Category Archives: Surry County, North Carolina

A Minister Among Friends

Jesse Allen Johnson, (1838-1920) was the son of Henderson Johnson and Amelia Norman. He was born in the Westfield District of Surry County, N. C., where he lived for several decades. His grandfather, Wright Johnson, was a well-known “local preacher” and deacon of the early Methodist denomination.

Jesse A. Johnson was married in 1859 to Elizabeth Gray. Only two of their children survived the Civil War era. Elizabeth died in 1876. Jesse married again, to a widow from Davidson County, Triphenia Everhart. They continued to live in Westfield.

Around 1890, the name Jesse A. Johnson began to appear in the Meeting Minutes of the Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers.) A record of that year included “A Minute from White Plains Meeting of Ministry and Oversight asking that Jesse A. Johnson be recorded as a minister among Friends…” His name can also be found as a minister in a number of marriage records in Surry County, including the wedding of his half-brother, Charles Johnson, to Lillian Woodall.

The Yadkin Valley News of Oct. 3, 1891 reported that Rev. Allen Johnson was conducting a revival meeting near Westfield, at Jessup’s schoolhouse. Apparently he continued to preach, using schoolhouses as his venue. An article in the Mount Airy News in 1912 reported incidents at the McBride schoolhouse, during a sermon by Rev. Allen Johnson. In the 1910 census, his home was on McBride Road, in the Flat Rock area. His stepson, William Everhart lived nearby, and his daughter, Mary Hemming, lived with her husband near the granite quarry.

Jesse Allen Johnson died in that area in 1920.

Copyright 27 August 2020 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

(News article from The Yadkin Valley News, Mt. Airy, N. C., 23 Oct. 1891, p. 3.  Records consulted include census reports, marriage and death records, newspaper articles, and Meeting Minutes of the Society of Friends.)

 

Are We Cherokee?

martha

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.

Sources consulted:

Ancestry.com. U.S., Records Related to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com 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. 2020 at https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/rolls/guion-miller-rolls.html.

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

“Stay in Mt. Airy and Work with Us.”

The fashionable young women posing here about 1930 are Reba Oakley (right,) her cousin, Ethel Mae Atkinson (left,) and another friend or relative in Surry County, N. C.

In 1929, when Reba was seventeen years old, she was employed at Argonne Hosiery Mill in Mount Airy. She was described as a button machine operator in the 1930 census. During the years of the Great Depression, many people started to work in the mills at ages as young as thirteen. They could expect to work until they were about sixty years old.

An ad from the Mt. Airy News in 1920 advertised for female workers, promising good wages, ideal working conditions, and the advantage of staying in your home town.

At the Spencer knitting mill of Mt. Airy, in 1930, female employees made 75 cents a day. They worked shifts of up to twelve hours, as many as 6 days a week. A full week at that rate would net $4.50. Men were paid a higher wage. However, half of all textile workers were female.

Statistics from the 1920 census show that North Carolina had become the second-most industrialized state in the South, with an output of a billion dollars per year in textiles, tobacco products, and furniture. By 1930, North Carolina was first in the nation in producing cotton textiles and first of the southern states in knitted textiles.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Sources:

Ad, Mt. Airy News, Mt. Airy, N. C., Feb. 26, 1920.

North Carolina Museum of History, “History Highlights/Twentieth-Century North Carolina,” August 25, 2006, http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/nchh/twentieth.html, accessed Aug. 29, 2006.

“The History of International Working Women’s Day: Ella Mae Wiggins,” no date, http://www.mltranslations.org/US/Rpo/women/iwwd1.htm, accessed August 29, 2006.

Ernest H. Miller, Miller’s Mount Airy, N.C. City Directory, Vol. 1, 1928-1929 (Asheville NC: Southern Directory Co., 1929), p. 198.

Alice B. Hatcher, Spencers, (Dobson NC: published by the authors, 1988) p. 11.

1930 U.S. Census, North Carolina, Surry County, Franklin Township; sheet 2-B, line 65.

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

George 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 1920’s.  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 1920’s 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 the two world wars, and may reflect the concerns of the times.

Some George Oakley Sermons, 1917-1929:

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.

Sources:

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

I, Wright Johnson of the County of Surry

This is the will of Wright Johnson (1774-1866) transcribed from the document in the Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson, N. C. Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks have been reproduced as accurately as possible:

[page#] 86

Wright Johnson’s Last Will & Testament

I Wright Johnson of the County of Surry and State of North Carolina
being in sound mind and memory and calling to mind the certainty of death and the
uncertainty of life do make and ordain this my last
will and testament In manner and form as follows. First my will
and desire is that my Executors hereinafter named Shall provide for my body a decent burial
suitable to the wishes of my friends
Second that my executors shall out of my estate pay all funeral
expenses and my just debts to whomsoever owing. Thirdly, I give and devise to my Sons
Henderson Johnson* a tract of Land one hundred acres
more or lefs** lying in Stokes County North Carolina I also give him two
Volumes of Books Clarkes Commenter.* FourThly, I give and devise to my son Wesley Johnson* two volumes of Books Clarks Commentary. I have also previously deeded my son J. Wesley Johnson one hundred acres of Land on Which he now lives. Fifthly, I give and devise to my son James Johnson* two Volumes of Books Clarks Commentary I have also previously to [Third?] Deeded to him a tract of Land one hundred acres on which he now lives Sixthly, I give and devise to my* son John W Johnson* John Wesley’s notes on the New Testament.* Seventhly [marked over] I give to my beloved wife Nancy
Johnson* for her natural life or widowhood The remainder of all my
Estate both real and personal of every discription what soever.
Eightly at the death or Marriage of my wife my will and desire is
That all the property which I or the remainder of all the property that
I have given to her during her life or widowhood be Divided among
My Daughters as follows My Daughter Nancy* Isaac Norman’s* wife
is to have forty acres of Land Commenceing on the Stokes line extending
west West [sic] along the State line far enough to receive her number of acres
My Daughter Elizabeth McMillion* John McMillions wife is to have
Forty acres of Land So laid off as to have the old Dwelling in which
I now live to be on her part
My Daughter Mary* Joseph Whites* wife is to have Forty acres of Land
So layed off that her Dwelling will be on her part
My Daughter Jamima* Joel Snody’s* wife is to have the remainder
Forty acres of Land. Ninethly, also my will and desire is that
all my personal property after the Death of my wife is to be
Equally divided among my Daughters to wit Nancy
Isaac Normans wife Elizabeth McMillions wife Mary
Joseph Whites wife and Jamima Joel Snodys wife

 

[Second page. Page#] 87

And Lastly I do hereby constitute and appoint my Son in-Law
Isaac Norman an Joel Snody my lawful Executors to all intent
and purposes to execute and carry out this my Last wll [sic] and
testament according to the true intent and meaning of the Same
and every part and clause hereof hereby revoking and declaring
utterly Void all other wills and testaments by me theretofore [word inserted] made Invoking
Whereof I the Said Wright Johnson do hereby Set my hand and Seal

[Left-hand column:]
In testmt [marked-out letters] signed Sealed published
and declared by the said Wright Johnson
to be his last will and testament in
presence of us who at his request
and with his presence do subscribe
our names as witnefs thereto
[signature] N Freeman
[signature] A Brim, Just

[Right-hand column:]
February 16th AD 1866
Wright (his X mark) Johnson, {Seal}

North Carolina } Court of pleas and quarter Sefsion

The Execution of the foregoing last will and testament
of Wright Johnson decd was produced in open court and
offered for probate and was duly proven by the oath
of Acaberry Brim one of the Subscribing witnefses thereto
and is ordered to be Recorded and filed
H C Hampton CCC

NOTES:
*Names underlined. Underlining looks lighter than the script and may have been added some time after the creation of the document.
**The original scribe of this document used the long s to write words with a double s, such as less, written as lefs, or witness, written as witnefs.
***Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible; John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament.

Transcribed by Glenda Alexander from Surry County, NC, Will Book 5: 1853-1868, pp. 86-87.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Indian Stories

My Grandma’s mother, Martha White Johnson, told her grandchildren that she had Indian ancestry. My mother said that after her parents moved to the Sandhills, some kin from the mountains came to visit, with the purpose of finding some proof of their Native ancestry. Her father refused to talk with them and made them leave. My sister told this story to someone with Native connections, who explained to her that people with non-white ancestry were often refused credit at the banks and stores. As a farmer, Grandpa would have depended on credit to keep him going until he took his tobacco to market and received whatever cash he was going to make for the year. Unfortunately, if he or Grandma had Native ancestry, it was not to their advantage to prove it.

Mama repeated a lot of stories that were told to her when she was a child. When one of us children was crying, she would tell us that the old folks used to say when the Indians were hiding from their enemies, they would stop the babies from crying by covering their noses and mouths so they couldn’t breathe. If anybody made noise and they were discovered, they’d all be killed. She teased that if we had been Indians, we wouldn’t have survived.

Now I wonder if this story came from the Indian Removal of the 1830’s, when Native Americans of many tribes were forced to leave their homes in the Southeastern states and move to reservation land in Oklahoma. Some people managed to hide deep in the mountains and woods long enough to stay behind. Martha White’s great-grandparents, John and Rachel May, could have done just that, as they lived in mountainous and sparsely populated Patrick County, Virginia.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

I, Wright Johnson of the County of Surry

 

 

 

This is the will of Wright Johnson (1774-1866) as transcribed from the document in the Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson, N. C. Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks have been reproduced as accurately as possible.

[page#] 86

Wright Johnson’s Last Will & Testament

I Wright Johnson of the County of Surry and State of North Carolina
being in sound mind and memory and calling to mind the certainty of death and the
uncertainty of life do make and ordain this my last
will and testament In manner and form as follows. First my will
and desire is that my Executors hereinafter named Shall provide for my body a decent burial
suitable to the wishes of my friends
Second that my executors shall out of my estate pay all funeral
expenses and my just debts to whomsoever owing. Thirdly, I give and devise to my Sons
Henderson Johnson* a tract of Land one hundred acres
more or lefs** lying in Stokes County North Carolina I also give him two
Volumes of Books Clarkes Commenter.***
FourThly, I give and devise to my son Wesley Johnson* two volumes of Books
Clarks Commentary. I have also previously deeded my son J. Wesley Johnson
one hundred acres of Land on Which he now lives.
Fifthly, I give and devise to my son James Johnson* two Volumes
of Books Clarks Commentary I have also previously to [Third?] Deeded
to him a tract of Land one hundred acres on which he now lives
Sixthly, I give and devise to my* son John W Johnson* John Wesley’s notes
on the New Testament.*** Seventhly [marked over] I give to my beloved wife Nancy
Johnson* for her natural life or widowhood The remainder of all my
Estate both real and personal of every discription what soever.
Eightly at the death or Marriage of my wife my will and desire is
That all the property which I or the remainder of all the property that
I have given to her during her life or widowhood be Divided among
My Daughters as follows My Daughter Nancy* Isaac Norman’s* wife
is to have forty acres of Land Commenceing on the Stokes line extending
west West [sic] along the State line far enough to receive her number of acres
My Daughter Elizabeth McMillion* John McMillions wife is to have
Forty acres of Land So laid off as to have the old Dwelling in which
I now live to be on her part
My Daughter Mary* Joseph Whites* wife is to have Forty acres of Land
So layed off that her Dwelling will be on her part
My Daughter Jamima* Joel Snody’s* wife is to have the remainder
Forty acres of Land. Ninethly, also my will and desire is that
all my personal property after the Death of my wife is to be
Equally divided among my Daughters to wit Nancy
Isaac Normans wife Elizabeth McMillions wife Mary
Joseph Whites wife and Jamima Joel Snodys wife

[Second page. Page#] 87

And Lastly I do hereby constitute and appoint my Son in-Law
Isaac Norman an Joel Snody my lawful Executors to all intent
and purposes to execute and carry out this my Last wll [sic] and
testament according to the true intent and meaning of the Same
and every part and clause hereof hereby revoking and declaring
utterly Void all other wills and testaments by me theretofore [word inserted] made Invoking
Whereof I the Said Wright Johnson do hereby Set my hand and Seal

[Left-hand column:]
In testmt [marked-out letters] signed Sealed published
and declared by the said Wright Johnson
to be his last will and testament in
presence of us who at his request
and with his presence do subscribe
our names as witnefs thereto
[signature] N Freeman
[signature] A Brim, Just

[Right-hand column:]
February 16th AD 1866
Wright (his X mark) Johnson, {Seal}

North Carolina } Court of pleas and quarter Sefsion

The Execution of the foregoing last will and testament
of Wright Johnson decd was produced in open court and
offered for probate and was duly proven by the oath
of Acaberry Brim one of the Subscribing witnefses thereto
and is ordered to be Recorded and filed
H C Hampton CCC

NOTES:
*Names underlined. Underlining looks lighter than the script and may have been added some time after the creation of the document.
**The original scribe of this document used the long s to write words with a double s, such as less, written as lefs, or witness, written as witnefs.
***Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible; John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament.

Transcribed by Glenda Alexander from Surry County, NC, Will Book 5: 1853-1868, pp. 86-87.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

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.