The Walker Families of Southeastern Rockingham County, North Carolina
Mark B. Walker
7 January 2000
The Piedmont region of North Carolina was the American frontier in the1740’s and 1750’s.This lush, rolling country was the recipient of a floodof travelers from the north.Many were the descendants of Scottish orScotch-Irish immigrants who had arrived in Pennsylvania in the first halfof the 18th Century.Among the early settlers to appear in the northernPiedmont of North Carolina in the 1750’s and 1760’s were several who borethe Walker surname.Although the details of their arrival are lacking,James and Alexander Walker, two brothers with clear ties to Pennsylvania,are firmly documented from the late 1770’s in an area that is todaysoutheastern Rockingham County.William Walker, a man probably related tothe brothers, also appears in public records from that time.These threemay in turn have a connection to a Walker who lived in the area prior to1769.
The American frontier in the 1740's was only a few hundred miles inlandfrom the Atlantic coast, and in North Carolina, it could be found in a vastarea of the northern Piedmont known at the time as Anson County.Thecounty was so large, in fact, that its western boundary was fairly wellundefined.The era was full of change and movement, however, and theterritory was the beneficiary of a river of humanity come from as far awayas Pennsylvania and New Jersey.With the Shenandoah Valley as the conduit,so many souls poured into the area from the north that the colonialgovernment had to create new counties in rapid succession just toadminister the growing population.Rowan and Orange were made from Ansonin 1753, then Guilford from parts of Rowan and Orange just five yearsbefore the great declaration of Americanindependence.Next came CaswellCounty from Orange in 1778, and finally, Guilford was subdivided in 1785.The northern half of the old Guilford County was henceforth known asRockingham County, while the southern half retained the original name.
Early in the 1750’s, a group of individuals associated with the NottinghamPresbyterian Church in eastern Pennsylvania purchased lots in Orange County,North Carolina, from the British aristocrat John Earl Granville.Pennsylvania Proprietor William Penn had for many years maintained a policyof inviting various ethnic and religious groups from Europe to settle inthe border regions of his own colony in an attempt to extend it southwardand thereby prevent Lord Baltimore, Proprietor of the neighboring colony ofMaryland, from pushing his northern border up to 40 degrees latitude.The borderbetween the two colonies would not be finally established until many yearslater.One group that accepted the invitation was the Scotch-Irish,persons of Scottish ancestry from Northern Ireland.These immigrants hadarrived early in the 18th Century and established both a community and theNottingham congregation.By 1756, 19 families from this community hadtaken possession of the lots in North Carolina, which were located onNorth Buffalo Creek in the area now encompassed by the city of Greensboro.
One of the lasting artifacts of this community is Buffalo PresbyterianChurch, a congregation that exists to this day in Greensboro.A Nottinghamfamily, soon after settling into its lot on North Buffalo Creek, invited aPresbyterian minister to preach in the area, an event that proved to be thecatalyst for the founding of this church.Around the same time, peoplewere beginning to set up homesteads along Haw River roughly 20 miles to thenorth.These pioneers soon established their own church, SpeedwellPresbyterian, a congregation that still meets a few miles south ofReidsville.A few years later, in 1762, settlers began to meet forworship a few miles southeast of Speedwell and in 1770, they bought landjust south of Haw River for a church, Haw River Presbyterian.
The Three Brothers and Others
Immigrants soon began to fill this area, which would eventually become thesoutheastern corner of Rockingham County.It is a well-watered regionwhere Troublesome Creek flows into Haw River and both Hogan’s Creek andCountry Line Creek have their sources.Two brothers, James and AlexanderWalker, applied for land grants in this territory in 1778 and 1779, when itwas still a part of Guilford County.James obtained two lots of 200 and500 acres on Hogan’s Creek in 1780, while Alexander received a 340-acretract on Hogan’s Creek in 1783.James and Alexander had another brother,John, who had migrated to Davidson County in the Southwest Territory(present-day Tennessee) by 1793.Another early Walker arrival in thatregion was William Walker, who obtained a land grant on Country Line Creek,very close to the border between the current Rockingham and Caswell counties,also in 1780.William may have been a brother to these other three.
They, however, were not the first bearers of that surname to develop aconnection to the area.A man named William Walker died in 1769 in OrangeCounty, leaving his worldly goods to his wife and five sons, William, James,Abraham, John and Alexander.In particular, Alexander was to receive hisfather's land on Hogan’s Creek, which crosses present-day Rockingham andCaswell counties and empties into Dan River.At that time, Hogan’s Creekwas near the far western edge of Orange County:its source was only a fewmiles east of the border with Rowan County.Nevertheless, we can bereasonably certain that the Hogan’s Creek property was within the areaencompassed by Rockingham County.One witness to Walker’s will was a JohnRobertson, very likely the same man who, along with Robert Given and ThomasFlack, acted as a trustee in 1770 for a two-acre lot given by one RobertMateer for the use of the Haw River Presbyterian Church.William Walkeralso bequeathed an unidentified property to two other sons.
The Walker’s Presbyterian Roots
Whatever their personal link, William and James, along with their families,associated themselves with Haw River Presbyterian Church.Although thechurch suffered a schism and had died out by the 1830's, its cemeterystill exists in a circular grove of trees off Candy Creek Road inRockingham County, less than one mile south of the river of the same name.The graveyard stands as a primary source of information on the earlyWalkers, for they represent the largest family grouping in the cemetery,which seems to contain representatives from the families of both Williamand James.The grove that encircles the place rises from a hill in themidst of a field.The road shoulder gives the visitor just enough room topark before he begins the quarter-mile hike along a path that cuts througha field bearing lush green tobacco growth in summer, past the tree-ringedmirror surface of a small pond; along the low side of the rise and thensharply right up the incline to the edge of the grove.One enters, fightingbrambles and branches, and then suddenly, there are the stones.Fallen androtting tree trunks divide the rows of crude, gray gravestones; deadvegetation covers the tombs like a bed of insulation.The oldest markerbearing the Walker name is that of William himself, who died on 14 December1800, in the 63 year of his age.This stone is at the approximate center ofthe grove; the main line of Walker tombstones stretches from it in thegeneral direction of Candy Creek Road.
Facing the road, the next stone in this chain is that of William's wife,Mary.Off to the left are the graves of William's son William and Vilet,probably the younger William's wife.Immediately behind the visitor,another stone displays the year 1809, the name, A. Walker, and notes thathe died in the 36 year of his age, marking the final resting place of theelder William's son, Abram.There appears to be no grave here for theother son, Samuel Herron, although another tombstone, just beyond theyounger William's, bears evidence that a son of Samuel H. and Sarah Walkerdied in early childhood.This set makes up the William Walker familygrouping, separated by a fallen tree, from the James Walker family grouping.On one side of this trunk is the grave of William's wife Mary.On the otherside, is a tombstone which has the letters "J.W." as its only legible script.A few feet to the left of this stone is another with the lettering, “A. Walker.”Could they be the graves of James and his wife, Ann?This line oftombstones stretching off in the direction of the road also has the name ofJames' son William.Scattered about this side of the cemetery are thegraves of James’ sons Abram and John, and a number of William's and John'schildren.
William (1737 - 1800) and Mary (1746 - 1813) had 3 sons and 2daughters, born between 1767 and the late 1780’s.The most significantsource of information on William and his family comes from his will, whichwas composed just a day or two before his passing.His wife, Mary,was toinherit the western 200 acres of his plantation, his stock, furniture,farming implements and Neagroes, except for those designated for the otherchildren.The eastern 200 acres were for Abram, as well as half the farmtools, one bed and furniture and one cow.Additionally, he was to chooseone slave, either Dave or Milley.Samuel was to receive his mother'sportion of the property after her death; in the interim, his fatherbequeathed him "the other of my above-named Neagroes after Abram's choice,one sorrell colt, saddle and bridle, one cow and one bed and furniture."The will further specifies that Rachel and Mary should each inherit a horse,saddle and bridle, a bed and furniture, "twenty-five dollars worth offurniture suitable for housekeeping," and $30 cash.Mary was also toreceive a Negro child named Ann (one might speculate that she was thedaughter of Dave and Milley).William seemed unusually concerned about thelatter daughter and indicated that she should obtain her upkeep from hisestate while she remained single.The son William inherited $125 cash,perhaps an indication that he was already established with his own propertyand family.
It is not clear how numerous were the descendents of William and Mary Walker.Their son William had a son, also named William, born before 1800.Hisgrandfather left him a legacy of $30.A court record of 1836 suggests thatWilliam had at least one other son, Talmon, but there is little additionalinformation on him.Samuel, apparently married late in life, wed one SallySettle in 1817, as indicated in a Rockingham County marriage bond.Approximately a year later, a son was born to them; he is known only by hisinitials, W.W.The child died four years later.His tombstone at Haw RiverPresbyterian Church identifies his mother as Sarah, possibly her middle nameor her real first name.Samuel and Sally (Sarah) also begottwo sons wholived to adulthood.Josiah, born in 1819, married Zilpha A. Young in 1845.The 1850 Census shows that they already had two children.The other son ofSamuel Walker, James Madison Walker, wed Elizabeth Jane Young in 1844.Theyalready had one child by 1850.Both Josiah and James, along with theirmother, migrated to Tishomingo County, Mississippi, sometime after 1850.
James Walker and the Pennsylvania Connection
James (circa 1740 - 1803) and wife Ann (nee McClintock) raised 8 children,all born between 1766 and the early 1780’s.Like most landowners in theregion, farming provided the source of his income.James’ 1803 willestablishes the names of his children, and several Haw River tombstones canbe matched to them.Another invaluable source of information on JamesWalker and his family comes from the Walker-Waynick Papers, a privatecollection of letters and other documents preserved by a descendant of Jamesthrough his son, John.Copies are available from the North CarolinaDivision of Archives and History.Seven letters written between 1793 and1813 to James and Ann establish a solid connection between their family andCumberland County, Pennsylvania.The bulk of the letters, from Ann’sbrother, Daniel McClintock, and friends Jean and Daniel McDannell, allresidents of Pennsylvania, have to do with the estate of Ann’s brother,Alexander, who had died some time before 1797.Ann may well have beennamed as a legatee in Alexander’s will, and many of the letters appear tohave come in response to her queries about the disposition of the property.
The earliest letter is from James’ brother, John, who was living in DavidsonCounty, in the part of the Southwest Territory that later became Tennessee.At the time, Davidson County was a fairly extensive area that centered onpresent-day Nashville; it was divided into a number of smaller counties inthe early 19th Century.It is not certain where in that region John lived,and it would be unwise to assume that it was necessarily in the areaencompassed by the current county of the same name.The letter details John’sconversion of some gold and silver pieces at James’ request, although thereis no reference to the reason for this action.This short missive seems toindicate a certain closeness between the brothers -- it ends with aninvitation to James:“We are all well and Desire to be remembered to allFriends and should be glad, you would Step over the Hill and see us sometime.I am your Loving Brother, John and Ann Walker.”
That Alexander was James’ brother is clear from a deed James wrote on22 May 1803, the day after he composed his will.In it, James gave a49-acre plot of land to his nephew, James, son of his deceased brother,Alexander.Alexander had died some years earlier: a county court recordof November, 1794 confirms his death, the name of his wife and the names ofhis two sons.Alexander’s widow, Eliza (possibly Elizabeth), went to courtwith her son James to testify that her husband had died without a will.This brief entry in the court minutes indicates that Eliza gave the sum of500 pounds to her son William.There was nothing unusual about thisactivity:in that era, the family of a deceased landholder almost alwayslooked to the courts to settle the estate, whether or not that individualhad left a will.Typically, the widow, sometimes along with another person,was appointed administrator of the estate.What does seem odd was thatWilliam, who could not have been more than 10 or 12 years old, would havereceived anything.The fact that James was less than one year old wouldexplain why Eliza traveled to the court house in Wentworth with only theone child.One might speculate that William and any other children stayedwith friends or relatives.
Later, in 1835, both William E. and James would appeal to the court todivide the property of their father.That latter record would note thatthe father, Alexander, had died intestate, and that the sons, as his onlysurviving male heirs, were entitled by state law to divide up his estate onHogan’s Creek.What might explain the 41-year delay in the resolution ofthe matter?U.S. Census records of 1800, 1810 and 1820 show an ElizabethWalker as a head of household in Rockingham County.In the two latercensuses, her entry appears very close to the one for William E. Walker.In the 1830 Census, the entry for James Walker shows that one member of hishousehold was a woman in her 70's.If the Elizabeth Walker in the censusrecords were the mother of William and James, it would be reasonable toconclude that she, as the owner of the Hogans Creek tract, died in 1835.This event then prompted the brothers to take possession of the land.Furthermore, under this scenario, the brothers lived on and worked the landfor their mother (there were probably two houses) while she was living, andJames and his family cared for her in her last years.The census datawould lead to the conclusion that Eliza or Elizabeth Walker was bornbetween 1750 and 1755.
The Case For A Common Parentage
Although it is certain that at least three Walker pioneers -- James,Alexander and John -- were related, there is a body of evidence that wouldtend to include William (1737-1800) in this family.This evidence evensuggests the identity of the father.
The names of the three brothers match three sons named in the 1769 will of William Walker.If evidence were available to add the younger William as abrother, the probability that they were sons of the 1769 testator wouldincrease markedly.Only the son Abraham is unrepresented among them.Additionally, it is certain that the elder William lived in the areainhabited by the others, given the reference to a Hogan’s Creek property inhis will and his association with John Robertson.
The Walker-Waynick Papers add additional circumstantial evidence, sincethey establish a clear link between the three brothers and Pennsylvania.William Walker’s 1769 will also has a reference to Pennsylvania:“Item.I do give and bequeath to my well beloved son John Walker ten pounds heReceived in Pensalvania and Twenty pounds in North Carolina and whatCattel he Received.”Although it is true that many early settlers in theNorth Carolina Piedmont came from Pennsylvania, the reference in the willand James’ well-established link to that state are testimony to a probablefamily connection between the two men, when taken in the context of all theevidence.
The predominance of certain names in these families may point toward commonorigins.The names William, James, John, Alexander and Abraham or Abramappear in every generation for four generations or more.Although precisebirth order is not always easy to ascertain for the children of thepioneers, the available data suggest that the younger William, James andAlexander all chose the same name, William, for their first-born sons.Inso doing, they may have been following a Scottish custom where the firstson received the name of his paternal grandfather.In such a case, William,James and Alexander would each be the son of someone named William.
Migration drew many families away from Rockingham County in the yearsbefore, during and after the Civil War.The descendants of the Walker pioneerswere no different from any others in that respect.As populationsthickened in the regions stretching west to the Mississippi River, manywhose ancestors had come to North Carolina in the latter half of the 18thCentury set off for those areas in the 1850’s and 1860’s.Walkers moved asfar away as western Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi.This phenomenonmay turn out to be the explanation for the lack of data in North Carolinarecords about some children and grandchildren of the pioneers.One thingis certain:by the time of the U.S. Census in 1850, all the Walkerfamilies in Rockingham County were living in the southeastern quadrant ofthe county and they could virtually all trace their ancestry back to theoriginal three families.In the 18th Century, there were other Walkers whosettled in the north and center of Rockingham County, mainly along DanRiver and its tributaries.However, they apparently left no descendantsin the county with the Walker surname.
One mystery remains.Very few marriage records exist for the children ofthe Walker pioneers, particularly the men.A comprehensive search ofmarriage record databases for North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland hasturned up no information that can be associated with those individuals.Insome cases, the identification of a person as the wife of a Walker male isbased on the proximity of one grave marker to another.Such identificationswere made in particular for William Walker, son of William, William Walker,son of James, and John Walker, another son of James.No reason for thisinformation gap is known.
1 Butler, Lindley A., Our Proud Heritage:A Pictorial History ofRockingham County, N.C. (Basset, Virginia:The Basset Printing Corporation.c. 1971) pp. 6, 7.
2 Rankin, S.M., Rev., History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and herPeople (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone and Co.) p. 2.
3 “New Munster, the Nottingham Lots and the Welsh Tract,” local history webpage maintained at Cecil County (MD) Community College,http://clab.cecil.cc.md.us/ccps/jlemme/NewMuns.htm, Paragraphs 9 and 11.
4 Ibid, Paragraphs 3 and 4.
5 Ibid, Paragraph 13.Although West Nottingham Presbyterian Church is located inColora, Maryland, just a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border, early 18th Centurydocuments placed it in Pennsylvania.Its location in Maryland is the result ofthe Mason-Dixon border survey of 1763-1767.
6 History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and her People, p. 3.
7 Ibid, p. 5.
8 Our Proud Heritage, p. 7.
9 Ibid, p. 81.
10 Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy, Vol. XX, No. 2,December 1995, p. 51.
11 Guilford County, NC:Deed Book 2, p. 140, #333 and #369, bothdated 1 March 1780.
12 Ibid, p. 408, #886, 14 October 1783.
13 Letter from John and Ann Walker to James Walker, 22 July 1793, preservedin the “Walker-Waynick Papers,” a collection of documents related to Jamesand Ann Walker preserved by a descendant of James.A copy of the collectionis maintained under file number P.C. 1456.1 at the North Carolina Divisionof Archives and History.
14 Guilford County, NC:Deed Book 2, p. 140, #318, dated 1 March 1780.
15 Orange County, NC, Will Book A, p. 100.
16 Guilford County, NC:Deed Book 1.
17 Our Proud Heritage, p. 81.
18 Minute Docket, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rockingham County,NC, May 1835 to February 1840, p. 97 (February Term 1836).
19 Alcorn County Historical Association, The History of Alcorn County,Mississippi (Dallas, TX: National Share Graphics, Inc., c. 1983)pp. 579-581.
20 Deed Book O, Rockingham County, NC, #1781, pp. 176, 177.
21 Minute Docket, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rockingham County,NC, Book 2, p. 341 (November Term 1794).
22 Deed Book 2G, Rockingham County, NC, #5576, p. 167.
23 Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald, In search of Scottish ancestry,2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. c. 1984) pp. 71-80.