Elijah Vannoy was born in the extremely rugged backcountry of Wilkes County, during the Revolutionary War era, around the time that Tory’s were hung in Wilkesboro, behind the courthouse, on the infamous Tory Oak, also known as the Hanging Tree, the large tree shown here in a 1915 photo.
Wilkes County also decided in the 1900s that they didn’t need all of those musty old records taking up space, so they just burned some of them. If you just gasped and caught your breath in your throat….so did I.
Wilkes County is quite unique. Known as “The Moonshine Capital of the World,” it’s where NASCAR was born, out of moonshine running. If you’re getting the idea that Wilkes County is kind of wild, perhaps a little unsettled and a bit nonconformist…well…it is. They did and do walk to the beat of their own drummer there. Strong, tough, proud people. Survivors, all, with a mind of their own..
Wilkes County is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway transects the county. It’s unbelievably beautiful county, and extremely remote, even today. The people are still very clannish, exceedingly loyal, mostly religious, and Baptist. There are more churches in Wilkes County, per capita, than anyplace else in the US. That means there are more preachers there than anyplace else too, although many are volunteer. It’s an extremely unique place that truly defies description. The citizens, a study in opposites and conflicting idealogy.
One thing, however, is beyond question. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The area where the Vannoys lived in Wilkes County is so remote that even I wouldn’t drive there…in my Jeep. The local guys told me not to go there, because it was dirt one track road, hanging on the edge of a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other…and if you meet another vehicle, someone gets to back up. The local guys won’t even drive that road. So, I decided unless I wanted to meet my ancestors sooner than later…I’d just pass on that level of adventure. This is the first and only time I’ve ever declined the opportunity to visit where my ancestors lived, although I was told they lived close to the intersection where I was parked. If they are like the rest of my family, they found the deepest, darkest, most remote, hardest to reach location possible, and settled there – happy as a clam.
This is the place – Vannoy Road. I’m sitting at the intersection of Vannoy and Buckwheat Road.
Today, it’s still dense with vegetation and humidity.
Vannoy Road follows the North Fork of the Reddies River from where it is born near the post office at McGrady, NC near the top of the mountain range, to where Vannoy Road joins with Old North Carolina 16 just a couple miles north of New Hope Baptist Church.
Road 1567, one of the spurs of Vannoy Road, as well as Old North Carolina 16 and Carolina 18 reach on up just a couple of miles to intersect with the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Wilkes and Ashe County. On the map below, Vannoy Road is marked with the red balloon, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the green line above that travels left to right, and Miller’s Creek, to the south, is where the New Hope Baptist Church is located.
It’s the section from where 1501 (Vannoy Road) and 1575 (Buckwheat Road) separate to Sparta Road that the locals won’t drive. I looked at this up close with satellite, and I see why. Very rough switchbacks. It’s not a short distance either. It looks to be maybe 8 miles or so. My poor husband would have been clinging to the door and the roll bars for his very life.
There Were Four Brothers
Oh, yes, and did I mention Elijah was born to parents who did not have a will or a Bible, or at least not that we’ve ever found. Nor an estate.
For many, many years, we didn’t know who Elijah’s parents were, but we knew they had to be one of four Vannoy men living in Wilkes County, all brothers, at that time. Elijah was born around 1784, we think.
Two of the four brothers were eliminated, after much grief and aggravation.
I thought sure I had nailed who Elijah’s father was when I discovered on a Wilkes County tax list that Nathaniel Vannoy lived beside Lois McNeil’s (or NcNiel) father. Lois, of course, was Elijah’s eventual wife. I decided at that point to really focus on Nathaniel…and that’s when I found it. Nathaniel, has an extant Bible record and one just does not forget to enter their child’s birth in the Bible. I even went to Greenville, South Carolina, where Nathaniel died to see if there were any deeds, wills, estate papers, inventories….anything at all to tie into Elijah Vannoy. There was nothing relevant…except for that Bible record. Rats. Foiled again.
And then there was the brother, Andrew Vannoy, who had another son, Andrew, who was born in 1784. But Andrew (Sr.) he also had a “spare slot” in the 1790 census for a son not otherwise known, in this age bracket, so Andrew could have been Elijah’s father. He was my next choice.
We are extremely fortunate to have the Wilkes County tax lists available, along with the 1790 and 1800 census. Between these documents, we can bracket the ages of children, plus we can assign known children to “slots.”
A third brother, Francis Vannoy was considered to be our best possibility for a while, in part because he moved to Barbourville, KY in 1812, about 60 miles up the road from where Elijah Vannoy settled in Claiborne County. However, a few years ago, I made contact with a descendant of Francis who had documented Francis’s children quite well, and not only wasn’t he a good fit, Francis already had every spare Vannoy child in Wilkes County given to him, in part, because he had at least 19 children, some say 22 children, and either 2 or 3 wives, or perhaps more. Francis was difficult to eliminate, but also impossible to confirm. He did have an estate and no place is Elijah mentioned. Although that doesn’t necessarily prove anything.
That left the fourth brother, Daniel Vannoy. Daniel was the youngest, quiet son. He moved to what is now Ashe County, which fits in with the oral history of Elijah’s people being from “over yonder” and a hand-wave towards Ashe County. They weren’t “from here” in Wilkes, according to the old people.
Unlike his brothers, Daniel never applied for land grants. He only had two proven children, one of which was known as “Sheriff Joel.” Elijah named one of his sons, also my ancestor, Joel. Daniel’s son, Joel, is the only Vannoy to name a son Elijah. Daniel disappears before 1819, and his widow may have moved back into Wilkes County, among the Vannoy clan, if she was still living.
Unfortunately, Elijah didn’t name any of his sons for any of these men…or at least not sons that survived. They may well be buried in that lost cemetery with Elijah and Lois.
The men’s wives names were Susannah, Millicent, Elizabeth and Sarah. Now, if a Millicent turned up, that would be really telling, because it is such an unusual name. No such luck. The rest are common but there is no Susannah. There is both an Elizabeth and a Sarah, but those names are so common that it’s very dangerous to draw any conclusions or even inferences due to the naming pattern.
Because Elijah’s father was so difficult for us to identify, we began to wonder if Elijah was illegitimate, belonging to a female Vannoy who had never married and had given her child her surname. Yes, you could say we were desperate. I even went to the North Carolina state archives in search of bastardry bonds, to no avail.
From Elijah’s birth to 1807 when he married is pretty much just a hazy cloud, lost to the mists of the mountains. We know he grew up in that vicinity, because he married in Wilkes County in 1807.
The earliest record of Elijah Vannoy is an 1807 entry in the Wilkes County, North Carolina Deed Book G-H (yes, deed book, but I don’t know why). He married Lois McNeil (daughter of William McNeil and Elizabeth Shepherd) sometime before 1810 and he is listed in the Wilkes County, NC 1810 Federal Census with his wife and one female child under 10 which was probably Permelia, born in February of 1810. He is listed as age 16-26, which would put his birth between 1784-1794. The three years between his marriage and the birth of Permelia may imply that they lost their first child.
Knowing that Elijah married in 1807 and had a child by 1810, we know that he wasn’t age 16, and that 26 is probably much closer to reality, so that is the year we’ve used for his birth. He could have been a couple of years younger.
In Wilkes Co., NC, December 31, 1810, William McNeil deeded 150 acres of land to Elijah Vannoy. This land was in the New Hope section of Lewis Fork Creek. Happy New Year, Elijah!!!
This conveyance of land suggests that the migration to Tennessee hadn’t been planned for a long time in advance.
Bedford County, Tennessee
Sometime in 1811 or 1812, the McNeil and Vannoy families migrated from Wilkes Co. to Claiborne Co., TN.
Elijah left Wilkes County, NC after 1811 with the McNeil family. An Elijah Vannoy is listed in the Bedford County, Tennessee 1812 Tax List, along with a Joel Vannoy, possibly his brother. Some family researchers are adamant that the Joel Vannoy who would be Elijah’s brother stayed right in Wilkes County where he was sheriff. Regardless, here is Elijah in Bedford County, TN with some Joel Vannoy. Clearly, there is some connection. There are no McNiels, by any spelling, on that Bedford County tax list. Did someone get lost???
Cemetery listings for Bedford County, Tennessee include Andrew Vannoy, born in 1783, who just happens to be the son of Nathaniel Vannoy, one of the Wilkes County Vannoy brothers. Andrew’s brother, Joel, born in 1777, apparently lived in Bedford County for some time before moving on to Henderson County, Tennessee.
Ironically, guess what river just happens to run directly through Bedford County. The Duck River. Why is this important? Because one of Elijah’s daughters, “Aunt Lou” said the family came to Claiborne via the Duck River, although that made no sense at the time to her niece who conveyed the story Aunt Lou told, or to me, since the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County, nor is it in-between Claiborne and Wilkes County, NC.
There is no good way to get from Shelbyville, the county seat of Bedford County, in south central Tennessee to north of Sneedville where Elijah settled, either. It’s also a 250 mile journey, or about a month in a wagon. And of course this begs questions of why they followed the Duck River in the first place, if in fact they did.
More questions and no answers.
I checked on www.fold.com for War of 1812 service records for Elijah Vannoy. There were none. However, there is a Wilkes County War of 1812 record for Joel Vannoy, along with an Andrew Vannoy. This Joel could be Elijah’s brother. Joel’s entire file has not yet been microfilmed and indexed, so patience is in order, and maybe another donation to www.preservethepensions.org.
Claiborne County, Tennessee – The Land of…Land
The first actual record we have of Elijah in Claiborne County was found in the Josiah Ramsey papers. Josiah was a Justice of the Peace, and he apparently kept a lot of original papers.
“One day after date I promis to pay on (or) cause to be paid to David Pugh or his assigns nine dollars—cents it being for value received of him this 8 March Day of 1817
Isham X Whealous (his mark)”
The question is whether or not Elijah signed that document too, or if the only original signature is Isham’s. I’m hoping that the owner can find the original and will scan it to me.
The next records of Elijah are found in Claiborne County, Tennessee beginning in the 1812 – 1814 Court Minutes on page 39 where he was sued by one Thomas Steward, but the case was dismissed.
In 1818, the May court session, Elisha Venoy (sic) was assigned to a road crew.
In 1820, Elijah was called to be a juror, but this is the only instance I can find. Not all court minutes are extant.
This begs the question of why Elijah was never called again, nor assigned to another road crew. Other men were repeatedly in the court minutes for these activities.
The 1820 census for Claiborne County doesn’t exist, but in 1830 we find Elijah with his wife and 3 male and 6 female children.
In 1825, Elijah Vannoy filed for a land grant of 100 acres, described as adjoining Rheas and Robert Mann, including “said Venoy’s improvements where he lives on the waters of the north side of Mulberry Creek.” This survey was made on August 25, 1826 and recorded on September 2, 1829. It also tells us where he lives, and that he has been living there and built a house.
Elijah records another survey as well, on January 20, 1830. The land grant was filed almost exactly a year earlier, on January 16, 1829, and it’s not exactly what you would call a square piece of land.
The surveyor states that the land adjoins that of John Rheas on Wallen’s Ridge, references Cole’s Corner, and is for 125 acres. William Vannoy and Charles Baker are the chain carriers. This survey was made on July 25, 1829 and was recorded on January 20, 1830. I can’t imagine that this would have been fun in the stifling heat and the heavy forest overgrowth in July in Tennessee, not to mention the insects.
At this point, Elijah has a total of 225 acres.
As luck would have it, sealing the fact that this was indeed, Elijah’s land, when cousin Dan located the land, several years ago, he approached the property owner…who produced the actual land grant to Elijah Vannoy.
This document was more than 175 years old and was issued to Elijah when he acquired the property. It’s amazing to see the actual document that Elijah would have owned, would have held, and obviously coveted enough to keep it safe and pass it on.
In 1833, Elijah’s son, Joel would also file a land grant for 100 acres and his land would abut Elijah’s land, that of John Rhea and John Taylor. It was also on Mulberry Creek.
This is not a trivial amount of land. Between Elijah and Joel, assuming they didn’t own land we don’t know about, they owned 325 acres, which is about half of a square mile. That means it would be a mile long and half a mile wide, or three quarters by three quarters. From the looks of these surveys, the only thing we can discern for sure is that they weren’t square and the location where the creek exited Elijah’s land, which is how Dan located the land about 10 years ago. Looking at the map, if the land were square, it would be almost the entire section of land from where Mulberry Creek crosses under Mulberry Gap Road, to both legs of Rebel Hollow Road.
Elijah’s land via satellite. Isn’t technology wonderful!
Here is a closeup of the land we know is Elijah’s. Note the house with the bridge is at the bottom of the picture. Someplace on this land is a cave where Joel’s family hid food, livestock and themselves during the Civil War…and someplace on this land is a cemetery. But where?
On the 1836 tax list for Claiborne County, “Elijah Vonay” is listed on a list that appears to be in perhaps processioning order.” Here are the entries a few in each direction, which would be neighbors.
- George McNiel (Elijah’s wife’s brother)
- Isiah Ramsey
- Joseph Ramsey
- James Ramsey
- David Ramsey
- Davis Hamlin
- Daniel Colley
- Robert Mann
- Joseph Mahan
- Sampson Mahan
- Edward McColough
- Elijah Vonay
- Brail Cole
- Arthur Edwards
- Joshua Edwards
- Owen Edwards
- John Edwards
- Nathan Lawson
- William Lawson
- Abner Hatfield
- Henry Hatfield
- Moses Hatfield
- Jonathan Light
- Joseph Wheeler
- Daniel Rice
- William Baker
- John Baker
- Thomas King
- Henry Baker
- Henry Sumpter
- Foster Jones
- John Chapman
- William Simpter
- Edward Walker (Elijah’s wife’s sister’s future husband)
The 1839 tax list is in alpha order and shows both Joel and Elijah, Jr., but not Elijah Sr.
By 1840, Elijah had lost his wife, but he is still raising children and had one male, 20-30, which would be Joel who had not yet married, a female age 15-20 who probably did the cooking and cleaning and looking after the other two female children, age 10-15. When Elijah’s son, Joel married in 1845, it could have been a catastrophe for Elijah, but since Joel owned the adjacent land, it was easy just to build a cabin next door and for the two men to continue to work side by side. It is rumored that Joel wound up with Elijah’s land, but not for long, as we’ll soon see.
It seems that in 1841, Elijah ran into some legal problems. On June 22, 1841, Elijah Venoy signs a deed of trust to J. H. Chapman in front of John and James McNeil.
I have this day sold and do hereby convey to J. H. Chapman for the sum of $30 to me paid, my wagon and two yoke of oxen they being the only oxen and wagon I have but this deed is made for the following uses and trust and for no other purpose that is to say whereas John Hill became security for a stay of execution on a judgment obtained against Elijah Vannoy Senior and Joel Vannoy before Benjamin Sewell Esqr for about $28 and am desirous to secure and make sure the payment of same now if I should pay the said debt and satisfy said judgment or execution then this deed to be void but if not the wagon and team to be sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder with 20 days notice. Elijah signs and William McNiel, John McNiel and Reuben Harper witness.
In 1841, Elijah sells land to Walter Evans, book P-259, for $5. On September 21st, 1841, both Elijah and Joel Vanoy sign a deed of trust to Walter Evans for Elijah’s land , the 100 acres granted by the state to Elijah Vannoy Sr grant 16456, Maun’s chestnut, Rhes line…because Elija Venoy is indebted to William Houston merchant in Tazewell for the sum of $33 and 8 cents by note with interest due and also indebted to William Fugate for $62.50. If Elijah fails to make the payments, Walter Evans to sell the land on the courthouse steps in Tazewell. Signed by Joel, Elijah his mark
He also sells land that year to William Cole, book S-390, for $50.
Apparently, Elijah and Joel do lose their land.
In 1845, E and J Vannoy sell land to William L. Overton, book S 638, for $250.
May 18, 1846 – Claiborne County deed – Elijah and Joel Vanoy, 100 acres to William J. Overton. William Fugate and James Overton appear before the court and state that they are personally acquainted with both Joel and Elijah.
Deed – October 3, 1845, deed between Elijah Vannoy of Hawkins County and Joel Vanoy of Claiborne to William Overton, for $250, a tract of land of 100 acres granted by the state of Tennessee ot Elijah Vannoy Senr No 16456, Rheas line, Overton’s line. Elijah Vanoy signs with his mark, Joel signs with a signature, witnessed by William Fugate, Muhlenburg Overton and James Overton.
So, as an old man, Elijah lost his land. It does appear that it was forestalled for 5 or 6 years, but he lost it just the same and judging from the 1850 census, went to live with his daughter, Sarah.
Claiborne County Becomes Hancock County, Tennessee
In 1845, the part of Claiborne where Elijah lived became Hancock County.
That’s also when the records for Elisha stop too, except for the census, because the Hancock County courthouse burned, more than once.
Elijah is listed in the 1850 Hancock County, Tennessee census, living with his daughter and her husband, although his age is in question. Age 76 would put his birth in 1774 which is about 10 years earlier than we had thought and was indicated by the 1810 census. However, this does still fit into the 1790 census categories for the children of the 4 Vannoy brothers. The 1850 and the 1810 censuses are the only direct evidence we have of Elijah’s birth year. However, the 1850 census number puts his birth a full 5 years before the marriage of the two best candidates for his parents. Maddening. I tend to put more credibility in the earlier census than the latter, especially since in 1850 he was living in someone else’s household…so who knows who provided the information to the census taker.
From the census records, we can tell that Elijah can read and write. Unfortunately, we don’t have his signature.
Elijah died after 1850 and before 1860. We don’t know when he died, exactly, nor where he is buried, although my best bet would be someplace on his or Joel’s land in a lost cemetery.
Visiting Elijah’s Land
So, where, exactly, is Elijah Vannoy’s land? The entrance to Elijah’s land is at the little balloon on the map below. Come along, let’s take a closer look!
On the map above, Elijah’s land is located North of the little white balloon which marks the entrance to his land on Mulberry Gap Road, which is also called Brown Town Road, just southwest of the intersection with Rebel Hollow Road. Rebel Hollow is where several murders took place during the Civil War. Depending on the version of the story you hear, either Rebels lived there and hung a group of northern soldiers, or a group of Rebels were cornered there with no place to go, and they were hung. Regardless of who, someone was hung, and the locals tell us that some of those ghosts reportedly haunt Rebel Holler today.
In case you were wondering, Joel, Elijah’s son, was a southern sympathizer, although this area was badly torn.
The entrance to the Vannoy land looked at once inviting and forbidding. It looked like it led back into a secret, forbidden forest. Maybe that’s part of why Elijah selected this location – it felt safe if he ever had to defend it.
The land here is rocky, at best. It would be almost impossible to plow, so the best one could hope for, I think is clearing the land for grass and grazing.
Did I mention, it’s also quite steep?
This barn may have been on Elijah’s property and is right up against the road because Mulberry Creek is right up against the barn. You can’t see it in this picture, but it literally runs right beside this barn.
Is this not an idyllic picture? Mulberry Creek, the barn beside the road, the bridge, the house, and across the road behind the barn, the Vannoy land – those tall hills and forest.
The Vannoy family would be grateful for the shelter that this land would provide them, with its caverns and caves and mountainous outcrops during the Civil war – but that would be a decade after Elijah was buried, probably someplace on this land.
The far side of the road looks like the absolutely perfect American country scene, straight out of an Americana magazine. It could be a painting, but it isn’t…it’s real.
This is on the flat side of the creek. According to his original land grant, Elijah owned land on the north side of the creek, which was the hilly side. This flat land was apparently owned by someone else.
Later, the Ramsey family would own this land, including the house with the bridge, but we don’t know how that chain of ownership happened.
Elijah’s land is located directly across the road from this house with the bridge.
Entering the sheltering arms of Elijah and Joel’s land feels incredibly safe, unspoiled, embracing and like taking a step back in time to when Elijah first set foot here, before it was tamed, or as tamed as it would ever be, before it was settled, before any homesteader owned this land.
It was entirely peaceful here, quiet, serene, except for the laughing bubble of the brook and the birds chirping. How could one not love this land?
This spring nurtured Elijah and Lois, their children and grandchildren, for at least 30, if not 40 or more years.
Ironically, it was this very spring that reached across time and beckoned cousin Dan, a decade ago, when he was searching for Elijah’s land. Dan said:
“There is a small stream that comes out of the hollow and flows into Mulberry Creek. This is what helped me find the property. I noticed a stream that started as a spring located on the drawing for the land survey.”
As we moved deeper onto Elijah’s land, the mountainside forest gave way to a clearing as well, but completely surrounded by mountains, in a private valley, known here as a holler – entirely separated from humanity. Just you, Mother Nature and the spirit of Elijah.
In the photo below you follow the spring up into Elisha’s land, into the open area, looking northwest, land which he assuredly cleared, himself, one tree at a time, with an ax.
On the other side of the trail onto the land, we saw the hillside, likely where the cave was where the family hid their belongings during the Civil War. This land is nothing if it isn’t rugged.
In some places, the rocks aren’t so evident, but the land is still unrelenting. It’s no wonder Elijah needed 225 acres to eke out a living here.
As we left, I looked across the road at a small patch of land and couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the cemetery. Maybe my imagination has just run away with me. I just know that both Elijah and Lois are buried here someplace. There was no place other than your own family cemeteries to be buried at that time – and every family had one.
Elijah’s daughter, Lucinda Vannoy Campbell’s memories are recanted in the following excerpts from a letter written probably in the 1950s by her niece, Essie Bolton Marsee (oldest child of Dan Bolton and Pearlie E. Vannoy), as she talks about her “Aunt Lou”.
“I shall try to write down some of the memorys as told to me by Aunt Lou Vannoy Campbell when I was a little girl. Aunt Lou was the sister of my great-grandfather Joel Vannoy. She was an older sister, became an old maid school teacher and in later life married a former sweetheart who had been married before. They waited until they were older because they were some kind of cousins.
She lived in Rutledge and my mother, Pearlie Vannoy Bolton was staying with her when she got married to Dan Bolton. She had a small confederate pension which helped her out.
She said the Vannoys left North Carolina on a flat boat and sailed down the coast and around Florida. She mentioned being on the Duck River, but I never understood how they got from the Duck River to above Sneedville where they finally settled. They were two years on the trip and great grandfather Joel was born during this time, in 1812.
After they had been over here for some time, they learned that the governor of NC freed the slaves and since they had left some slaves in NC, Aunt Lou went back to see if she could collect for the slaves as the governor was paying something to the owners for the freed slaves. She didn’t collect anything.
Over 40 years ago, some of us went to Sneedville to see where the people had lived. We found a native who knew where the place was and took a picnic lunch and ate at the site of the old home.
The house was mostly gone, but there were shade trees and some flowers growing. We saw the cave where the family hid their valuables and food such as hams when the soldiers were foraging. Great grandfather was a Southern sympathizer and wasn’t bothered too much by the Confederates, but they always hid everything of value when there were soldiers around. Grandfather, James H. Vannoy, was 10 years old during the civil war. (James Hurvey Vannoy with sister Nancy Vannoy Venable at the Vannoy homeplace, below.)
The family later moved down to Claiborne County on Sycamore Creek and lived in the house where Bill Brocks now lives in the Pleasant View Community. I remember hearing grandfather talk about playing with Lark McNeil. The Vannoys, McNeils and Venables seem to have known each other for a long time and they seem to have been relatives of some kind. I have always heard them speak of Uncle John McNeil. Grandpa Vannoy’s grandmother was a McNeil. The Vannoys and Venables have always been close and have intermarried considerable.
We have been a very lucky family. We are fortunate in the heritage handed down from our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. They seem to have been descended from Scotch-Irish and Dutch. They were very strict Protestants and brought up their children in the fear of the Lord. In general, we have all had good health and there have been no criminals or outlaws in the family as far back and I can find out. So thank God for our family history.”
I find that story about traveling on a flatboat around Florida kind of amazing, in a sort of tall-tale way – but even that seems such a stretch for a tall tale. I decided to look at the waterways from Wilkes County to Duck Creek. In essence, you can’t get there from here. There is no direct connection between the two. The waterways out of Wilkes County flow to the south and east, not to the north and west, across the mountain ranges.
As it turns out, the Yadkin River which drains all of Wilkes County is in the PeeDee River watershed, and if you follow the rivers all the way to the end, you exit this group of rivers in South Carolina at Winyaw Bay.
If indeed you were going to sail around to say, the Mississippi, to head back north, you would have to go around Florida.
My research on flatboats turned up a couple of interesting things. First, flatboats floated downstream, they did not go upstream, although they could be pushed for some distance by poles. Going upstream was a function of steamboats.
Flatboats weren’t small, typically about 16 feet wide by about 55 feet long, and they held the family, their worldly goods and even their livestock. Think of them as floating covered wagons.
People on flatboats apparently didn’t travel alone either. Take a look at this description of flatboat life from the Steamboat Times.
The settlers’ boat, navigated ever further down the eastern tributaries of the Mississippi in search of new land, was filled with household goods and farm stock. Such boats were a menagerie of cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, and poultry, while on the roof of the cabin that housed the family could be seen looms, ploughs, spinning-wheels, and other domestic implements. Sometimes several families would combine to build one ark.
Methodist Circuit Rider Timothy Flint recalled that it was “no uncommon spectacle to see a large family, old and young, servants, cattle, hogs [on flatboats] … bringing to recollection the cargo of the ancient ark.” Often, when they chose a place to stop, they would re-use the flatboat’s lumber when building a cabin. As these settlements multiplied, with increasing emigration to the West and southwest, river life became full of variety. In some years more than a thousand boats passed Marietta. Several boats would lash together and make the voyage to New Orleans, sometimes navigating months in company. There would be songs and dances; the notes of the violin ~ an almost universal instrument among the flatboatmen ~ sounded across the waters by night to the lonely cabins on the shores, and the settlers would sometimes put off in their skiffs to meet the unknown voyagers, ask for the news from the east, and share in their revels.
The era of the steamboat did not begin until 1811, and indeed, if Elijah and his family did take a steamboat from New Orleans north, you’d think the family would talk about that and not the flatboat since the steamboat would have been a brand new adventure. Not to mention, they could have taken the flatboat to the Atlantic, but a flatboat simply is not going to work in the sea, so they would have had to switch to a different vessel at that point.
On the other end of the journey, the Duck River empties into the Buffalo which empties into the Ohio just above its convergence with the Mississippi. The Duck River is not navigable along its entire length due to water falls.
It certainly would be possible to make this journey, but it would seem to be the very long way around, especially if you could just have hitched up the wagon and gone overland for all of about 160 miles. Granted, there were mountains in the way.
On the map above, the blue line connects Wilkesboro in Wilkes Co., NC, to Sneedville, TN in Hancock County. Of course, that would be a wagon route, not a boat route. The rest of the map brackets the alternative, around Florida, route.
Or, did the family simply go on a great adventure for 2 years? Keep in mind, this was also in the middle of a war. The War of 1812 was being fought on several fronts, one of which was the New Orleans area, where the Mississippi meets with the Gulf of Mexico.
This trip sounds terribly impractical, on several fronts. To make this trip, they would have had to switch from flatboat to ocean-going boat in Winyaw Bay, from ocean-going boat to steamer in New Orleans, and then to horse and wagon to cross overland from the Mississippi (or Ohio) into Rutledge County, Tennessee. I’m left with the final question of why? Why would they want to do this? However, it does make a great story….AND….we do find Elijah in Bedford County. So, he did indeed get there somehow. Someplace in this story is a grain, or perhaps more, of truth.
Another thing we don’t know about Elijah is his religion. We know that the Vannoy family, as well as his wife’s family, the McNiel’s, were staunch Baptists in Wilkes County. It stands to reason that they would join the Baptist Church in Claiborne County after they moved, but we find no trace of that in the records of the churches that existed at that time. Rob Camp, an offshoot of Thompson Settlement, would have been the closest, and there are no Vannoys in the early minutes there. Next, Mulberry Gap was established in 1829. The church minutes don’t begin until the purchase of a new minute book in 1852, but there are no Vannoys there either.
Did Elijah simply decide that attending church was too difficult or too far away? Was he alienated for some reason? It was definitely quite a distance to Rob Camp – about six miles and you had to ford the Powell River. In late summer you could do that. I forded it in August in my Jeep. Thankfully I had the Jeep, because a bull was chasing me. In the spring or the winter, no chance of fording Powell River, with or without the bull for motivation.
So, let’s end where we began. With questions.
Who’s Your Daddy???
Who were Elijah’s parents? Unfortunately, utilizing the available records and information of the 4 Vannoy men who were brothers and of child-rearing age in Wilkes County during the timeframe in which Elijah would have been born, there is no clear-cut winner. Now, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear and it certainly is not what I wanted to hear either.
The first thing we did when Y DNA testing became available was to quickly recruit Vannoy males to test. In particular we wanted to do two things. First, to establish what the haplotype of the ancestral “Vannoy” Y DNA looked like, and second, to see if Elijah matched that DNA pattern.
In order to establish what the Vannoy Y DNA signature looked like, we had to test people who were not descended from the Elijah line. Thankfully, there were several genealogy buffs who were anxious to test. We quickly established the Vannoy signature. You can see the Vannoy males in the Vannoy DNA Project at Family Tree DNA today.
By looking at the most commonly found value at each marker, we established what our Vannoy ancestor’s Y DNA would have looked like.
Next, we tested men from Elijah’s line. To begin with they should all match each other, and they should also match the Vannoy Y DNA signature, assuming that Elijah was fathered by a male Vannoy. If Elijah was fathered by an unknown individual, and took the Vannoy surname through his mother, then he would carry the Vannoy surname, but the Y DNA of his unknown father.
The wait was intense. Every day I watched for results. A few weeks can seem interminable.
And finally, the day came. It was heralded by an announcement to me, as the project administrator, that one of our Vannoy DNA men had a match…and a few minutes later, the e-mail saying Elijah’s descendant’s test was ready arrived too. Putting two and two together, I knew before I even looked.
Indeed Elijah’s Y DNA did match the Vannoy males. That was one very big “what if” removed from the list of possibilities. Now we could concentrate on solving the next question. Which one of the four brothers really was the father? Will Elijah’s real father please stand up?
More trips to North Carolina ensued. I decided that perhaps the key might be in the wife’s family lines and records, so I set out to see. Elijah’s four parent possibilities were:
- Andrew Vannoy born 1742 and Susannah Shepherd
- Francis Vannoy born 1746 and Millicent Henderson
- Nathaniel Vannoy born 1750 and Elizabeth Ann Ray
- Daniel Vannoy born 1752 and Sarah Hickerson
Fortunately, we also know the parents’ names of the wives. Unfortunately, nothing emerged that would concretely either confirm or eliminate them as possibilities.
This research languished, er…., I mean, ripened. Yea, it was ripening…that was it. The truth was, I just didn’t know where else to look, so it went on the back burner while other things took precedence. I had done all I knew to do. I had visited the courthouse, the library, the genealogy society, the local university and the State Archives. I purchased every book I could get my hands on and all back issues of the genealogy society newsletters. I was out, flat out, of resources.
Autosomal DNA Saves the Day
Then, one day it happened. It was just a glimpse, a flash in the pan, but it was enough. After AncestryDNA reentered the DNA testing arena with their autosomal DNA test, they began creating Circles. A DNA Circle is a group of people who match at least one other person in the group, and who share a common ancestor in the tree. So, if there are 10 people in the circle, you may match 3 of them, but those 3 may match you and others among the 10. All 10 match someone in the group and all share the same ancestors, at least per their family trees.
Which ancestors, you ask??
Why, Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.
Glory, glory hallejuah. Oh, I can hear the chorus now!!!
But, the Circle was gone shortly. Disappeared. Poof! Ancestry does this, here today, gone tomorrow. But, it was long enough for me to see the circle and realize there is a genetic connection.
One thing led to another. There is more than one way to solve a problem. I turned to Family Tree DNA where one has the ability to search and to compare your results with others using a chromosome browser. I was able to connect with several people who descend from the parents of Sarah Hickerson, Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. I wrote about this experience, from the DNA aspect, in nauseating detail, here, and here, and the sheer joy and beauty of finding Bill, my new Hickerson cousin, here. It was the best Christmas present a genealogist could ask for. Elijah’s descendants match several people who descend from Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson. It’s amazing what DNA can do, and that their DNA in us is enough to make that connection today. Of course, it took several descendants of both Charles and Mary, and Elijah, to provide enough information to be relatively conclusive. Were it not for the many cousins who have tested, I wouldn’t have enough confidence in the rather small matching segments of any one set of matchers to call this a match.
We believe we have identified Elijah’s parents – something we never, ever thought would happen. We now know why Elijah named a son Joel – it was his brother’s name.
Elijah probably left Wilkes County before his parents passed away, but not long before. Records are very sketchy, but it appears that his father, Daniel, died before 1819 and his mother died sometime after 1810, possibly outliving his father, and possibly not. Of course, Elijah would have been notified by letter, and he would never be able to get home in time for the funeral. It’s about 160 miles from Sneedville to Wilkesboro, NC. An easy one day drive today, even through the mountains…not so then.
Neither Elijah’s father, nor mother, died with a will. The Ashe County courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1865, but many records survived. Wills begin in 1799, but Daniel Vannoy’s is not among them. Nor is a will found for Daniel or his wife in Wilkes County.
If Elijah died with a will, it burned in the Hancock County courthouse, so we’ll never know what it said. One thing we do know. His heirs didn’t fight enough to file a chancery suit, because those still exist. Somehow, chancery suits escaped both fires. What I wouldn’t give for a nice, juicy, long, drawn-out lawsuit with lots of depositions!
Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel’s well-behaved non-litigious children were:
- Permelia “Pearlie” Vannoy, born February 21,1810 in Wilkes County, married in 1838 to John Baker and died February 5, 1900 near Springdale, Washington County, Arkansas. There were several families from this area who settled in and near Springdale, including some of the Claxton family and my grandparents in the 1890s who would have been Permelia’s great-great-nephew.
- Joel Vannoy born May 8, 1813, married in 1845 in Claiborne County to Phebe Crumley, died January 8, 1895 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, Claiborne County, TN, just a few miles from the home place where he and his father patented land.
- William Vannoy was born about 1816, married Harriett McClary and died in 1839, before Elijah.
- Elizabeth Vannoy born 1817, married about 1858 to Elisha Bishop, died after 1880.
- Elijah Vannoy (Jr.) born 1818, married about 1841 to Mary “Polly” Frost, who died about 1855. He then married Isabella Holland. At some point after 1880, they also moved to Springdale, Arkansas. In 1895, he is living in Goshen Township where he executes a deed. Elijah is reportedly buried in the S. Bethel Cemetery in Bragg, Oklahoma in what was then Indian Territory. Several Vannoy descendants are reported to have gone to a place named “Baggs” in Indian Territory.
- Nancy Vannoy was born June 19, 1820 and married George Loughmiller about 1839. In the 1850 census, they live beside sister Sarah and Joseph Adams. Nancy died April 29, 1896 in Washington County, Arkansas, near Springdale and is buried in Friendship Cemetery, Springdale, Arkansas.
- Sarah Vannoy born October 17, 1821, married in 1841 to Joseph Adams in Claiborne Co., TN. Her father, Elijah, was living with them in the 1850 census. Her husband, Joseph, was the Hancock County register of deeds. Sarah died October 14, 1892 and is buried in the Fritts Cemetery, Madison County, Arkansas.
- Angelina Vannoy born about 1825, married in 1849 in Claiborne County to Sterling Nunn. Angeline died before Elijah, sometime before October 1850.
- Lucinda J. Vannoy was born March 15, 1828. On July 6, 1886, she was married to her cousin, Col. Joseph Campbell in Barry, Missouri where he is listed as being from Sneedville and she is listed as being from Madison County, Arkansas. She apparently moved back to Tennessee, as in the 1900 census, they are living in Grainger County. She died on April 2, 1919 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, in Claiborne County, near her brother, Joel Vannoy. She was reported to have moved to Arkansas about 1890 with “Pearlie,” but apparently they left a few years earlier. I surely wonder why Lucinda and Joseph were married in Missouri, where neither of them lived, of all places. Lucinda was an “old maid school teacher” who did not marry Joseph, her childhood sweetheart, until after he was widowed because they were cousins. His mother was Nancy McNiel, Lucinda’s mother’s sister. They had no children.
Lucinda was a woman before her time. She had a marriage contract with Joseph Campbell, although it was signed in Arkansas more than a year after they had married. I’m sure there is more to this story, and I’d love to hear it!
In addition to the above listed children, and based on the census and other information relative to the birth years of Elijah’s and Lois’s children, it would appear that they may have lost 4 children, one before 1810, one between 1810 and 1813, one between 1821 and 1825 and one between 1825 and 1828.
We have a few facts about Elijah’s life, and a lot more questions than answers. We believe we have identified his parents, but I’d still like a slam dunk unquestionable confirmation. We have a great Duck River story, but we don’t know if it’s true. Personally, I really like that story and I’d like to know more. It surely came from someplace, but where, and why, and is there truth in the story?
We know for sure that Elijah married Lois McNiel, that her father deeded Elijah land, and that after moving to Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN, Elijah obtained two land grants. Thanks to those grants, we know where he lived. We know from census and family records who his children were, but we don’t know where he and Lois were buried. It appears that the family didn’t know where he was buried back in the 1950s either, so that information has long been lost.
Two of Elijah’s children died before him, but as adults. That must have been extremely difficult for Elijah. No parent should have to bury their child, and these pioneer parents did a lot of burying.
The last official document we have is the 1850 census where Elijah was living with his adult married daughter. Not surprising, two of his daughters married Bakers, the near neighbors.
We do find Elijah, very sparsely, in court notes, which causes me to wonder why he was not there more often. Other men repeatedly were assigned to road duty and jury duty – and Elijah certainly had the qualifications. He was white, owned land, was eligible to vote and of age. Is there something we don’t know?
Elijah died between 1850 and 1860. It’s probably a blessing that he went before the Civil War, which was a terrible, heartbreaking time in Hancock County, regardless of which side you were on.
I wonder if Elijah knew that his son, Joel Vannoy was ill. We really don’t know when Joel’s mental health began to deteriorate, although the bond he signed in 1860 was later contested, saying the person who took the bond should have gotten a better bond. Whether that was “sour grapes” in terms of what happened financially during the Civil War, or whether it had something to do with Joel, we don’t know. Clearly by the late 1860s or early 1870s, Joel was “not alright.” Did Elijah see vestiges or foreshadowings of this before his death? Is this perhaps why Elijah lived with his daughter instead of with Joel and Phebe? Joel’s land was adjacent Elijah’s. Again, we’ll never know.
It’s difficult for me to leave Elijah with so many questions, and no avenue for answers. I’m just very grateful that we have the one letter, the DNA results, a few interviews with the older people before they died and that cousin Dan found the property. Without that, we’d have even more questions.
If I could ask Elijah three things, I’d ask him who his parents were, I’d ask about that flatboat ride and migration story, and I’d ask him about his son Joel.
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