Author Archives: 8families

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Diversity. Evidence-based.

“He is a good preacher. Come and hear him.”

CHURCH2George Washington Oakley (1879-1957) was the oldest son of Robert T. Oakley and Margaret Jane Willey of Surry County, N. C.  He married Etta May Sparks in 1901 at Mitchells River Church in Surry.  They had three children. 

In 1910, he was farming in Carroll County, Va., but by 1918, when he registered for the WWI draft, he was working for a furniture factory in Mt. Airy.  His draft card described him as tall and slender, with blue eyes and medium dark hair.  He was able to read and write, although his father and five younger brothers were not.

He was a charter member of Calvary Baptist Church in Toast in 1913 and served as a trustee in 1920 when land was purchased for the building. 

George became a popular preacher in the Baptist churches of Surry County.  He served as pastor of Hills Grove, Piney Grove, and Ivy Green Baptist Churches in the 1920s.  In 1930, he was the first pastor of Pinnacle View, near Pilot Mountain.  He also participated in the weeklong Revival services that local churches shared in the summertime.

In the 1930 census, his occupation was “minister, Baptist Church.”  At his death in 1957, he was pastor of a church in Baywood, Va.  His grave is at Pleasant Home Union Regular Baptist Church in Alleghany County, N. C.

The Siloam community column in the Mt. Airy News of the 1920s frequently announced the titles of his sermons at Hills Grove and asserted that “He is a good preacher.  Come and hear him.”  The titles of his sermons were taken from Biblical texts.  The following sermons were preached between 1917-1929, and may reflect the concerns of the period between the two World Wars.

1.  ”Consider Your Ways.”  From Haggai 1:5-7, a lesson in prudent thinking and action.

2.  “The Unguarded Gate.”  Book of Ezekiel, chapter 38, in which many of the enemies of Israel were named and battles predicted.

3.  ”And With HIs Stripes We Are Healed.”  Isaiah 53:5; preached at a Revival service.

4.  “Handfulls [sic] of Honey”  Judges 14, a story of a riddle told by Samson, which he challenged his enemies to solve.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.


”Personal Mention of Siloam Residents,” Mt. Airy News, 4 June 1926, p. 1; and “Siloam News,” 5 July 1928 p. 4.

Class of ’42, Cameron High


Graduates of Cameron High School, Cameron, N. C., in 1942.


I have not found a date for the opening of Cameron School, but William Hamilton McNeill, who was born in 1869 in Moore County, graduated from Cameron High School. (He later became mayor of Carthage, N. C., and owner and editor of its newspaper, as well as a state legislator.)

When the 1963-64 school year ended in Moore County, N. C., Cameron, Farm Life, Carthage, and Vass High Schools were consolidated into Union Pines High School.

Copyright 2019 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.


“A Pocket Manual of North Carolina for the use of Members of the General Assembly: Session 1911,” ed. by R. D. W. Connor, (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission 1911) p. 298. Accessed through Google ebooks, 28 Dec. 2019.

“Carthage High School — Carthage, North Carolina,” accessed 28 Dec. 2019 at


Origin of the Oakley Name

The Oakley family came to America from England. No one seems to know the exact source of the name, but as many family names are based on the place where they originaloakleafly lived, here is a suggestion: In a forest, when a large tree like an oak falls, it leaves an opening in the forest canopy, where light enters and nourishes plants which couldn’t survive in the shade, such as grasses. In England, this type of meadow environment was called a ley (pronounced like the name Lee), from an ancient word meaning light. The fallen tree’s roots pull up from the ground, leaving a hole which fills with water, which nourishes still more kinds of plants and animals, and makes a pleasant habitat for people as well, a place where someone might make a camp or build a cabin. They might then become known as the family who live in the Oak Ley.

Copyright 2019 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Are We Cherokee?

Martha White Johnson

My grandmother’s mother, Martha White Johnson, told her children and grandchildren that she was part Indian. Many of us have this kind of anecdotal evidence of Native American ancestry, and with access to DNA tests, we are starting to find out the truth. So far, no relative known to me has had Native DNA results. However, the matter is still not settled.

What I did find in historical records are applications made by three of Martha’s siblings, around 1907, for benefits based on Cherokee kinship.

An act of Congress in 1906 appropriated over a million dollars to pay claims of the Cherokee Nation against the U. S. government, having to do with the Cherokee Removal of the 1830’s. A man named Guion Miller headed a commission to evaluate those claims. The commission received applications representing about 90,000 people, and they approved only about a third. Only 3,203 of them lived east of the Mississippi River; the majority lived in Oklahoma.

In the White family’s applications for benefits, they attempted to prove that they were descendants of a person who was a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Joseph Bill White of Mt. Airy, N. C., Martha’s brother, applied on behalf of his seven minor children. In a deposition taken in 1909, he swore that his grandfather, Pryor May (who lived about 1801-1879,) was the son of John May, whose father, name unknown, was a full blooded Cherokee. Joseph said that his mother, Mary Ann May White was one eighth Cherokee Indian blood, and that his great-grandmother was a Cherokee Indian squaw whose name he did not know. Joseph had always heard that Pryor May was kin to the Cherokee Indians. He further said that he had seen Pryor May, and that he was a tall, slim man, with a very dark complexion and black hair.

Joseph and Martha’s brother, John W. White of Round Peak, N.C., claimed that John May, father of Pryor and husband of Rachel May, “was said to be one half Indian.” In a deposition at Pilot Mountain, N. C., in 1908, John said that Pryor May got his Indian blood from his paternal grandmother, and that Pryor told him many times that his grandmother was Cherokee.

Martha’s sister, Mary White Chandler, of Round Peak, N.C., also applied, corroborating what her brothers said, that their grandfather, Pryor May, was a full blooded Cherokee.

A man named J. F. Edwards, also an applicant, affirmed that he knew Pryor May in Patrick County, Va., where they both lived until May’s death in 1879. He said that Pryor May claimed to be part Cherokee and that his appearance “showed his Indian blood,” as did that of Pryor’s son, William May. Edwards stated in a deposition that the May family consistently claimed Cherokee heritage.

Joseph’s application was rejected because it did “not appear that any ancestor was ever enrolled or that any ancestor was party to the treaties” of the 1830’s. “His ancestors did not live in the Cherokee domain.” He failed to prove any “connection whatever with the Eastern Cherokees.” John and Mary were also rejected, as their statements were not sufficiently backed with written records and they “never lived in Cherokee Country and kn[ew] nothing definite of alleged Cherokee ancestors.”

There is another, as yet unproved, family rumor that the wife of Pryor May, Susanna Puckett, came from the Powhatan reservation in Virginia. The Powhatan were the people who greeted the Jamestown settlers in the early 1600’s, and were the tribe of the famous Pocahontas. The Whites, Mays, Johnsons, and other English families sailed to the coast of Virginia and gradually made their way westward and southward to settle along the Virginia/North Carolina border.

The White family seem to have been convinced of their ancestry and were not solely motivated by possible financial benefits. My mother told a story about her White relatives approaching her parents for documentation of their ancestry. This would have happened decades after the Guion Miller applications. Apparently my grandmother had nothing to offer them, and my grandfather was annoyed with them. In a time when non-white ancestry could bring mistreatment, many people preferred to forget their origins. Now, when we have nothing to fear from knowing the truth, my generation would really like to know about our ancestry. We’re still looking.

Copyright 2019 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Sources consulted: U.S., Records Related to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: M685, microfilm, 12 rolls. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999, Record Group 75. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

“Guion Miller Roll, 1906-1911,” The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, October 4, 2016, accessed 27 Dec. 2019


Census, marriage, and birth records in the North Carolina Dept. of History and Archives, Raleigh, N. C.

Wright Johnson, Part 3: A Clue in the Search for His Parents

Wright Johnson was born about 1774 in North Carolina. He married Nancy Wilks about 1802, and they had eight known children. He was a farmer, land owner, local preacher, and Methodist deacon. He died about 1866 in Surry County, N. C.

Mary Elizabeth King, a fifth-generation descendant of Wright Johnson through his daughter, Nancy Johnson Norman, wrote that his grandfather, unnamed, was an officer in the Virgina militia and was killed in 1755 in the French and Indian War, at a battle called Braddock’s Defeat.

A list of officers killed at Braddock’s Defeat in 1755 includes a Lieutenant Wright, but none named Johnson. The information was originally taken from a publication called Gentleman’s Magazine, from that year. Because the mother’s or grandmother’s family name was often used as a given name, I have pursued the possibility that the ancestor mentioned in King’s story could have the surname Wright.

Further information about Lieutenant William Wright can be found in a book called Annals of Augusta County, Virginia. Braddock was a British general who led American colonists in a disastrous battle of the French and Indian War in July of 1755. Lieut. Wright was said to have been killed by Indians, July 12, 1755, at a place called Reed Creek.

“The ensign left to hold the fort was William Wright. The Governor wrote to him on the 12th, [Feb. 12, 1755] instructing him to “keep a good look out,” to be exact in his duties, to make short excursions from the fort, and to apply to Colonel Patton, in case of danger, to have some of his militia ready at an hour’s warning.”

“The Preston Register…’A register of the persons who have been either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners by the enemy, in Augusta County…’ ” lists in “1755…July 12–Lieut. Wright and 2 soldiers, Reed Creek, killed.”

On page 63 a William Wright is mentioned as a commissioner and trustee, in 1747, in receipt with others of 110 acres of land for the use of the Presbyterian congregation of Tinkling Spring in Augusta County. The county is located in the Shenandoah Valley.

© Glenda Alexander 18 April, 2019


“I have a Memory Trace,” by Mary E. King, in Grandmothers: Poems, reminiscences, and short stories about the keepers of our traditions, edited by Nikkii Giovanni, (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994) pp. 115.

William Armstrong Crozier, editor, Virginia Colonial Militia 1765-1776, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965) p. 120.

Joseph Addison Waddell, Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, from 1726 to 1871, Second Edition, (Staunton, Va.: C.R. Caldwell, 1902), accessed Nov. 14, 2011. Original from Harvard University, Digitized Sep 12, 2006 by Internet Archive; pp. 63, 102-103, 154-155.

Wright Johnson, Part 2: Nancy Wilks, His Wife

Nancy Wilks, wife of Wright Johnson, was born about 1784 in North Carolina, calculated from census reports of 1850-1870. Her family name was stated in the death certificate of her daughter Elizabeth. The census indicates that she did not learn to read or write.

Nancy married Wright Johnson about 1802, calculated from the earliest birthdate indicated for her son Henderson Johnson. Nancy was about 18 years old, her husband, about 28.

The records show eight children. Her children’s birth dates were calculated from census, marriage, death, and burial records. The ages of Nancy’s oldest children are hard to pin down, but there appear to be gaps of several years between some of her childbirths, so it is quite possible that she gave birth to other children who didn’t survive.

  1. Henderson was born between 1803-1810.
  2. Wesley, between 1805-1810.
  3. John, between 1810-1820.
  4. Jemimah, about 1814.
  5. James, 1816.
  6. Mary, about 1821.
  7. Nancy, about 1824.
  8. Elizabeth, 1825.

When Wright walked from Westfield to Norfolk for his ordination in 1836, he was about 62 years old, and Nancy was about 54. Seven of their children probably lived in the family home at that time. Henderson and Wesley were married, and records indicate that Henderson may have continued to live with his parents. Over the decades, all the children except John W. are listed in the census near their parents.

Nancy was named in her husband’s will in 1866: “My beloved wife Nancy Johnson for her natural life or widowhood…the remainder of all my estate both real and personal of every description.” Wright died soon after the making of his will.

In the census of 1870, Nancy still lived in the family home in Westfield, age 86. She and her son Henderson both died before the 1880 census. Henderson apparently still lived with her, with his second wife and several young children.

Many of the Johnson family’s death certificates state that they were buried in a Norman family cemetery in Westfield. That cemetery is now abandoned and located on a private farm. Few of the graves in that cemetery have stones with names on them, but those that do are consistent with the individual death certificates. Mount Herman Methodist Church, near the Johnsons’ home place, was apparently their church and has many unmarked graves in its cemetery.


Death Certificate of Elizabeth McMillion, Virginia Death Records, 1912-2014, database on-line, Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Va. Deaths, 1912-2014. Va. Department of Health, Richmond, Va.

Will of Wright Johnson, Will Book 5, 1853-1868, Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson, N. C.

Wright Johnson, Part 1: Preacher Right

Wright Johnson was born ca. 1774. His name first appeared in the Surry County, North Carolina, census in 1820, when he was about 46 years of age, along with what would appear to be a wife, four sons, and three daughters. He first appeared in Surry tax lists in 1813.  He owned land in the northeast corner of Surry County, bordering on Stokes County, North Carolina, and Patrick County, Virginia, in the area of Archie’s/Archer’s Creek.

In the late 1700’s, John Wesley sent missionaries to America to spread his beliefs among the colonists. A man named Francis Asbury came to America around 1771 and traveled and preached throughout the colonies. Asbury later became a bishop of the newly established Methodist Church. Methodism was spread by means of camp meetings and itinerant preachers who took their doctrine into remote settlements. By the middle of the 1800’s the Methodist denomination was the largest Protestant church in America. Their services were known for their exuberant singing, shouting, and preaching.

Wright Johnson was ordained as a Methodist deacon in 1836, when he was in his sixties. The story is told that he walked the entire distance from Surry County to Norfolk, Virginia about 275 miles, for his ordination. He was described in the Virginia Annual Conference Minutes as a local preacher of the Surry circuit, elected to the office of Deacon by Bishop Elijah Hedding and others on February 17. Consider how healthy and strong he must have been to walk that distance in the depth of winter.

A story in the 1894 Yadkin County News, by Bill Whitehead, told how a Methodist preacher named Right Johnson waded through creeks to preach at a home somewhere near Mount Airy, on “The Cold Friday.” There are a number of “Cold Fridays” on record early in the 19th century, when the temperature did not rise above zero and set records all over the East Coast. One exceptionally cold winter was recorded in Tennessee in 1835, when many livestock froze to death and snow drifted deep. This was only about 100 miles from Wright’s home on the border of North Carolina and Virginia.  Whitehead wrote:

“I recollect on the ‘cold Friday’ that Right Johnson waded the creeks and came to our house to preach. The creeks I speak of are those crossed in traveling from Mount Airy to our house. Where can you find in this day any person who would even ride in a fine rig and go to a common log cabin to preach in such weather as the ‘cold Friday’?

“But the old preachers of an early day had many hardships to encounter. I will mention some of their names. Of the Methodist–Thos. Bryant, Wiley Patterson, James Needham, John Hix and Right Johnson, and later on William Rawley and one of the Roberts. Of the Baptists–John Jones and Jonah Cockerham. The Methodists generally, except Rawley and Roberts, were very poor men who did the most of their traveling on foot.”

© Glenda Alexander, All Rights Reserved.


William Lee Grissom, History of Methodism in North Carolina: from 1772 to the Present Time, (Nashville, Tenn.: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, 1905).

Mary E. King, “I Have a Memory Trace,” in Nikki Giovanni, editor, Grandmothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories about the Keepers of Our Traditions, (New York: Henry Holy and Co., 1994) pp. 114-132.

1820 Census of the United States, Population Schedule of North Carolina, Surry County, Capt. Lachrys District, Wright Johnson household, pp. 760-761.

Hand-written records dated “Norfolk 1836,” in the 1800-1840 Virginia Annual Conference Minutes, located in the McGraw-Page Library Special Collections, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Va.

Wright Johnson, Deed of Trust, Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson N.C., Book X, pp. 206-207.

Wright Johnson, Grantor, Wesley Johnson, Grantee, Deed to Land on Archie’s Creek, Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson N.C., Book 9, pp. 12-13.

Bill Whitehead, “Oldentime Memories,” Vol. 14, #50, The Yadkin Valley News, Mount Airy, N.C., Thursday, July 5, 1894, p. 1.

David Ludlum, “Historical Weather Facts,”, accessed Feb. 18, 2006, Aviation Weather Center, Kansas City, Missouri.

24-7 Family History Circle, “The Year Was 1835,” blog hosted by, Copyright © 1998-2006, Inc., 17 September 2006, accessed Sept. 11, 2009.

Iris Harvey, Surry County, North Carolina Tax List-1813, (Raleigh, N. C., author, 1991) p. 48.