Category Archives: Surry County, North Carolina

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

Sources:

“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) http://www.archive.org/details/annalsofaugustac00wadd, 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.

Sources:

Death Certificate of Elizabeth McMillion, Virginia Death Records, 1912-2014, database on-line, Ancestry.com 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.

Sources:

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,” http://userpages.chorus.net/wxalan/wxfact/feb.html, accessed Feb. 18, 2006, Aviation Weather Center, Kansas City, Missouri.

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

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

A Grandmother’s Heroism

Mary Johnson Hemmings died tragically, trying to save a grandchild in a runaway car.

The Mount Airy News of September 1, 1927, reported on page one: “While trying to stop a car from rolling down an embankment with her grandchild in the car, Mrs. J. F. Hemmings dropped dead near the quarry Monday morning. Her son had parked the car near the house and his five year old boy was playing in it when the car was seen to begin rolling down the hill toward the big shed. Mrs. Hemmings managed to reach the car and had taken hold of the rear fender and tried to hold it back, when she suddenly dropped over. Relatives found her unconscious and rushed her to the hospital but she never rallied, and it is thought she died suddenly, either from a weak heart or from a ruptured blood vessel caused by straining to hold the car back.

“The car rolled on down the bank and the child suffered no ill effects, mashing its nose a little as it fell from the seat, and a fender was bruised on the car.”

A photograph made about 1924 of a grand-niece of Mary Hemmings, sitting on a Ford Model “T” touring car of that era. The weight of such a car was about 1200 pounds, and they were made almost entirely of steel.

Mary Frances Johnson was born in 1874 in Surry County, N. C., to Jessie Allen and Elizabeth Gray Johnson. Her mother died in 1876, likely from the same tuberculosis that took her grandmother’s life a few years previous, and also may have taken her grandfather’s life in 1876. In 1881, Mary and her older brother Lindsay were the only surviving children of their parents. Their father remarried in 1877. Records do not show who raised Mary, but she learned to read and write. Lindsay, who was a teenager when their mother died, married about 1880.

Mary was married in 1891, to James Franklin Hemmings of Surry County, son of Washington and Elizabeth Kenner Hemmings. The wedding took place at her father’s home in the Mt. Airy township.

Mary and James lived on the McBride Road near Mt. Airy, where they owned a farm, and raised nine children. They lost one child before the 1900 census. Mary’s father and his wife and his step-son, William Everhart, were their neighbors. Mary’s brother, Lindsay, lived in Mt. Airy with his wife and children and worked in a furniture factory.

Between 1910 and 1920, James Hemmings and at least one of his sons went to work for the North Carolina Granite Corporation, where James was a foreman. Their home apparently was near the quarry. The account of Mary’s death said that the car rolled toward “the big shed,” probably a cutting shed or other work area at the quarry.

Mary was buried in the Midkiff Cemetery on Quaker Road, near her home, the first in a family plot where one of her sons would join her only four years later, and in two more years, her husband.

Copyright 2019, Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Sources:

  1. Estate Settlement Proceedings for Jeremiah Gray, Sept. 8, 1881, Surry County, North Carolina, Estate Records 1771-1943; Ancestry.com; Original data in N. C. Dept. of Archives, Raleigh.
  2. Lorna W. Barrett, Surry County, North Carolina Marriages 1869-1899 (Toast, N. C.: Published by author, 1998.) p. 188.
  3. Census Data: 1880 Census: Westfield, Surry, North Carolina; Roll: T9_983; Enumeration District: 177; p. 12D; 1900 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry County, N. C.; Microfilm Roll: 1219; p. 9B; Enumeration District: 112; 1910 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry County, N. C.; Microfilm Roll: T624_1133; p. 15B; Enumeration District 136; 1920 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry, North Carolina; Roll: T625_1316; pp. 9A-B; Enumeration District: 256.
  4. “Dies While Trying to Save Little Boy,” Mt. Airy News, Mt. Airy, N. C., 1927; “Loses Life to Save Grandson,” Danbury Reporter, Danbury, N. C., 31 Aug. 1927, p. 1. Images on digitalnc.com
  5. Visit to Midkiff Cemetery, Jan. 26, 2019.
  6. “How much does a Ford Model T weigh?, “ The Frontenac Motor Company , Copyright 2016, URL: http://modelt.ca/.