a line of marked trees through the pocoson south 35 east to the river, thence up the river to the first station. Wit: Daniel Burroughs, Hardy H. Johnston.

I’m not at all certain of the location of the above land. But, here is Miles Burris and his probable father Daniel Burroughs involved in the same transaction. Also, another deed will indicate that Miles Burris’ marriage to Elizabeth, a sister to the above John Sorrell. Elizabeth and John are children of Benjamin and Rhody Sorrell. And, serving as witness with Daniel Burroughs, Hardy H. Johnston also appears in the above transaction. Hardy is believed to be the son of Alexander H and Sarah Burris Johnston. And note that generations earlier Mordecai White married to a person named Mary Hardy. I’m curious …any family connection to the naming of Hardy Johnston?

Before moving on with the above, it’s important for you know that our Burris family and the Sorrell/Sowell family were close from the earliest days. As early as 1747 James Campbell sold to James Sorrell 100 acres being “part of the land belonging to James Burrus who conveyed it to Joseph Laurence.” Situated on Flat Swamp, the land adjoined the Wiccacon Road and lands of Demcy Kail. Then, in 1787 and possibly being the same land, James Campbell sold part of the tract to James Sorrell. The deed states that the land once belonged to James Burras who conveyed it to Joseph Laurence.

Dated 10 Nov 1805, Elizabeth Sorrell’s father Benjamin Sorrell wrote his last will and testament naming among others, wife Rhody and daughter Elizabeth Sorrell. Then, during the 1820’s, records seem to give us a lucky glimpse at what I believe was a closing chapter of Burris life in Bertie County. While some of our family remained in North Carolina, others were about to make the move to Tennessee. In the deed below, Miles Burris and wife Elizabeth, along with others, were selling estate lands once belonging to the said Elizabeth’s parents:

Deed BB-573 Bertie, 4 Oct 1826. Jesse Brinn, Miles Burris and his wife Elizabeth Burris, Ruben Farless, and Rhody Sorrell of Bertie to Ruben Farless of Hertford. Being 50 acres beginning at the old road in Blount’s Branch, thence running down the said branch along the line belonging to the estate of George McGlorhorn dec’d to a line belonging to Jane Perry dec’d, thence along the said Jane Perry Dec’d line to the road, thence down the road to the first station, reference to the land history can be “found from an old deed given by Dempsey Kail and wife to Benjamin Sorrell.” Wit: William N. Pearce, Daniel Burross.

As seen above, by 1826 Elizabeth Sorrell is identified as “Elizabeth Burris.” And, who is Ruben Farless? Appearing as both seller and buyer, I believe either Reuben or his wife must somehow descend from Benjamin Sorrell. In 1840 “Ruben Farless” appears in the Madison County TN census and likely dies soon after. In 1850, Reuben’s children appear in neighboring Gibson County where some of Ken’s folks resided. There, names in the Farless family harken back to earlier days in Bertie County. One likely son of Reuben Farless is named Media which surely reflects the White family. And, Media happened to marry Elizabeth Haste who I’d guess is likely a descendant of Henry Haste who once sold land to James Burris on Flat Swamp in the Pell Mell of Bertie. You can’t make this stuff up but it all needs to be looked at thoroughly in a comprehensive study.

Prior to his move west, Miles Burris is listed in 1830 Bertie County as living beside his father Daniel:

Miles Burris 20-30 with wife
Daniel Burris 15-60 with son 15-20

I’ve yet to find any deeds or other relevant records registered beyond 1830.  As has been hinted at, the next appearance of this line of our Burris family takes place in Tennessee. There, Miles Burris is listed in 1840 as living in Maury County. And, in neighboring Madison County TN are the above Ruben Farless and others.

According to the 1850 Maury County census, Miles and Elizabeth Sorrell are still married:

Miles Burrows 50 male laborer NC
Elizabeth Burrows 49 female NC
Mary Burrows 15 female TN

Nearby are the family of 68 year old John Johnston who is likely kin to Alexander Hawkins Johnston who married Sarah Burris. Also nearby are 65 year old Meda White and 66 year old Noah White who as brothers are sons of Luke White Junior of Bertie County. Luke White Junior is the son of Luke White Senior who is the son of the same Modecai White who earlier sold 420 acres of land to James Burris. Mordecia White is brother to Luke White the ferryman. Let’s look back to those earlier days.

In 1768, the last will and testament of James Burrus was recorded in the Hertford County courts. Though the actual document is lost, the court record shows that Easter Burrus, Joshua Burrus and Joshua Burrus were named Executors. I believe this marks the passing of our Solomon’s grandfather with his family coming into play at the time of his death. In 1768 the court record lists James’ believed son (or brother?) Joshua as executor of the estate. There is also a second Joshua listed who you’d think is the son of Joshua [Sr] and therefore the grandson of James Burris. …and then there was another death.

In May 1775, the last will and testament of Ester Burrus was proven in court by Sarah White. Who was she? It’s my belief Esther is our Solomon’s grandmother, the widow of our James Burrus Senior. As for Sarah White, she’s just one more of many family interactions taking place between the White and Burris families.

A bit later, in Nov 1775, recorded in Bertie County was the “inventory of estate of Ester Burrus dec’d and sworn by Luke White admin.” It is this Luke, who is the father of Luke and Meda who appears in the 1850 Maury County census near Miles Burres. The White family always seems close to the Burrus family as if there is some yet unknown relationship. Not only did Luke White serve as administrator, Sarah White witnessed the last will and testament of Esther Burrus.

At this point I will end my writing for now. This introduction of records surrounding Miles Burris/Burres and others should illuminate  the need for further research. We now have an idea of where we need to go from here.  But, what do we know of Ken’s Dempsey Burres/Burris? We know from DNA that his family is ours. And from the above, all that can be said is that the 1810 census hints at Dempsey being a brother to Miles. Furthermore, and not yet said, the given name Dempsey is nothing new for our Burris family. Dempsey must have once been a prominent surname as it’s been honored by many families in the form of a given name.

The following tax list from 1759 introduces us to James Burras, his likely son Joseph Burras (could this be Joshua?), James Burras Junior and to DEMSY BURRAS. So, nearly 100 years prior to Dempsey Burres appearing in Tennessee, another of his name was listed as living in Bertie County. There’s no other record of this earlier Dempsey and at this time we can only look at the document in amazement. It’s possible our Tennessee family passed down some thread of family back to this earlier Dempsey. It’s also plausible that they passed down a thread with naming patterns honoring this early family member.





  1. Richard White

    I have read with interest your article. What is your documentation that Mordica White is the brother of Luke White, the ferryman, and Luke White, Sr. is Mordica’s son.

    1. geothos Post author

      Thanks for your response and I’m not at all certain that they are brothers. However, the naming patterns along with what I found on most family trees was my starting point. It’s the assumption I started out with and I’m certainly very new to this part of my family. In 1759, Luke White Sr of Chowan acquired land adjoining James Burrus Sen. The land was on Flat Swamp/Blount’s Branch likely very close if not joining your Mordecai. Actually, it would have predated by a year Mordecai’s 420 acres grant. And then much later, the Burris family has folks living on the other side of the river in the vicinity of the old ferry. I’m not sure of anything at this point other than it would seem plausible that Luke White the ferryman is a close relative. Would love to see his tree. Also, it seems the White and Burris family were close from the earliest days. There’s lots of legal interaction between the two families. I wonder if there’s not an early marriage between the two?

  2. Richard White

    Many have researched Mordica over many years. He is my seventh GreatGrand Father. I believe the lineage that I can present to you be best of the research. I would be happy to share that with you in a Genealogy report. I can send it to you via e-mail attachment. Please supply your e-mail address. Thanks, Richard White

  3. Elizabeth Burgess

    How thankful I am that I found your articles. I have a brick wall in researching my Boroughs/Burriss/Burrass, etc. line. My ancestor is Joshua Burriss who moved to Anderson, SC and bought land there in 1794. He married Sarah Mary Chamblee of NC and they had 4 sons which he settled on land supposedly as large as a township. To make research even more difficult each of the 4 sons spelled the name differently. Legend has it was to keep mail delivery to the right family. My ancestor James Boroughs, son of Joshua, was born in Bertie County, NC but some sources say Anson County. I recently found a record of a Joshua Burass immigrating from England at age 21 in 1721 to Annapolis, MD in 1721. He was indentured, a clog maker by trade, and physical description as “dark” which I believe referred to hair color. I have no idea if that is the correct Joshua Burrass or not. (from COLDHAM, PETER WILSON, compiler and editor of English Convicts in Colonial America, Vol. 2 London 1656-1775, New Orlean, Polyanthos, 1978, 193 pg) The South Carolina records are quite extensive as the Boroughs/Burriss clan were prosperous landowners as well a fervent Baptists with many preachers among them, establishing several Baptist churches in the area. They seem to be well educated for the time but no record of official schooling. There are a lot of Burrows/Burroughs/Burriss, etc families in New England, some who were fervent Baptists, breaking away from the Puritan churches, but I can’t find a strong link that would get them to NC then to SC.

    1. geothos Post author

      Thanks for responding Elizabeth and looks like we’re all in the same boat trying to reach back beyond Bertie. Our Solomon Burris line has created a FB usergroup for discussing all this and you’re certainly welcome to join in. Our group is Solomon Burris and Family of North Carolina. At some point we may change the name to be more inclusive of all the lines. Anyhow, it’s a new site and a good place to discuss our family.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s