> I wonder if something similar happened in Lincon County.
Probably. I know there was an epidemic cir 1847 that all but wiped out one of the few proven male lines from James Abernathy and Elizabeth Cox. And I think there had been another epidemic about a decade prior to that as well, but am unsure of my facts in this regard.
I have 5 children listed for Slly Sherrill and Samuel Abernathy, only 3 of whom (2 daughters and a son) were still alive in Dec 1856 when he signed his will. His will was probated Oct Term 1857. It can be found in Catawba County Will Book 1, p. 137 and has been abstracted by Frances Terry Ingmire in "Catawba County, North Carolina Abstracted Wills 1842-1870", published 1984 in St Louis, MO, p. 23.
Daughter Elizabeth was married to Isaac Osbern Robinson, who was executor of Samuel's will, and lived in Forsythe County in 1850. Daughter Susannah had married Wesley Asbury but was widow'd by the time her father wrote his will: she and her daughter were found with the elderly Samuel in Newton on the 1850 census. About son John F. Abernathy, I do not even have solid evidence of his birth year, let along when he died. Nor do I have any further info on Susanna's son William S. Asbury, who was also mentioned in the will.