Gold! The family of John McCarn was certainly influenced by goings-on near the present-day town of Locust, in Stanly County, North Carolina. I came to John McCarn accidentally while working to plat the break-up of ancient land grants and conveyances of the Great Tracts once owned by Henry McCulloch and later Governor Arthur Dobbs. And to those rooted in Stanly County who have never heard of the Great Tracts, I strongly believe you to be remiss unless you dig deeper into this little-known history concerning your beginnings. But for now, let’s move beyond that issue.

You see, the above-mentioned John McCarn married Miss Fanny Crayton in 1851 Stanly County after she was found to be 15 years old per the 1850 census at which time, she was living in the home of her father Isaac W. Crayton. And later, in 1860, the growing McCarn family is listed in the nearby Rowan County census where John identified himself by his occupation as being a “Gold Miner.” There’s that gold word again.

Looking back to the family of Fanny Crayton McCarn, it is said her father Isaac W. Crayton, already identified, married neighbor Nancy Page in 1826. And going back one generation further, Isaac’s father William married his neighbor, Miss Fanny Reed, in 1804 Cabarrus County. And back around 1800, Little Miss Fanny Reed’s’ brother Conrad happened to stumble across a glimmering deposit of gold whilst playing in nearby Little Meadow Creek. The discovery was made on land owned by their father John Reed who in turn initiated the first profitable goldmining operation in America. The effort flourished though matters of family, industry, quantities of raw material, and greed ultimately led to its demise.  And as for the Crayton family, their mining interests through marriage to the Reed family is well documented though less known may be a later chapter punctuated in the descendancy of John McCarn.

All of the above took place on the old Cabarrus/Montgomery County line with the younger Isaac W. Crayton buying land in the latter through the dispersal of interests rising from another hugely important though failed mining dream. About that, hearing of gold being found nearby by young Conrad Reed, William Thornton, designer of the United States Capital building and father of the American patent office, acquired over 50,000 acres of previously granted land in then Montgomery County situated along its boundary with Cabarrus.  There must have been enormous push-back as much of this land had already been rightfully conveyed from the continued break-up of the Great Tracts. Furthermore, gold was not as plentiful in Montgomery County and then in 1828 William Thornton’s holdings fell into the hands of his widow Anna Marie following the death of the said William Thornton. This resulted in the massive sell-off of the residual estate over the next 20+ years through the assistance of agents such as Daniel Freeman, William Randle, and others. Also, and beyond the scope of this writing, unsold Great Tract lands once owned by Tories, being British supporters standing against the burgeoning United States, were ordered to be granted jurisdictionally by our state’s secretary of state.

Looking closer at the lands of Isaac W. Crayton, the following visual depiction is based on actual deed metes and bounds overlaying the present-day Stanly County GIS map:

    1. Deed 5-114 Stanly, 29 Aug 1857, Daniel Freeman to Isaac W. Crayton, being 135 acres joining Furr, the Deberry line, and the head of Lick Branch.
    2. Deed 2-329 Stanly, 21 May 1850, John Ward, Jere Adderton, Daniel Freeman, and Daniel Freeman through attorney William H. Randle to Isaac W. Crayton, being 199 acres on Island Creek joining the Lewis line (Lewis Honeycutt), Zion Page, and the Cowan (former owner of subtract of Great Tract) line.
    3. Grant File #46 Stanly, iss. 7 Nov 1843 to Wilson B. Herrin and William Crayton, being 100 acres on Island Creek joining Dorris Herrin. Chaincarrier: Dorris Herrin, Samuel Hinson.
    4. Deed 4-38 Stanly, 5 Sep 1853, Isaac W. Crayton to Mathias Furr Esq, in consideration of the natural love and affection said Isaac Crayton holds for his daughter Fanny McCarn, wife of John McCarn and further consideration of five dollars, “…to the said Mathias Furr in special trust that the said Mathia Furr will hold the said land for soul and separate use behoof and benefit of Fanny McCarn during her natural life and free from the control and management of her husband John McCarn.” This being 64 ¾ acres joining D. H. Honeycutt and the Crayton line.
      • Deed 12-100 Stanly, 1868, John McCarn and wife Fanny to Conrad Crayton (son of Isaac W. Crayton).

From the above, Isaac W. and wife Nancy Page Crayton loved their daughter Fanny, but clearly had concerns for the land they gave to her.  The civil war would follow and about the land, the couple soon-after sold it to the said Fanny’s brother in 1868. Still identified as “Goldminer,” John McCarn, and his large family, was living nearby in the Bethel community of Cabarrus County in 1880.  At some point the family left the area before resettling in Gastonia, in Gaston County, North Carolina. A place where cotton was king, the family suddenly exchanged the cultural demands driven by one industry for another. I guess the nature of gold mining and cotton “milling” are akin in that labor for both was mighty hard, if not cruel. For me, I can imagine families as they walked away from the mined-out region where the landscape certainly bore the ghostly memories of the failing ventures. But concerning this writing, the story I really want the reader to walk away with has just begun as in finding the name John McCarn, I also stumbled across the much-told story of his grandson named Dave McCarn who became famous for words of protest he would later sing.


There are different kinds of gold and for Patrick Huber, professor of history at Missouri University of Science and Technology, he recently took on a new role as historian for the Country Music Hall of Fame, …that’s a big deal!  I think the choice is perfectly suited as Dr. Huber has devoted countless hours studying our American-born “Country Music” heritage. Particularly in breaking down elements of a subset of sound referred to as “Hillbilly,” he realized that many songs from the 20s and 30s raised attention to the influences and working conditions faced by families as they left the farm to turn a quick buck in area cotton mills. The labor-intensive industry was driven by time clocks and hardened management practices aimed at maximizing productivity.

Central to Patrick Huber’s 2008 publication “Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South” is the message of harsh working conditions giving birth to the form of music favored at that time by our parents and grandparents. And in ways I believe some locally have not considered, Dave McCarn, one of the artists Patrick Huber writes about, was likely influenced by ancestral family once living in now Locust, North Carolina.

Music in this region, along the Rocky River, exudes a history worth sharing. I could talk about the here and now and of my cousin Eva who became famous (to me) because she could “shake a leg.”  Eva was good at clogging and was chosen to be one of the cans of beans that up and began dancing in an old Bunker Hill Beans commercial. Don’t you know, the product had a little ham! And as for our grandfather, I hear he played a banjo and surely appreciated how music gave voice to the seemingly inescapable hard times in which he lived. For his generation the big elephant in the tent was the Great Depression and how it is remembered today through period art.

But going back two generations further, David Thomas, our great-great grandfather, was appointed Constable for nearby Upper Union County during the 1840’s. David may not have been known for his musical talents, but I imagine he was called upon in official capacity when little Patsy Beasley was brutally murdered by the young Mr. Nash. David Thomas likely helped in official capacity with the inquiry and participated intently as the case played out in court and the printed press.   Written anonymously and recounting that experience, the Ballad of Patsy Beasley illuminated violent crime and the unfairness of life endured by our ancestors. There are many other songs including the ballads of Tom Dulla and Naomi Wise, being stories of trial and tribulation also born in the Carolina Piedmont.  This sort of music is favored today though most importantly, people remember such heinous events by way of its retelling through strangely endearing songs.

Such is true of any song of hope and protest, whether offered up by enslaved people laboring in fields of cotton or by later generations engaged in the relentless grind of mill work. Stories of hard times, especially pertaining to making a living and life in the mill offer the family historian a valuable view to earlier days in which such songs of despair gave birth to a form of music known today as “country.”

Wikipedia: Doffers in Cherryville Mfg. Co., N.C.

The book Linthead Stomp dedicates a chapter on musician Dave McCarn, grandson of John and Fanny McCarn, whose youthful employment as “mill doffer” collided with the young man’s coming-of-age desires. Unlike most who rejected the way of life while growing up in the mill-town of Gastonia, North Carolina, Dave McCarn hopped a train and hoboed west in search of escape. His talent eventually led him to fame, of which Patrick Huber’s book addresses in comparison with numerous musicians who were similarly influenced, telling of young men like Dave McCarn who faced the hard times with a song.

I encourage the reader to Google Dave McCarn and explore the songs he wrote and sang.  Also, look more closely at the writings of Patrick Huber.  There’s a good and related article on the site Old Hat Records. For those interested particularly in the McCarn family, note that in 2002 Patrick responded to a query on the old Genforum genealogy site.  From that time working to write an “article” on the subject, Patrick is now historian for the Country Music Hall of Fame.  But of importance locally, I believe all things are connected. The ways of Dave McCarn’s voice cannot be borne by accident.  His message is not limited to his personal experiences in the mill. Surely, the struggles of mill work influenced his creative process though he must have also known of the hard times endured by his grandparents.  Just as we learn from Dave’s music today, did he not listen similarly to the words and sounds from his past?

The town of Locust is but a cross-roads kind of place, yet long ago it had the attention of those seeking fortune in gold. And in that, money has always been made on the back of others through hard labor and unfair practices of which defining experiences often find a way to later generations through song.


  1. John Stevens

    Awesome story George. I have connections everywhere on Island Creek! I.W. Crayton’s wife Nancy was the sister of my 3GGrandfather Sion Page. Lucy Page married my 2GGF Evan Smith. Evan bought land next to Sion Page in 1862 from Ephriam Furr that he left to my GGrandfather James Evan Smith. Lewis Honeycutt was my 3GGrandfather. His son Henry (my 2GGF) was shot in the head at Gettysburg and lived! Henry married the daughter of Samuel Hinson (Julia)and had Catherine who married my GGrand Father James Evan Smith. One more…James Evan Smith’s son Pearl (my GGF’s brother) married Margaret Virginia McCarnes. Her brother James Franklin played on the famous Little League World Series team and ended up on a Wheaties Cereal box. They called him Wheatie McCarns. The McCarns were from Rowan County!

    1. geothos Post author

      John, I’m just now getting a handle on the area in and north of Locust. Much of the land is not registered though found a gold mine of info in the estate of Israel Furr. Anyhow, more to come and on Dec 10th I’ll be talking about a key spot in that area for the Stanly County Genealogical Society. And wow for the Wheaties Box! …is that image still available?

  2. Ronald Herring

    I much appreciated this article, as I have been trying for years to determine the lineage of my 3rd GGGrandfather Dorris Herrin who was listed as a chainbearer on the 100 acres deeded to Wilson B. Herrin. Wilson was the son of Hezekiah Herrin & I’ve tried to determine if Dorris & Hezekiah may have been brothers; but to no avail. Wilson was a J.P. and his family later removed to Arkansas and none of the descendants of that family I have contacted will agree to a y-Dna test which might help confirm a relationship. One of my closest y-Dna matches was Beverly Herrin (also a male) who married a Rushing – another surname of the Montgomery/Stanly/Cabarrus area – with Beverly Herrin family moving to Tennessee.

    Thank you, Ron Herring

    1. geothos Post author

      Cool stuff Ronald! I know John Adam Pless moved to Pope AR in 1860 and he married an Efird and as will be shown later, Efird land adjoined that in this post. I know little about the who and what for most of what I post but hopefully the info is seen as valuable tools for unlocking mysteries such as the one you shared. I plan to speak virtually on a really early and important landmark in the area for the next Stanly County Genealogical Association meeting coming up Dec 10.


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