Author Archives: geothos


You can call her Patsy or you can call her Martha, but it’d be really nice if she were kindly referred to by the name given at birth. It’d be the name routinely used by her husband and family. And, if she were living today, I’m sure Catherine Thomas would be puzzled at how badly we’ve mangled her identity. It’s just not right.

Online there are numerous sites proclaiming that Joseph Thomas [III] married a person named Martha or Patsy. It’s also believed that this Martha or Patsy was born a Godwin. I know she’s not Martha or Patsy and I wonder where the idea of Godwin came from. It may be true, but what is the source? What makes people think that Joseph’s wife was born into the Godwin family? And we’ll call her Martha? …no way!

Somewhere online I’ve seen where someone wrote that Joseph’s wife was Catherine. Sometimes Google eludes me as now I can’t locate the related online discussion. But please take a little time to look through your own notes on the children of Joseph Thomas [III] and you’ll see that the name Catherine was used numerous times in later generations. It was done so in honor of a good lady. And in the 1819 estate of Joseph Thomas [III], you’ll see the name Catherine as buying from the estate sale. At first I thought this may be the wife of Joseph [III] but in looking at the writings of others it seemed Catherine was commonly believed to be the daughter of John and Mary Oaks Thomas and therefore the granddaughter of Joseph Thomas [III]. This Catherine was buying household goods from the 1819 estate sale alongside a person named Micajah Bagget, or was she? As records clearly indicate, Catherine Thomas (*this Catherine?*) and Micajah Bagget moved to Georgia by 1840. Now raising my hand in recognition of an error, I acknowledge a mistake recently made. Looking at the ages, I made the egregious error of believing that Micajah’s Catherine was a daughter of Joseph Thomas [III] and not his granddaughter as is accepted by others. It just simply seemed to me that Catherine was too old to be a daughter of John and Mary Oaks. And why as a granddaughter would she be among the few people buying from her grandfather’s estate?

I was wrong in my thinking. In looking at the Moore County loose estate papers of A. M. Yarborough, I found a legal notice for sale of land arising from a suit against Luther Thomas. Note that Archibald Murphy Yarborough below owned land in Chatham County near Avent’s Ferry. And some of his land originated or at least had passed through the hands of Joseph Thomas [III] and Ishmael Roberts, a free person of color. The land in question lies on water of Bush Creek which is also near the estate lands of Allen Thomas and Ishmael Roberts. Bush Creek crosses the county line running from Chatham into old Moore County where it appears this land was located. And note that the said Allen Thomas of Chatham County died in the mid 1800’s leaving a division of land naming one of his heirs as being Luther Thomas. Did this suit grow from the estate of Allen Thomas as was passed down through his son Luther? I’m not sure.

AM Yarborough . Moore County

Looking at the above legal notice, note that it appeared in print on 3 Oct 1891. Being over one hundred years after the birth of John and Mary Oaks Thomas’ daughter Catherine, the 26 acres in question adjoined that “formerly owned by John Thomas deceased and allotted to Catherine Bagget as her interest in the real estate of her father, John Thomas.” Wow!! …in a burn county we now know roughly where John Thomas lived. And though there is no surviving deed or estate records spelling out what became of his land upon his death, this one parcel or share of his estate can be located if only we can locate the adjoining 26 acre tract that once belonged to Luther Thomas. About fifteen years following this legal notice, Lee County was cut from Chatham and Moore County. It might be possible through a title search to locate the John Thomas lands in either Moore County (after the courthouse fire) or early Lee County records.

Beyond this huge clue as to where John and Mary Oaks Thomas may have lived, this record clearly establishes Catherine Bagget to be their daughter. It also fits the timeline of Catherine and her husband’s removal to Georgia. It’s possible she never returned to Moore County to claim her share in her father’s estate.

So, ….back to the estate of Joseph Thomas [III]. Was Catherine who purchased from the estate the same person who was identified in later records as being the daughter of John Thomas? I’m not sure.

catherine page 469

In the above court minutes dated Aug 1819, administration of the estate of Joseph Thomas [III] was granted to his son Benjamin Thomas with Rorie Womack and son Allen Thomas entering into bond in the amount of $4,000. Using an inflation calculator, $4,000 in 1819 is roughly equivalent to $75,000 dollars in 2017. So we know that Joseph Thomas [III] left a sizeable estate. We also know in later court minutes that the estate was ultimately settled by Joseph’s son Allen. I can only imagine what led to the change away from son Benjamin.

And, very important in this discussion, note that the last entry in the above court record reads:

William Avent esquire and the following three freeholders viz; Archelus Carloss, Thomas Cottrell, and William L. Hinton are appointed Commissioners to lay off one year’s provision to Catherine Thomas widow and relict of Joseph Thomas dec’d & that they report to next court.

Once again we’re at the end of a post and we’ve learned some really cool history. We now know that at his death, Joseph Thomas [III] was married to Catherine Thomas. So you can call her Martha, and you may call her Patsy, but I think she’d like to be known by her real name. And as for a question I can’t answer, who was Catherine named in the estate sale of Joseph Thomas [III]? Was it Joseph’s widow or was it his granddaughter? Were both there at the estate sale and were they both listed as making purchases? I think we’ll never know that answer.


I’m accustomed to the old south as being the way I’ve always envisioned it. Females in early records are seldom mentioned. And likewise, there is little to no mention of blacks or “people of color.” This all changed for me when I began looking at the neighborhood of Joseph Thomas and of his neighbors including Ishmael Roberts. None of what you’re about to see will be an easy read but is very much necessary in understanding what may have happened. Let’s take a look.

Dated 6 Dec 1819, Joseph Thomas’ Chatham County estate sale included purchases by several people of color:Under Jonathan Lindley-8The above listed John C. Waldon, whose middle name was Chavis (a well-known and prominent African American surname) is first found in Virginia. The name later appears in records of Northampton, Warren, Wake, Randolph and then Chatham Counties North Carolina where members of the family are listed in census records as free people of color. John C Waldon purchased large amounts of land in both Chatham and Randolph Counties. On 12 Sep 1829, being ten years after the above recorded estate sale of Joseph Thomas, John Waldon wrote his last will and testament in Chatham County NC. His wife and thirteen children are named along with over 500 acres situated in both Chatham and Randolph Counties.

It is said that Allen Thomas, the son of elder Joseph Thomas [III]  married  Nancy Ann Weldon who is believed to be the daughter of John Weldon Esq later of Moore County. And yet, Allen Thomas owned a sizeable amount of land just to the west of the lands to be studied in this post. Curiously, the said Allen Thomas’ land adjoined that of the above mentioned John C Waldon who we know to be a person of color. There are also deeds to Bartley and James Walden and to “John Waldon” but none for John Weldon. In Aug 1821 a deed from Philip and Sally Johnson to Aaron Thomas was proved by oath of John Thomas and the private examination of the said Sarah was taken by David Reid and “John Welden” Justices of Peace for the County of Moore. Is it possible that John Waldon who buys from the estate of Joseph Thomas is the same as John Weldon who was later listed as Esquire in Moore County? If different, are we sure which family Allen Thomas married into?

And as for Ishmael Roberts in the above written estate sale, he was likely born ca. 1750 in Northampton County NC where on 6 June 1789 Ishmael was named in his mother Margaret Roberts’ last will and testament. Like others in the area, Ishmael is identified as “Free People of Color” or mulatto. He’s believed to be a mix of black and white with tribal roots of Iroquoian speaking Tuscaroran and Meherrin along with southeastern Siouan Indian. Following the conclusion of the Tuscaroran War of 1717, the culture of indigenous peoples was nearly lost through a slow mixing with other races. It was during this period when many migrated south to present day Duplin and Roberson Counties.
It’s in Roberson County where Ishmael Roberts first appears in land records. And in 1800 Robeson County, Ishmael Roberts is enumerated as head of household of 14 people of free color. As appears below, Ishmael Roberts removed again to Chatham County where he is  listed similarly in 1810. Note that Ishmael’s living beside James Waldon and not far from his son Kinchen Roberts. Also, you’ll see Allen Thomas nearby along with Thomas Archy being enumerated near the bottom. And, as there’s so very much to learn by looking at the Chatham County lands of Ishmael Roberts, let’s go there next.

1810 census

Circa 1800, Joseph Thomas moved from Wake County across Avent Ferry to land along the Moore and Chatham County line where he received several land grants. By 1804, Joseph Thomas began selling and gifting his lands to his sons. At that time part of the land fell into the hands of Ishmael Roberts:

MAP KEY 1 [Land Grant 168 Chatham, ent. 3 May 1779, iss. 31 Mar 1780] Being 250 acres issued to Volentine Braswell crossing Bush Creek and joining his own lines and those of Drake and Yarborough.

[N-456 Chatham, 18 Feb 1804] Micajah Thomas of Moore County to Ishmael Roberts being 250 acres on the waters of Bear (should be Bush) Creek adjoining his own and Yarbro’s land. Wit: A Harper and P. Griffis

MAP KEY 2 [Land Grant 1514 Chatham, iss. 13 Dec 1798] Being 275 acres issued to Joseph Thomas adjoining the county line and lands of Thomas Partridge and Micajah Thomas]

[N-437 Chatham, 18 Feb 1804] Joseph Thomas of Chatham to Ishmael Roberts, being 100 acres on the Cape Fear joining Thomas Partridge and son Micajah Thomas. Wit: A Harper and P. Griffis. In pink below, this was a horizontal strip cut from the northern end of a tract originally granted to Volentine Braswell.

Starting in 1808, Ishmael lost part of the above 250 acres of land due to indebtedness. However, within three years the same land returned back to him. Take a look at how the following two conveyances illuminate that situation:

MAP KEY 1 [P-118 Chatham, 12 Feb 1808] George Gee Esq Sherriff to Abraham Harper “whereas by virtue of an execution issuing from the county court of Chatham against Ishmael Roberts for the sum of 16 pounds of which said sum was recovered by Thomas Stokes.” The 250 acres Ishmael had purchased from Micajah Thomas per deed [N-456 Chatham] was sold to pay the debt. Wit: B Lightfoot, Francis Jones.

MAP KEY 1 [S-26 Chatham, 14 Aug 1811] Thomas Ragland & Henry Branson Administrators of Abraham Harper deceased to Ishmael Roberts. Being a certain tract of 260 acres “sold by execution of the instance of Thomas Stokes on 9 Nov 1807 belonging to Ishmael Roberts and bought by the Abraham Harper deceased.” Wit: Zach Harmon.

Before continuing, let’s look at a few other surrounding tracts once owned by the Thomas family. You’ll notice deeds amongst brothers and possibly including Uncles and Nephews:

MAP KEY 3 [Land Grant 1511 Chatham, iss. 13 Dec 1798] Assigned to John Thomas from Jos Thomas being 95 acres on the county line and adjoining the lands of Micajah Thomas and Parham.

MAP KEY 3 [U-447 Chatham, 21 Apr 1817, Aug 1817] Frederick Thomas of Moore County to Aaron Thomas of Chatham being 95 acres. Wit: Wm. Avent, John Griffin.

And another Tract:

MAP KEY 4 [Land Grant 497 Chatham, ent 14 Aug 1779, iss 31 Mar 1780] Being 100 acres issued to Bird Braswell adjoining the Cumberland County line and lands of Joseph Yarborough. CC: Henry Braswell, Seth Cotton. Note that Bird Braswell was a Revolutionary War Soldier who had moved to Hancock County GA.

MAP KEY 4 [E-156 Chatham, 8 Oct 1790] Bird Braswell to William Parham. Wit: John Womack, Nicholas Hardin.

MAP KEY 4 [K-417 Chatham, 27 Apr 1799, William (x) Parham to Lewis Parham. Wit: Benjamin Spivey.

MAP KEY 4 [L-24 Chatham, 1800] Lewis Parham to Micajah Thomas. Wit: Frances Parham, Benjamin Pollard.

MAP KEY 4 [M-629 Chatham, 9 Jan 1805] Micajah Thomas to Frederick Thomas being the lower and smaller section adjoining the county line. Wit: James Stephens, Joseph Thomas.

MAP KEY 4 [ Chatham, 1 Apr 1817] Frederick Thomas to Aaron Thomas. Wit: Wm. Avent, John C. Griffin.

MAP KEY 4 [M-641 Chatham, 9 Jan 1805] Micajah (x) Thomas of Moore County to Ishmael Roberts being 57 acres and the larger pick shaded upper portion of the tract. Wit: Joseph Thomas, James Stephens.

Over eight years following Ishmael Robert’s first purchases in Chatham, Ishmael Roberts purchased another piece of land before his children appear in land records:

MAP KEY 5 [V-131 Chatham, 10 Apr 1818] Allen Thomas for 76 dollars to Ishmael Roberts, being 102 acres on the branch of Little Lick Creek it being part of two tracts granted to James Rains per # 1487 & 1742. This tract adjoins the said Roberts’ line, Elizabeth Rush’s line, and a stake on Little Lick Creek at the mouth of Little Lick Branch. Wit: Thos. Springfield.

The title history for the tract adjoining to the east is very interesting and ends with a larger deed for 527 acres likely including the following land:

MAP KEY 5 [Land Grant 493 Chatham, 23 Aug 1779, 31 Mar 1780] Listed as being 300 acres granted to Nicholas Partridge, later conveyances are for 154 acres. The tract adjoins lands of Drake, Henry Braswell, Abner Hill. It crosses Henry Branch and the Ferry Line near the road.

MAP KEY 5 [X-320 Chatham, 15 Aug 1821] James A. M Carroll and Cornelius and Eliz. Tyson to Kinchen Roberts being 154 acres and 2/3 part of a certain tract adjoining Drake’s corner, Braswell’s corner, Abner Hill’s line, across Henry Branch, and across the ferry road.

MAP KEY 5 and MORE [Z-1 Chatham, 23 Sep 1825] Ishmael Roberts to John H. Levin of Wake. For 1,000 dollars . The land whereon I now live and also the tracts whereon his sons James and Aaron lives meaning the land he purchased of Micajah Thomas, Joseph Thomas, and Allen Rains except 33 acres which he the said Ishmael Roberts sold to Frederick Thomas containing 527 acres on Bush Creek and Little Lick Creek adjoining the lands of Jerry Yarborough, Nathan Yarborough, Aaron Thomas, Allen Thomas, and the land whereon Mrs. Rush now lives and others …that the aforesaid tract is conveyed in trust viz; that whereas the aforesaid Ishmael Roberts is justly indebted to Joseph Hawkins in the sum of 136 dollars. Wit: Green Bobbitt.

MAP KEY 2 [A.BA-134 Chatham, 25 Dec 1828] Kinchen Roberts to Thomas Springfield being the 154 acres in deed [X-320 Chatham]. Wit: Edmund J Drake, William Sloan.

MAP KEY 5 [ AD1-354 Chatham, 4 Nov 1835] Thomas Springfield to Joseph Avent. Wit: Wm Avent, Nathan Clegg.

USGS GeoTIFF DRG 1:24000 Quad of Moncure. Product:615994

Beginning in 1825, and nearing his death, Ishmael Roberts began selling off lands to his sons.

MAP KEY 2 [A.AA Chatham, 12 Feb 1825] Ishmael Roberts to Aaron Roberts for 150 dollars being 100 acres formerly adjoining Thomas Partridge and Micajah Thomas. Being the top portion shaded in pink, this is a portion of a grant assigned to John Thomas by his father Joseph Thomas. Wit: Wm. Campbell, Lunceford Dickens.

MAP KEY 1 [A.BA-221 Chatham, 8 Feb 1825] Ishmael Roberts to Richard Roberts for $400 being a tract of 100 acres on the Bush Creek. This is the lower unshaded or green section of the tract beginning at a stake on south side of Bush Creek deemed in Nathaniel Yarborough’s line S1 E with Yarborough’s line 23.70 ch to dead pine then S 81 W with James Roberts’ line 18.34 to stake among pointers sd James’ corner S 2.50 to stake , the S 89 W31.68 ch to Bush Creek then down the creek to begin. Wit: Wm. Campbell, Aaron Thomas.

MAP KEY 6 [A.BA-330 Chatham, 12 Sep 1828] Pardon B Roberts to Isham Rosser for 75 dollars containing 102 acres it being part of two tracts granted to James Roberts and the same and as sold by Allen Thomas to Ishmael Roberts per [V-131 Chatham]. Wit. Wm. Avent, Micajah Rosser.


Per the 1829 final estate settlement of Ishmael Roberts, the heirs sold a remaining 160 acre tract being the northern portion of the grant issued in 1780 to Thomas Springfield. As shown in the plat below, a year earlier Kinchen Roberts as representative of the heirs sold a small strip of the same land which originated with Voluntine Braswell. Not on any family histories, the plat below from Ishmael Roberts’ final estate names Thomas Springfield to be an heir. Huh?

[A.BA-186 Chatham, 3 Apr 1829] Kinchen Roberts to Thomas Springfield for 18 dollars all my interest of the undivided the lands of Ishmael Roberts deceased being a legatee of Ishmael Roberts deceased the lands being on Bush Creek adjoining the Rossers, Yarborough, Thomas and others supposed to be 150 acres. Wit: Edmund J Drake, Benja Springfield.

[A.BA-304 Chatham, 2 Feb 1830] Pardon B Roberts, Jonathan Roberts, Etheldred Roberts, James Roberts, Benjamin Roberts, Elias Roberts, Ishmael Roberts, Aaron Roberts, Richard Roberts, Zachariah Roberts, Elizabeth Archer, Mary Roberts, Margaret Lucas, Delphia Trevin, Rebecca Roberts, and Sylvia Roberts of Chatham to John W. Judd for total of $367 do sell 160 acres on Bush Creek beginning on the band of the sd creek in Nathan Yarborough’s line a horn beam corner then Ne 15.50 ch to a stake in Jeremiah Yarborough’s line, then with that line W 33.50 ch to Yarborough’s corner, then with his other line N 9 to Springfield’s line then with Springfields line W 24.75 to stake, S49.40 to stake in Aaron Thomas’ line then east with his line 7.50 to Bush Creek near below said Thomas’ mill, then down the sd creek to Richard Robert’s line it’s meanders to the beginning. Wit: Aaron Thomas, Yarborough.


Ishmael Roberts

Distribution of the Estate of Ishmael Roberts. Locatable as being the top half of Map Key 1 with the land deeded to Thomas Springfield being the small strip cut out in this plat.


As I hope you can ascertain from the above, the family of Ishmael Roberts as free people removed from Robeson County and chose to live near Joseph Thomas in Chatham County. And there were others who did also. Why did they choose Chatham? And what was there about 1800 that made it necessary or desirable to move? These folks bought and sold from each other and they were there at the death of Joseph Thomas. They were neighbors and to the degree they were neighborly I’m yet to fully understand. But know that Ishmael was a revolutionary war soldier who served from 3 June 1777 to 3 June 1778 as a private in Colonel Abraham Shepherd’s Company. Colonel Shepherd gave him a certificate which stated that Ishmael was furloughed at Head Quarters Valley Forge to come home with “me” who was enlisted in my regiment for the term of three years …and returned home with me. A patriot serving under Abraham Sheppard. I find it curious that Ishmael Roberts chose to settle on lands along the county line nearby or once belonging to John and Andrew Sheppard. Is there anything to that? There are many remaining questions and it’s my hope that work will be done to bring further light to the North Carolina side of this wonderful story.





As sure as the wind blows, something was in the air as without warning free families of color living in piedmont North Carolina began their trek north. Much like with the migratory plan of all God’s creatures, something untouchable and yet simultaneously gripping signaled the start of this mass exodus. Born of changes in society, new laws coinciding with the opening of a land of new possibilities cleared the way. Courtesy of a study of the Lick Creek Settlement  located within Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest, the following video created by Daion Morton offers a wonderful introduction of the movement and of the peoples’ journey from Chatham County, North Carolina:

We know Ishmael Roberts was the patriarch of a large family with children once spreading from Robeson to Chatham Counties in North Carolina. Penned in his own hand, on 12 Jul 1826 Ishmael “Robirds” wrote his last will and testament:

Ishmael Roberts – Last Will and Testament
To view larger images, click on one of the images and then in the bottom right side of the page click again on see full size image.  


A Chatham County court minute entry for William Avent (Executor of Ishmael Roberts vs. Heirs of Ishmael Roberts) reads: “find that the paper writing offered for probation to the last will and testament of Ishmael Roberts as regards to personal property but not his will as regards his real estate. William Avent Executor of the Last Will and Testament of Ishmael Roberts dec’d came into court and was qualified.” One month later another entry shows that any issues with the will must have been settled as the will was proved for probate by witness of Eli Yarborough.

Following his death in the late 1820’s, Ishmael’s family began selling off land in preparation of their removal to Indiana. Rather than me repeating good work that’s already been published, I recommend and hope that you’ll read the following two pages:

Ishmael Roberts at:

The Roberts Family at:

Several of Ishmael Robert’s children removed to and lived at least for part of their lives  in Orange County Indiana. Note the intermarriages with members of the Archer family. It’ll later be shown that their father,  Thomas Archer, had lived nearby to Ishmael Roberts at time of the 1810 census:

  • Kinchen Roberts married Nancy Chavis and moved to Orange County IN prior to settling in Lost Creek, Vigo County IN.
  • Benjamin Roberts married Sally Archer in Orange County NC, moved to Orange County IN and appears late in life in Vigo IN.
  • Etheldred Roberts married Dicey Locklear of Robeson County NC and died in Orange County IN.
  • Elias Roberts married Nancy Archer and died in Orange County IN.
  • Mary Roberts married Moses Archer and moved to Vigo County IN.
  • Delphy Roberts married Henry Trevan and moved to Orange County IN prior to settling in Vigo County IN.
  • Zachariah Roberts married Mary Newsome.

In 1850, Elias Roberts is living next to Matthew Thomas in Orange County Indiana. Both Elias and Matthew are enumerated as black and their families are considered to be mulatto. They were both born in North Carolina while their children were all born in Indiana. And, notice that Matthew Thomas has a son named Joseph. Elias Roberts is quite well off in terms of worth as his holdings are enumerated to be valued at $1,000.

1850 orange

I’ve yet to find any record clearly connecting Matthew Thomas with the family of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County, North Carolina. That said, coincidences of location, naming and timing leads me to believe it remains a possibility. DNA testing and further studies may uncover the truth one way or the other.

Some of the children of Ishmael and Sylvia Archer Roberts migrated further west to what’s called the Lost Creek Settlement in Vigo County located near present day Terra Haute IN. More on Lost Creek can be found at:

One of the strongest connections of this family to Chatham County NC is through the lands of Ishmael Roberts and his son Kinchen.  We know that Kinchen Roberts moved to Orange County IN before settling west in Lost Creek. Kinchen’s son Banister is believed to be the first of the immediate family to die in Vigo County and he’s buried in the Roberts Cemetery which is located on lands once belonging to Kinchen Roberts Others in tbe family whose paths led to Lost Creek Indiana include siblings Benjamin, James, and Delphy Roberts whose lives are outlined above.

And in another migratory move, some of Ishmael’s children moved to Owen County IN:

  • Pardon Bowen Roberts married and was among the earliest settlers in Spencer, Owen County IN.
  • Aaron Roberts married Jany Terry in Robeson County NC and removed to Owen County IN.
  • James Roberts married Polly Stewart in Owen County before moving further west to Lost Creek in Vigo County.

And in one other migratory move for the family, some of Ishmael’s children moved to Beech Settlement in Ripley, Rush County IN. They are:

  • Richard Roberts married Edith Newsome and moved to Ripley, Rush County IN.
  • Aaron Roberts who married Jany Terry in Roberson County.

The map below locates settlements in Indiana whereupon lived the Roberts Family and others of earlier in North Carolina.



Remember that Ishmael Roberts was named in his mother’s last will and testament which was probated ca. 1785 in Northampton County NC? Also from Northampton, several other families of Roberts, Chavis and others made their way to Indiana to a place they called the Roberts Settlement. Located a bit to the north in Hamilton County, this is yet another significant stopping point for free families of color who had once lived in North Carolina. Please take a moment to read through an organizational site for the Roberts Settlement  where is linked the following PBS program.

In closing, I have to point out that there is so very much on this family and yet it must be  so very personally strong for those whose families are descendants. With that in mind, I  feel that further discussion of life in Indiana should be told by those within the family. My purpose is merely to point out the possibility that here in North Carolina, the beginnings of the story being told may be similarly rich in context. And, somehow there’s a tie to the Thomas family both here in North Carolina and also in Indiana.  I have no proof that Matthew Thomas of Indiana is related to Joseph Thomas of Chatham County NC. However, maybe after reading this, some other person may provide the DNA evidence needed or find some other clue to make the case.

Seeing this broad, deliberate and spreading migration of family in Indiana, let’s turn back to Chatham County to look closer at records there.


Hmm …while in Orange County Indiana, if only I had driven another mile or so down Hwy 150 before taking Greasy Gravy Road south? My perspective on the Lick Creek Quaker Meeting would have certainly changed in learning of another place now called the Lick Creek African Settlement. But maybe it wouldn’t have been a big deal back then as at that time I was totally unaware of the people who had lived there in Paddy’s Garden and of their connection to my own extended family in Chatham County NC. It’s amazing that I had travelled so very far to find a family who I now know not to be mine and yet drove so close to families whose story really was.

lick directions

Lick Creek Settlement is the historic home of free people of color who had removed from North Carolina in the early 1800’s. As the winds of slavery grew increasingly brutal, changes in law and culture made it impossible for free blacks and people of mixed race to remain in the state. From their settlement near the Lick Creek in Chatham County, North Carolina, these folks sought a better life in a new land along a creek of same name in Indiana.

Supported communally on both ends of their journey by the Quakers, an African American settlement was created in Indiana within two miles of the Quaker’s Lick Creek Meeting House. Both blacks and whites had made the trip from North Carolina. It was no different than were the actions Quakers had taken during the Revolutionary War. However, because the blacks settled among the Quakers in Orange County Indiana, it seems that contemporary belief has them as also living near each other in North Carolina. But, that’s not completely so. It’s my belief the free people of color removed from another location not far away along the Moore/County lines where they had lived peaceably. And equally important, I think it in error to refer to this migration of free people as being just black, colored, or African American. Beyond being black, records in North Carolina clearly trace the families as multi-racial, being rooted in peoples known as Saponi, Tuscarora, and Lumbee. We are all defined through our pride as people and for those who moved to Indiana, their heritage as part-Indian or indigenous people should not be underestimated. And, in degrees not fully recognized, these free people of color certainly mixed with the local white population.

Deep in the Hoosier National Forest along Indiana’s border with Kentucky, archeological evidence shows that life in the Lick Creek Settlement went well for a short period of time. That is, until the wrongs of the expanding slave taking society once again knocked at their back door. Starting in the 1820’s, the new state of Indiana forbid slavery and any prejudicial treatment of people based on race and belief. But by 1840, things were changing even in Indiana. No longer was it advertised as a safe haven, a refuge for African Americans escaping the southern culture.

There were raids across the Kentucky border along with accusations of criminal behavior. The wooded land in southern Indiana did not support the agrarian way of life. Once more, starting in the 1840’s, the people defined as colored or black began another move in search of better lands and a better way of life.

Thomas – Roberts Cemetery

Today, there’s little to remind us of the community of people who once lived along the Lick Creek in Indiana. There are the remains of an old cemetery once referred by some as Little African. However, that location is also fondly known to be Patty’s Garden by those whose ancestors lived upon the land. Today the cemetery is formally identified as being the Roberts and Thomas cemetery in honor of the community’s earliest leaders. Elias Roberts had once lived in North Carolina on lands his father Ishmael purchased of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County. In Indiana, Elias gave land for the early AME church and cemetery. The cemetery is also named in honor of Matthew Thomas who‘s recognized as the first settler at the Lick Creek Settlement.

My quest in this series of posts is to outline the journeys made by the Roberts family in hopes of shedding light on Matthew Thomas. I’m also in search of community and what life was like along the areas surrounding Lick Creek in Chatham County. Was Elias Roberts friends with my racially white Thomas family? Was Matthew Thomas named for or somehow related to the family of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County, North Carolina? Was he named for or somehow related to that other family …the Quaker family of Lewis Thomas who had made the trip from Piney Grove Meeting in southern North Carolina?

Much has been studied, written and televised on the migration north of the Roberts Family. The family was large and it quickly spread beyond one particular area of Indiana. So, before making connections to family records here in North Carolina, let’s look at the Roberts Family, where they lived and what’s out there linking them to my person of interest …Matthew Thomas.



Orange County Courthouse, Paoli Indiana ca. 1997-2000

Quakers were among the earliest from North Carolina to make the move to Indiana. It’s there where in 1813 they built a church called the Lick Creek Monthly Meeting. Fleeing the institution of slavery in North Carolina, this group of Quakers formed a new seat of government in Indiana they named Orange after the county they left behind.

Not all the settlers of this new land in Indiana came from Orange County North Carolina. Also making the move were Quakers who had attended the Piney Grove Meeting located along the North and South Carolina border in present day Richmond County, North Carolina.


It is in the Piney Grove community where at first I believed my Thomas family once lived and worshipped. However, years of research covering many miles of landscape proved that belief to be in error. I’ve written about this “Other Family” …of Robert, William, Tristram, John, James, and Benjamin Thomas. Some of these brothers were large slave owners and their uncle Philemon of Marlboro County SC even owned slaves in the number of hundreds. Led by an opposing viewpoint, brothers John, Lewis, and the children of James made abolition a profession of their faith. In doing so, they removed to Indiana where the families were instrumental in the Underground Railroad.

Most of the Quakers in this Thomas family moved to New Garden Meeting in what’s now Wayne County Indiana. Francis Thomas among them is recognized as father of the Quaker’s Indiana Yearly Conference. In writing about these people, I’ve intentionally left out mention of Lewis Thomas who was also Quaker and who also made the move. There was something about him and where he lived that I was not yet ready to discuss. So here we go. Unlike his brothers, for some reason, Lewis separated himself from the family and chose to settle at Lick Creek located in Orange County near the Kentucky state line.

Around the year 2000, I made the trip to Indiana, driving through the densely wooded Hoosier National Forest to reach the lands of Lewis Thomas. My visit started with a drive through Paoli, the county seat. It was a sunny summer morning, the grass was richly green and the court house grounds were draped in red, white, and blue in preparation for an outdoor festival. Booths were filled with crafts, streets were lined with vendors, and the air filled with the sound of check-check-check in preparation for a scheduled concert on the court house lawn. As it turns out my timing was sadly in vain as the courthouse offices were closed in observance of a federal holiday. I would have really enjoyed a full day or more in the area though more stops to the north beckoned.

Now some 18 years later, I’ve come across very interesting connections binding my Thomas family here in North Carolina to other families who journeyed to Indiana. The connections do not relate to Lewis Thomas and “the others” per say, but maybe in some way they do. At this point I just don’t know.

It’s interesting back in North Carolina that from the county of Orange sprung Chatham where also flows a waterway by the name of Lick Creek. My story is a based on the lands near this Lick Creek in North Carolina where once lived a person named Joseph Thomas.
It is a different kind of story, one that’s very much different from the dialogue I grew up believing. And for the record, Joseph Thomas of Chatham County, North Carolina, is considered to be racially white as is supported in DNA and public record.

Let’s set the stage with a little background on the Quaker named Lewis Thomas, head of the other Thomas family who settled in Orange County, Indiana.


The son of Stephen Thomas, Lewis Thomas was born in Talbot County Maryland on 10 May 1750. His family removed to North Carolina shortly after his mother’s death. Per sale of his estate, Lewis’ father Stephen died in Anson County prior to Aug 1774. And soon after, Lewis Thomas married Agnes Breeden as their first child was born in Nov 1775.

Lewis Thomas acquired land along Jones Creek on the west side of the Pee Dee before moving a bit east where he received a land grant west of Gum Swamp along Bear Creek. This location was nearer to his older brothers John, James and Benjamin and was also close to Piney Grove, a meeting house for the Society of Friends known as Quakers.
During the American Revolutionary War, many Quakers removed themselves from their rural preparatory meetings. At that time, and in search of security both in terms of safety and practices of faith, Lewis Thomas moved west to be nearer the mother church.
Dated 16 Aug 1783, at the height of the southern campaign, Lewis bought 172 acres on the Reedy Fork of the Haw River in present day Guilford County. The family attended nearby Deep River Preparatory.

Following the war, in 1787 the family sold the land and returned south of Piney Grove Meeting where Lewis Thomas, a carpenter of Marlborough County SC, purchased land east of the Pee Dee River. And then in 1815, Lewis and others from Piney Grove sold out and moved to now Orange County, Indiana, where they were granted certificate to Lick Creek Monthly Meeting. Again the move was made in search of security but this time was due to the growing intolerance of slavery. I’ve learned little further on Lewis Thomas other than the realization that Lick Creek served as a southern gateway for the famed Underground Railroad. Nested in the densely wooded hills of southern Indiana, the meeting house was in close proximity to the slave taking state of Kentucky.
On the “third day of the fourth month 1826,” Lewis Thomas penned his last will and testament:

Will Record 1
Orange County, Indiana
pages 37 & 38

Whereas I Lewis Thomas of the County of Orange and State of Indiana being of sound and disposing mind and memory do make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament in the manner and form following:

It is my will that all my just debts be paid
And first I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Agnes, a tract of land where I now live including the house and plantation and I also give unto my beloved wife all my stock and farming utensils, also one bed and beding and such part of the kitchen furniture as shall not be hereafter be otherwise disposed of during her natural life.
It is also my will that my son, Tildan, have all my stock, farming utensils, bed furniture, etc., that is all the portion of my wife at her decease. I also will and bequeath unto my daughter, Ruth Ann, Cow and calf, five head of sheep, two feather beds and furniture, one bureau, six puter plates, one iron pot. I also give unto my son, Lewis, the tract of land I now live on containing eighty eight acres including the above mentioned part at the decease of my wife. I give unto my son Joseph, one dollar, to my son, Stephen, I give one dollar, to Burral Graham, I give one dollar, to Charles Baucham one dollar, to John Baucham one dollar, to Eli Moris one dollar, James Atkinson, one dollar, to William Trueblood one dollar and to Danile Lambdin I give one dollar.
And Lastly I ordain constitute and appoint my truly and well beloved friends Shadrach Ditto and Tildan Thomas, joint executors of this my Last Will and Testament utterly disallowing and revoking all other wills by me made or intended, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this third day of the fourth month in the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty six.

(Seal) Lewis Thomas
Test: Thomas Atkinson
S. Ditto
Arthur Atkinson

Some of the children  of Lewis Thomas remained in the area while most scattered north and west to other meetings nearer to the new state of Illinois.

As for my trip to Indiana, I remember the county seat of Paoli and of driving east a few miles on Hwy 150 through wooded forests to where I found the Lick Creek Meeting House. Actually being the third built of three churches with that name, the Lick Creek Meeting House that I saw was small and old. Its graveyard mostly represented families of the 1800’s.


Attending NC State University in the late 1970’s, one of my most cherished experiences grew from the opportunity to meet and share time with other students who were enrolled in the various life sciences programs. Whether studying Ag. Engineering or participating in other programs such as the Ag Institute, these young folks were unlike myself. They grew up with a dream and their life plan was already in place before ever enrolling in school.

Coming off family farms or some related industry, these kids had a sense of pride different from the rest of us. Back then, and in reply to anyone who may meet and refer to them as being a redneck, these students were quick to let you know, hell yeah …and don’t forget where your food comes from either!” To them the derogatory label wasn’t even complete as they would proudly show you their “red neck, brown arms and white back.”

It’s from experiences like this where I began to build my way among the wide range of possible life ambitions. And as a part of the making of me, I learned who rednecks really were and began to appreciate their role within our greater society. Such lessons learned from fellow students have remained untested until this last week when I stumbled upon the following entry in the 1820 Chatham County Court Minutes:

William Utley who earlier lived among the neighbors of Joseph Thomas in Wake County is now appointed overseer of a road along Lick Creek in Chatham County. And hugely odd, in parenthesis beside his name, William Utley is identified as “redneck.” Wow! …and in 1820!

Labels have always been used to distinguish or even separate us from one another. For instance, in present day Randolph and Montgomery Counties runs a road called Black Ankle. From a search through the North Carolina Gazateer I found the following description for this most oddly named community. Black Ankle is:

a derisive name for an area in S central Randolph County and NE Montgomery County. Named because bootleggers operating there during Prohibition would start fires over a large area when they were operating a still so that officers of the law could not find the still. They were said to have “black ankles” from walking through the ashes of old fires to start new ones. Name also said to derive from fact that gold miners in the area stood in muck.

Also, in the state of South Carolina could once be found a people known regionally as Brass Ankles. According to Wikapedia:

The Brass Ankles of South Carolina were a “tri-racial isolate” group, as defined by anthropologists, that developed in the colonial era. They lived as free people of color successively in the areas of Charleston, Berkeley, Colleton and Orangeburg counties as they increasingly migrated away from the Low Country and into the Piedmont and frontier areas, where racial discrimination was less. They were identified by this term in the later 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. They had a combination of European, African, and Native American ancestry.

The above examples originate in the late 1800’, but in truth, was such naming taking place even earlier?

Looking back to the 1820 court entry naming William Utley, that document appears much earlier than do the above mentioned examples. Was the label of redneck used to describe people who labored in the sun? Did it refer to race or was there something else at play? Doing another search with the help of Mr. Google, I learned that the term redneck goes back to the 1600’s! From the following short video found on the History Channel, it appears the term originates from a religious war in Scotland. Making its way to America, the term redneck was used to marginalize the Scottish Presbyterians who settled on England’s newly claimed land.

It’s really interesting that the area where William Utley lived in Chatham County served in some ways as the western boundaries of the early Presbyterian strongholds to the east. Is it a coincidence? There were many Scottish in Moore, Cumberland and Richmond Counties. Was William Utley a Presbyterian and if so, why was such label reserved for him without seeing it used to identify others? And, as timing is important, would such a term be used in the early 1800’s to label a person based on events more than a hundred years in the past? To me this is a known unknown.




Goldston High School Six-Man Football Team – ca. 1954


From nearly every back wood crossroads in North Carolina can be found stories of some favorite son or daughter who left their country home to make it big. I’m talking politics, music, sports and yes, even Hollywood. Such people may be close kin, but regardless, any dropping of names is done so with pride. It’s the hope that those listening will come to realize that it’s possible for great things to be born of simple beginnings.

While visiting and researching family far from home, and if asked where I’m from, I proudly reply “from Charlotte, just a few blocks from Billy Graham’s mom.” I’m no kin to Morrow Graham but in some way her story is a part of me by way of mere proximity within the community we shared. Similarly and from many years ago in rural Union County, a happenchance stop at a little country store led me to Annie Lee Traywick who so happens to be a very close relative of country music legend Randy Travis. Randy was also born a Traywick. Annie Lee has now passed but she was a friend and in the truest sense, my mentor. More than anyone, Ms. Annie Lee gladly shared all she knew of our common homeplace in old Anson County.

In searching for my Thomas family who migrated to Cherokee County Alabama, I learned of a line that moved from that county to Marion County TN. It’s in Tennessee where I learned of Sonny Thomas who played guitar and was known as the “Fret King” by those who performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Sonny Thomas was close to Chet Atkins and is an American treasure. His name appears among those honored in the National Thumb Picking Hall of Fame.

And in telling the story of such family connections, I cannot leave out distant cousin Henry Jackson Thomas Jr. who as a child had the ability to cry on command. He was a shoo-in for the role he played as Elliott in the movie ET. Not only an actor, Henry has musical talents and expresses himself in a band called Farspeaker.


Recently, I’ve had the chance to spend time with distant cousin Daniel Thomas who lives near Chicago. During his early childhood Daniel’s family often visited his grandparents and cousins in and around the small town of Gulf NC. Named for the deep water bend in the aptly named Deep River, the town’s only traffic light was removed years ago when it was deemed unnecessary following improvements to nearby US 421. The town is small and quaint. Dan and I had a great time retracing his family’s migration through the piedmont hills of Carolina. Visiting the Chatham County seat of Pittsboro, he reconnected with the slower days of his childhood memories while having his hair cut at the local barber shop. There’s no better place to learn about a community than through conversations found at the barber shop. We also stopped at the local History Museum where cousin Charles Thomas spoke of Chatham County and of his line of the family who lives there today. We also drove the Lower Moncure Road and Buckhorn Road where old church cemeteries were filled with our family’s past. And later, the visit was made personal as we paid respectful visits to Dan’s Aunts and cousins.

Daniel was invited to attend service at Gulf Presbyterian Church where his father is interred. It was a special day for Dan as he was joined by his cousins Keith and Darryl Hunter. And driving that Sunday morning down from Goldtson to Gulf, Dan recalled the day his dad had driven the rural road back in 1954. They were heading to Goldston to see his uncle Pat play in a local high school football game. However, a storm named Hazel was rapidly approaching and as you may guess, the game was cancelled. Dan never got to see his uncle play football and it wasn’t till much later that he learned the story of the team’s more notable player by the name of Charlie Daniels.

It happens that our visit to Dan’s hometown coincided with Veteran’s Day at a time when the small congregation of Gulf Presbyterian Church held its second Sunday luncheon following what was a very special service. The Pledge of Allegiance was read and accompanied by a guitar duet, songs for the day included Just a Walk with Thee, Onward Christian Soldiers, and Where We’ll Never Grow Old. And then there was the meal. Seated at folding tables in the fellowship hall, it warmed the heart to see this remnant Thomas family share in conversation, good food, and the photographic snapshots of their collective past. And in the group photo below, local celebrity Russell Palmer also joined in.

As was shared with me, the photo at the top of the page captures the1954 Goldston High School football team. Second from the left in the photo is Dan’s Uncle Pat. And to the far right is a big kid wearing a much darker jersey. That’s because they didn’t have a matching jersey big enough to fit the kid named Charlie Daniels. As you may have already guessed, we all know Charlie for his music and the mean fiddle he plays. But where did it all begin?

I’m in no way qualified to tell the story as it’s best to direct you to a wonderful must-read article that appears in Our State Magazine. I can say though, that as a curious young man, Charlie Daniels sat down with his friend Russell Palmer (photo above) who first introcued him to guitar by way of a few chords. It’s from that humble beginning the country music legend credits his starting point. Back in 2006 Charlie Daniels was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In acknowledgement of his roots, Charlie invited Russell Palmer to join him onstage for a celebratory performance. The circle is complete.  Please read the article linked above!


I could end this as is, but let me drop one more name. My second cousin Tony Thomas plays guitar with a local Union County band called the Pine Ridge Boys. Tony is also close friends with Ricky Traywick, the brother of singer Randy Travis. Recently, Cousin Tony Thomas joined with Ricky Traywick in writing a song honoring the life of Randy Travis. The song was played at a nationally televised tribute to Randy Travis who’s clawing his way back following a life changing stroke.

I’m always reminded that we all have value, playing our part in making this country what it truly is. But, it’s only human nature for us to drop names, to be prideful of those among us who have made it big. It’s okay. It’s okay to share the stories of others as if they are your own. Such stories serve as examples steering the dreams of future generations. However, it’s all just a matter of how we draw upon our circles of life and influence. For me, it’s a gift that our life stories intersect with those of people like Randy, Charlie, Henry, and Sonny. It provides a sense of hope among all of us who are utterly unknown. It’s a surprise celebration for those of us living life quietly and simply in our own way.