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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

North Carolina Author: George Franklin McNeil (1934-present)

George Franklin McNeil, born in 1934 to Commodore Christa McNeil and Eva Green Clary, is my 5th cousin 1X removed and the 3rd cousin of my great grandmother, America Ann McNeil West.
Even though George McNeil has not written and published prose or poetry, he has compiled and published valuable documents.
George Franklin McNeil was married to Joyce Bessie Dancy, who passed away in 2003.  Together they worked diligently transcribing, abstracting, and indexing legal documents and recording cemetery data in Wilkes County, North Carolina.  In fact, according to Faye Jarvis Moran, the McNeils visited more than 768 cemeteries in Wilkes County and developed a database of more than 50,000 grave records.[i]  Their works, which are housed in the Wilkes Community College library, are valuable resources for professional and amateur genealogists.[ii]
I appreciate and thank George Franklin McNeil for the compilations completed by his wife and him and for the information that he shared with me this past summer.

Monday, December 26, 2011

North Carolina Author: John Foster West (1918-2008)

John Foster West, born on December 10, 1918, the son of John Wilson West and Fannie Elvira Foster, was my 2nd cousin 2X removed.  He was the grandson of John Witherspoon West and Catherine West and the great grandson of John Balus and Mary Ann Swanson.  My 1st cousin 1X removed (CALT) had told me about him.  Afterwards, I read about him on the Internet and discovered that he had passed away in 2008.  Later, my 2nd cousin (DFK) sent me an article that John Foster West had written about the West family.  This, my first encounter with any written evidence that Alexander West I was an early progenitor of my West family, was an article published in The Journal-Patriot on November 8, 1976.  In his article, “History of West Family Is Given,” John Foster West identified Alexander West I as the “deep tap-root” for many families still living in Wilkes County as well as across the country.
The 1920 Census indicates that John Foster West was living at Lewis Fork at the time that census was taken.  In 1941 he attended Mars Hill College.  There he met and later married Nan E. Love. From 1943 to 1945 he was in the Army Air Corps. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of North Carolina in 1947 and a Master of Arts degree in 1949.  In addition, he studied at the University of Iowa where he completed some work toward a doctoral degree.
During his 42-year career in education, he taught English and creative writing at Elon College in North Carolina.  He also taught at Old Dominion College in Norfolk, Virginia, and Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.  When he retired from Appalachian State University in 1991, he was named professor emeritus.

John Foster West published the following books: Up Ego! (1951), Cogito, Ergo Sum (1954), Appalachian Dawn (1973), Wry Wine (1977), Lift Up Your Head, Tom Dooley: The True Story of the Appalachian Murder that Inspired One of America’s Most Popular Ballads (1993), Summer People (2000), The Ballad of Tom Dula: The Documented Story Behind the Murder of Laura Foster and the Trials and Execution of Tom Dula (2002), Time Was (2002), High Noon in Pompeii: The Latter-Day Poetry of John Foster West (2004), and Going Home to Zion (2005).  In addition, he co-authored This Proud Land—The Blue Ridge Mountains (1974) with Bruce Roberts West and English Direct: Teacher’s Book Level 1 (1998) with Keith West.   Furthermore, he made numerous contributions to magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals.
His name was included in Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, Who’s Who Among American Scholars, Comtemporary Authors, and the Dictionary of International Biography.  He served as president of the North Carolina Writers Conference, the North Carolina Folklore Society, and Sigma Delta Chi, a professional journalism fraternity.
John Foster West died on May 2, 2008.
During his career he mentored many aspiring writers and will be remembered as a writer, a poet, a historian, and an activist for the preservation of ecology in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Beall, Glenda Council. Netwest Mountain Writers and Poets (blog).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson

A treasure that I must share—a treasure that will delight you, capture you, and take you back to a time when…   
In order to share this treasure with you, I, again, must digress from my discussions of the West patriarchs and the North Carolina authors.   This treasure is James Larkin Pearson’s autobiography, Poet’s Progress.  Not only does he describe his life, but he also provides a vivid picture of life in western North Carolina in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Not only does he present a microcosm of country life, but he does so with home-spun language and humor, and he does so with an apparent clarity of mind.
James Larkin Pearson began his autobiography when he was 15 years old.  He worked on it intermittently throughout his life.  Initially in this autobiography, he provides the disclaimer that the book does not progress chronologically, that it is quite personal—almost a confessional, and that by “beginning so late in life, the job must be done hurriedly and without much thought of literary style or poetic artistry.  To get it down on paper in plain language, without polish or adornment—that must be the first and main objective.”[i] 
With those thoughts, he set out to describe many things.  He tells about his humble beginning, his genealogy, his family, his friends, and his neighbors.  He describes the poverty in which he grew up, his minimal formal education, the religious and political environment, the countryside, social events, his work, his marriages, his adopted daughter, the floods, the cold weather, and more.   
He doesn’t hesitate to name specific individuals and tell humorous or poignant “stories” about them.  In fact, many names of local residents may be found in the autobiography.  I found his candid description of his relative and friends helpful to me since I am especially interested in the genealogy of my ancestors who lived in Wilkes County and any information that provides clues to their personalities and how they lived. 
One story that sparked my interest is the one called “The Long-Hair Fad.” It concerned the hair style that had become popular with the boys and young men.  This story involved Mai Triplett, my Great Aunt Nannie Lou West’s husband.   When Pearson was about 11 or 12 years old, the fashion for boys and young men was to wear their hair long—down to their shoulders.  Of course, Pearson was too young to participate in this fad, but he recalled some of the older boys and young men who adopted the style:  Bud Barlow, Hayes Walker, Ed Foster, Tom Hendrix, and Mai Triplett.  I know that some of you recognize the names of one or more of these young men!
Another story that Pearson told was one about his Uncle Milt, my 2nd great grandfather, who became, according to Pearson, “a lay-outer.”  Pearson said that his “Uncle Milt” avoided conscription into the Confederate Army by hiding out for the duration of the war.  Pearson’s mother, Louise McNeil Pearson, was his Uncle Milt’s sister.  She described to Pearson some of the hiding places that Milton McNeil often used.  Pearson indicated that most of the time his Uncle Milt was probably at the house with his family but fled to a hiding place whenever someone approached the house.  In a few years after the war, Milton McNeil became a respected leader in the community serving at one time or another as a “preacher,” the sheriff, the clerk of the superior court, and a state senator.  Milton McNeil’s reluctance to serve in the army may have been influenced by his older brother, Franklin “Frank” McNeil.  Frank was the only one of the three sons in that family who wanted to fight for the Confederacy.  He joined the army at the first opportunity and bade his family a sad good-bye, never to see them again.   He died at the battle of Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864.  In reflection, we must remember that Wilkes County was divided in its loyalties during the Civil War.
Throughout his autobiography, Pearson describes activities related to country life in those early years.  Many of the work-related chores were turned into social events.  I learned a great deal as I read about hog-killing, threshing, stacking fodder, lassy-making, harvesting wheat, and soap-making.
Pearson addresses approximately 372 such topics in the 466 pages of his book.  When I reviewed the table of contents of the book at, I knew that it was a “must-have” for me.  It covers such a variety of captivating information, some of which is specific to Pearson, but much of which is relative to many Western North Carolina descendants.  For those of you who want to understand the countryside, the culture, the customs, and the people of Western North Carolina, this book is a must-have.  For those of you who want to learn about your ancestors in Wilkes County, this book is a must-have.


[i] Pearson, James Larkin.  Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson or the Life and Times of James Larkin Pearson, 1879-1981.  Wilkesboro, NC: Wilkes Community College, 2005.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

North Carolina Author: James Larkin Pearson (1879-1981)

James Larkin Pearson was my 1st cousin 3X removed.   He was born on September 13, 1879, to William Thomas Pearson and Mary Louise McNeil.  Mary Louise was the aunt of my great grandmother, America Ann McNeil, and the daughter of Larkin McNeil and Nellie Ferguson. Therefore, James and America were 1st cousins.  His mother, Mary Louise, did not marry until late in life.  For 20 years until her father passed away, she was his care-giver.  Larkin McNeil was severely crippled with arthritis during his later years and needed constant care.  Louise was not married, lived at home, and was the logical one to care for him.  She and her future husband, William Thomas Pearson, who was 14 or 15 years her junior, lived in the same area of Wilkes County and may have known each other.  He came to work on her family’s farm probably after Louise’s father died and worked alongside her in the fields.  Eventually, they married.  Their first child, Jimmy, was delivered by a “granny-woman” in a small cabin on Berry Mountain.  They had another child, John Milton Pearson, who was younger than James.
James “Jimmy” Pearson grew up in extremely poor circumstances.  His parents were tenant farmers who moved frequently to nearby farms in order to provide a better income for the family.  James grew up with practically no education.  According to his autobiography, Poet’s Progress, he probably had no more than 12 to 15 months of schooling which he received at the Whippoorwill Academy, a one-room, one-teacher, backwoods free school.   The school became known as the Whippoorwill Academy after, according to Pearson, “One day some smart wag, in a spirit of fun, called it Whippoorwill Academy, and the name stuck.”  At the very early age of four James demonstrated a talent for poetry when he composed his first verse.  He learned the alphabet from the large letters on the circus posters that, along with newspapers, papered the walls of his family’s home.  The first time he heard anyone read was when his mother read to him from a hymn book, which was likely the only book in the home.  James Larkin Pearson was definitely a self-taught man.
At an early age he became fascinated with printing even though he had never seen a printing press.  He knew, however, from his earliest days that he wanted to be a poet and a printer.  When he was 10 years old, he made his first trip from his home to Wilkesboro which was about 12 miles from his home.  This was, indeed, the longest distance from home that he had ever been at that time. While he was in Wilkesboro, he visited the office of The Chronicle in order to see how printing was done.
Until he was 21 years old, his life was spent working on the farm helping his family.  In addition, he learned the trade of carpentry.  He carried a small notebook and pencil with him, and, as he worked, his mind was busy working out a poem.  When he reached the end of the row that he was plowing or when he took a break from his work, he jotted those thoughts in his notebook.  All the while, whenever he had a chance, he was composing and printing on his home-made printing press in his small room in the family’s cabin.
He began his career in the printing and newspaper business when he took the position of editor and printer for the Republican Patriot in Jefferson, North Carolina.  The Republican Patriot was owned by his lawyer cousin, Bob McNeill.  Later, Pearson published a weekly newspaper, Plain Talk, which he renamed The Patriot.  He wrote for and later worked at The Yellow Jacket, a successful newspaper in Moravian Falls, North Carolina, a small community a few miles southwest of Wilkesboro.  He served as the Washington, D.C. correspondent for The Yellow Jacket.  Later he worked at The Charlotte Chronicle and The Charlotte Daily Observer where he met and worked with John Charles McNeill (no relationship), one of North Carolina’s most famous poets.  Afterwards, back in his home community, he wrote and published his own newspaper, The Fool-Killer, which grew in circulation to about 5,000 readers.  Of course, he included much of his poetry in The Fool-Killer.  After the death of his wife, Cora, he found he could no longer write The Fool-Killer.  At that time he published The Lucky Dog.
James Larkin Pearson and his first wife, Cora Ann Elizabeth Wallace, had a still-born daughter, Blanche Rose.  Later, at the Children’s Home in Greensboro, they found and adopted five-year-old Agnes whom they named Agnes Vivian Pearson.  After the death of his beloved Cora, he married Eleanor Louise Fox.  They lived in her family home in Greensboro, North Carolina.  After Eleanor’s death, he moved to North Wilkesboro and built a library-office-printing shop on the back of the property of the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Agnes Vivian Pearson Eller and Albert Eller, on Sparta Road in North Wilkesboro. He lived on this property until Agnes was no longer able to care for him.  At that time he moved to a nursing home in North Wilkesboro where he lived until he died in 1981.  In 2003 his home-library and Agnes’ home were torn down in order to widen Highway 18.  His adopted daughter, Agnes Vivian Misenheimer Pearson Eller Fox, had two sons, one of whom was Kenneth Eller, and one daughter, Catherine “Cathy” Eller Anderson.  Agnes’ maiden name prior to her adoption must have been Misenheimer.  At some point in time, she evidently married a second time to an individual named Fox.  Agnes, who was a poet in her own right, passed away in 2004.
Pearson’s poetry reflected a traditional style with regular meter and verse forms.  The themes for his works were based on his everyday life on the farm and his personal experiences.  He was profoundly influenced in his early years by the works of Longfellow.  The reaction of the local residents to his poetry was, according to Pearson, “a good deal of a joke.”  Isn’t this reminiscent of Jesus’ statement in Luke 4:24, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own country”?
While he was writing for The Yellow Jacket, his style was that of slap-stick journalism which included droll, humorous prose pieces.  He quickly realized that this style of writing, likely not his personal preference, was a way of making money. Therefore, he stated in his autobiography that “My writing was making oodles of money for R. Don Laws [at The Yellow Jacket] and I couldn’t see why it couldn’t be making money for me.”  After coming to that conclusion, he left The Yellow Jacket and started his own paper, The Fool-Killer.  The slogan of The Fool-Killer was “Make a man laugh right big and cram the truth down him while his mouth is open.”  Soon the publication had a circulation of 50,000 copies a month with money “rolling in from every state in the Union”!  During this period of financial success, Pearson built a nice home at Moravian Falls and employed at times 10 people in his printing shop.  However, with the coming of the Great War in 1914 and a drop in subscriptions, his business began to fail.  He sold his property at Moravian Falls and purchased land back near the old home place at Boomer, North Carolina.  Out in the back woods miles from the nearest town, he was able to rejuvenate The Fool-Killer.
About 1924 Upton Sinclair discovered Pearson’s poem, “Homer in a Garden” and published an article about Pearson in The New York Times.  He also included this poem in the New York Times’ article.  Sinclair called him “the cornfield Keats of America.”  His friendship with Sinclair continued throughout their lives.  Sinclair wrote about Pearson and included some of his poems in his books, Money Writes and The New Pamela.  In the latter novel, Sinclair described Pearson as “a fictitious poet” and identified him in the novel as Piers Plowman meaning Pearson the Plowman. In 1929, while Pearson was devoting most of his time and energy to caring for his invalid wife, Cora, Sinclair wrote in The New York Times that “ill health and poverty interfere with James Larkin Pearson’s work.” 
In addition to Sinclair, Pearson maintained contact with a number of other famous writers and individuals of his generation.  Some of these were Benjamin Sledd, Henry Jerome Stockard, William Thornton Whitsett, Josephus Daniels, Hight C. Moore, Clarence Poe, Joseph Pearson Caldwell, William Rose Benet, Hamlin Garland, Allan Nevins, Brand Whitlock, Clement Wood, Walter H. Page, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Louis Untermeyer, William Lewis Poteat, Paul Green, Archibald Henderson, Armistead Gordon, Charles W. Hubner, and John A. Joyce. He was personally acquainted with John Charles McNeill. 
During his life, Pearson published numerous poems. He considered his best to be “Homer in a Garden,” “Fifty Acres,” “My Love Lies Still Lies Silent,” and “Troubadour.”  He published six or seven books which included Castle Gates, Pearson’s Poems, Fifty Acres, Plowed Ground: Humorous and Dialect Poems, Early Harvest, and My Fingers and My Toes.  A book, Selected Poems of James Larkin Pearson, was published by two college professors.  He was not happy with the selections they included and indicated that he “had nothing to do with it.”  In 1965 he published his autobiography, Poet’s Progress, which he had started at the age of 15.  In 2005 the book was edited with the inclusion of additional notes by the editors and republished by Wilkes Community College as Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson or The Life and Times of James Larkin Pearson, 1879-1982.
In 1933 he was included in Who’s Who in America.  In 1953, the governor of North Carolina appointed James Larkin Pearson as the first Poet Laureate of North Carolina, a position in which he served until his death in 1981.  On September 12, 1976, he was awarded an honorary degree, the Associate in Fine Arts, which was the first honorary degree to be awarded by Wilkes Community College.  On September 20, 1981, just seven days after Pearson’s death, the James Larkin Pearson Library opened on the campus of Wilkes Community College.  The college was about five miles from where he was born on the top of Berry Mountain.  His collection of memorabilia, books, and his printing press were housed in this facility.  In 2004 this building was demolished and replaced with the new facility which currently houses his materials and printing press.  The James Larkin Pearson Library, which is a combination library and museum housing his materials and printing press, is located on the first floor of the Lowes Hall Building on the campus.  Since my previous visits to Wilkesboro have been to research in the Wilkes County Court House and the Wilkes County Library and to visit the areas where my ancestors lived and were buried, I have not yet visited this library.  I certainly plan to do so in the spring.
James Larkin Pearson considered himself to be an independent thinker who adhered to no creed. He purposely declined speaking engagements because, according to him, he had an impediment of speech.  He declared the most important thing in life for him was “to be a good, honest, true and faithful human being—true to myself and all other people—and to my best understanding of a loving and merciful God.”
James Larkin Pearson's Obituary
Kingsport Times-News
August 28, 1981
Pierson died on August 27, 1981, just a few days short of his 102nd birthday having lived a full, but difficult, and amazing life.  He is buried beside his first wife, Cora, and their still-born daughter, Rose Blanche, in the Moravian Falls Church Cemetery in Wilkes County, North Carolina.  Incidentally, his obituary appeared in my local newspaper.
My Great Aunt Alice West was the first person to tell me about James Larkin Pearson and our familial relationship with him.  During her last visit to the East from her home in Washington State, she encouraged me to write and visit him.  In 1967, I did write him.  Not long afterwards, I received from him autographed copies with personal comments of two books, one, a novel, The Double Standard, by his wife Cora Wallace Pearson, and the other, a book of his poetry, Selected Poems of James Larkin Pearson.  Sadly, I never made the trip to Wilkesboro to meet him.  I must attribute this lack of conscientiousness on my part at that time to my age, a much younger age when one has the mindset that “there is plenty of time.”
Pearson, James Larkin. Poet’s Progress. Wilkesboro, North Carolina: Wilkes Community College, 2005.
Welborn, Ken. “Sometimes Treasures Just Walk through the Front Door,” The Record, Wilkes County’s First Worldwide Newspaper, February 15, 2006.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

North Carolina Author: Thomas Charles Land (1828-1912)

Thomas Charles Land, my 2nd great grand uncle, was known as “Tommy.” Because of his travels in the northwest, he also earned the nickname of “the rover.”  He was the son of William Thomas Land and Nancy Jane Carlton.  He was born and grew up in the Stony Forks area of Wilkes County.   He was educated in the old field schools which he attended a few weeks during the winters and at the old Beaver Creek Academy which he attended for a short time.   He farmed and taught school until the outbreak of the Civil War.  During his later years, he served as a member of the local board of education.
At the beginning of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate Army of America as a private and rose to the ranks of commissary, corporal, and lieutenant colonel.  He served in the 53rd Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry along with and as superior officer to his brother-in-law, Alexander Balus West, my 2nd great grandfather.  Some sources indicate that Thomas Land participated in 65 battles.  He was wounded in the Seven Days Fight around Richmond and returned home to recuperate.  During his absence-on-leave, he was appointed to the position of lieutenant colonel of the 53rd Regiment, a position that he assumed upon his return to the 53rd Regiment.  He was wounded again during the Battle of Winchester where Alexander Balus West was killed.  Thomas attempted to return to the military but found it necessary to resign.  As a result of his injuries, he could not fulfill his military duties.  He returned to his home in Wilkes County where he taught school and farmed.
In 1870 he moved to Oregon and lived there until 1884 when he returned to Wilkes County.  Again, in 1891 he returned to Oregon.  One writer indicates that he took his great nephew, T. D. Land, with him. In 1898 he returned home to Wilkes County.  While he was in Oregon, he was engaged in farming and mining and enjoyed hunting deer, bear, and elk.  When he returned to Wilkes County, he brought a highly-prized set of elk horns.
In addition to being a farmer, teacher, military officer, and hunter, Thomas C. Land was also a writer.  According to the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, James Larkin Pearson, an admirer of Thomas Land, Thomas enjoyed creating rhymes and wrote a great many letters, poems, and other prose works, some of which were published in a Raleigh paper, perhaps, in The Raleigh Standard.   One of his most widely-known poems was a mountain ballad written sometime during or just after 1868.  This ballad was about the murder of a young, Wilkes County resident, Laura Foster.  His first rendering of this poem, which, according to Pearson was “lengthy and crudely written,” was published in local newspapers.  He later decided that the ballad was too long and later wrote a shorter version which Pearson said was “catchy” and had better rhythm.  The ballads, which were published in the local papers, were sung or chanted all over Wilkes County.  They soon reached readers as far away as Virginia.   As Pearson stated, “The only reason the Laura Foster case has been remembered is the fact that a school teacher named Thomas C. Land was also the local poet who wrote songs or ballads about local happenings and whose mind ran to poetry and romance.”  Pearson also said, “The murder of Laura Foster was thus immortalized by a local poet.”
Today, we recognize this poem, in which a Wilkes County love-tryst and murder were brought to national attention in the song, “Tom Dooley,” as the one recorded by the Kingston Trio.   In that song, Dula’s name was changed to Dooley, but no mention of Laura was made.
Pearson recounted the story of Thomas Land’s poem and the wide publicity that it received in his autobiography, Poet’s Progress, but Pearson said he did not know if Land were the one who put the words to music.  At least, some writers credit Thomas Charles Land as the author of this ballad.  See
Thomas Charles Land’s original ballad consisted of three sections: The Murder, The Search, and The Resurrection and Inquest.  The full version may be found in James Larkin Pearson’s autobiography, Poet’s Progress. Land’s refrain, which I assume is from his shorter, revision, is as follows:

                Tom Dula, Tom Dula,
                Oh, hang your head and cry!
                You killed poor Laura Foster,
                And now you’re bound to die.

James Larkin Pearson considered Land among “the old people that I knew.”  Pearson said, “I have made some effort toward collecting his work, but his people seem unconcerned.”  In the appendix of Pearson’s autobiography, he has included three letters to him from Thomas C. Land.  These letters were mailed from Oregon in 1891.

Thomas Land never married, but, according to my 1st cousin 1X removed, CALT, he was a role model along with his other brothers for my great grandfather, Thomas Harvey West.  At the age of 5, Thomas Harvey lost his father, Alexander Balus West, in the Civil War.  Thomas Harvey and his mother, Nancy Land West, lived near her brothers in the Stony Fork community of Wilkes County. Thomas Land died at home in Wilkes County in 1912 and was buried in the Thomas Land Family Cemetery on the land where he was born and reared.
Revised 12-11-11, 12-13-11
·         Crouch, John. Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902. New River Notes,
·         Pearson, James Larkin. Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson or The Life and Times of James Larkin Pearson, 1879-1981. Wilkesboro, North Carolina:  Wilkes Community College, 2005.
·         “Tom Dooley” (song),”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are You Related to a Famous North Carolina Author?

Did you know that you may be related to one or more famous North Carolina authors?  That’s right!  If you are a descendant of the William Thomas Land family, the Larkin McNeil family, or the Alexander West I family of North Carolina, you need to read this blog.  In the next few posts, I plan to explore with my readers those authors with whom I am familiar. 
Originally, I planned to write in one blog post about the four that I have specifically identified. Those of you who follow me know how “long-winded” I am.   My husband and daughter tell me that I need to make my posts shorter!  As I began to write about these men, I realized that such a blog post would be entirely too long, even according to my standards.   Therefore, I have decided to write about them in separate posts. 
Just to give you a “heads-up,” I will be writing about Thomas Charles Land, the author of “The Ballad of Tom Dula,” James Larkin Pearson, the second Poet Laureate of North Carolina, John Foster West, the author and college professor, and George Franklin McNeil, the compiler and publisher of abstracts and indexes of North Carolina documents.
So...stay tuned!
(P.S. Thanks to all of you who are following this blog.  Since June 30 when I began the blog, I have had 1000 hits!  Again, I would like to hear from you.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

John Foster’s Letter

Last week I received a very nice letter from John Foster, 3rd cousin 1X removed, who lives in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  His letter was in response to my request for information from the Mount Zion Baptist Church regarding the Wests of Stony Fork.  In his letter he provided some interesting and revealing information.
In regard to the Triplett-Mt. Zion Cemetery, I was aware that Franklin West (son of John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson) and his wife, Cynthia Holder, and Mary Ann West (daughter of John Balus and Mary Ann West) and her husband, William Hamilton Barnett, are buried in that cemetery.  In addition, he indicated that John Balus West and Mary Ann Swanson West are buried there, also.  I have never been able to determine where they had been laid to rest and feared that their graves had been destroyed.  When I was at Triplett-Mt. Zion Cemetery in September, I must have overlooked them.  John Foster said that Franklin and Cynthia West’s daughters, Martha Caroline West and her husband, Tom Watson, and Sarah E. West, are buried in that cemetery, also.  In fact, he stated that all of these graves are in the same row.  John West mentioned that Carolyn West had planted the bush that appears to be a “snowball” bush near her parents’ tombstones.
According to Foster, a young man, Hamilton Barnett, was living with Alexander Balus and Nancy Land West and was “bonded” to them.  When Alexander Balus left for the Civil War, Hamilton Barnett, at the age of 15, went with him.  His military records indicate that he was 16 when he enlisted.  He survived the war and returned to marry Alexander Balus’ sister, Mary Ann West.  According to documentation Mary Ann was about 16 years older than Hamilton.  William Hamilton Barnett and Mary Ann West were the great grandparents of John Foster.  Their son, Gaither Barnett, was his grandfather.
According to my 1st cousin 1X removed, FL, who is the grandson of Thomas Harvey and America McNeil West, Thomas Harvey and America traded farms with the Wellborn family.  According to Mr. Foster, they traded homes with the Norman family who were “timber men.”  The Normans moved into the log house where the Wests had lived, and the Wests moved to Banner Elk.  Mr. Foster said that the Normans later sold the property to John and Ellen Barnett Eller and that the Eller grandchildren still own the land.
In his letter, John Foster stated that the Lands sold their property to Green and Nell Cowr/Couers Wilborn.  [I could not decipher Nell’s maiden name.]  Mrs. Nell Wilborn was from Banner Elk.  According to Foster, Green and Nell Wilborn lived in the Land house until they died.  It burned after their deaths.
A little on-line research in enabled me to find the Wellborns whom John Foster mentioned in his letter.  Most likely, they were Green Dixson Wellborn and Nellie May Culver.  He was born in 1882 in North Carolina and died in 1960.  She was born in 1889 in Watauga County, North Carolina.  Banner Elk was in Watauga County at that time.  She died in 1986 in Wilkes County.  They were married in 1907 which was five years after the Wests traded farms and moved from Stony Fork to Banner Elk.  According to this data, perhaps, the Wests did not trade homes with the Wellborns but with another family.    
John Foster listed the children of John Balus West and Mary Ann Swanson.  Most of this information I already had and have included in my blog “The West Patriarchs:  3rd in a Series, John Balus West” which was posted on September 1, 2011.  However, I learned from his letter that Elizabeth West’s husband was Henry Hamby.  Foster also said that John Balus and Mary Ann had a son named Lowery who, in addition to two other sons, was killed in the Civil War.  I had previously seen Lowery’s name in the 1860 Census. He was 16 years old and was listed as a farm laborer.  Since he had not been counted with the family in the 1850 Census, I assumed that he was a hired worker.  Foster did not mention their daughter, Lucy, in his letter.
I assume that Mr. Foster must be quite elderly but with excellent memory.  I truly appreciate his taking the time and effort to pen his note to me.  He indicated that he couldn’t write which, I assume, means that writing was difficult for him.  He is one individual I would certainly like to visit.  If only winter weather weren’t upon us, my husband and I would make that two-hour trip back on those winding mountain roads through the “high country” to Stony Fork!
Mr. Foster has certainly given me “food for thought” and questions to resolve. I want to know more about the family with whom the Wests traded their Stony Fork land for the Banner Elk land.  Was it the Wellborns, or was it the Normans? I want to know who really lived on that home site across from the old Mount Zion Post Office just east of where Mt. Zion Road forks into Stony Fork Road and Lee Mountain Road.  Was it the Thomas Harvey West family, or was it the William Thomas Land family?  I want to know where the log house is that, Foster said, the Wests lived in and the Eller grandchildren currently own.
If anyone of my readers has answers to these questions, please help me!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

DNA Tests – Great Discounts Currently Available

Presently, Family Tree DNA is offering discounted prices on its DNA test for males and females. The offer is available through the end of the year.  If you are a male or female West descendant, you may log into the site for the West Project at and learn about these tests and the discounted costs for them.

DNA tests for males and females provide different information.  For genealogical purposes, the Y-DNA37 test is recommended for males.  Matches among males in the Y-DNA test are highly likely to be related within the past 8 generations.  The test provides genealogically relevant matches and recent ancestral origins and helps to confirm a genealogical relationship with another male.  Unfortunately, females do not possess the “Y” chromosome and cannot participate in the Y-DNA37 test. 

However, both males and females can be evaluated with the Family Finder DNA test which is the one most often recommended for females.  Even though the information obtained by the Family Finder test is different from that obtained with the male Y-DNA37, the results will reveal matches that are related within about the last 5 generations.  In addition, Family Finder will provide percentages of the ancestral make-up including Native American and will help confirm close relationships regardless of gender.

A male with the West surname (who is the biological son of a male with the West surname) participating in the Y-DNA37 test can trace his West male lineage back about 8 generations.  The results from this DNA assessment will connect his paternal line.  This is the reason that the Y-DNA37 test is so significant for males.

A need exists for West males and females to participate in DNA studies in order to provide Wests from our lineage for comparative purposes.  If you are a male or female descendant of Alexander West II or John West, please consider participating in the West DNA Project through Family Tree DNA.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The West Patriarchs: 5th in a Series, Thomas Harvey West

As I continue to write about the West Patriarchs, I am getting closer to “home” in regard to my most recent ancestors.  Thomas Harvey West, my great grandfather, was born in Wilkes County, most likely at Stony Fork, in 1858. He was the only son of Alexander Balus West and Nancy Land West and was born to them 7½ years after they were married.  According to census records, he was apparently called “Harvey.”
Concerning census records—I find them very revealing.  According to the 1900 Census, Nancy Land was recorded as having nine children with only one living. I have carefully scrutinized the original document and compared the way in which the enumerator wrote his figures.  The numeral indicating Nancy’s children definitely appears to be a nine. The number for those living is a one.  After researching the questions that were asked for this census, she would have been asked how many children she had and how many were still living.  Therefore, this data would indicate that she had nine actual births with only one living child. Nancy and Alexander Balus were married 13 years before his death.
Thomas Harvey’s father joined the Confederate Army when Thomas Harvey was 3½ years old and was killed in action just before young Thomas Harvey celebrated his sixth birthday.  Therefore, one may speculate that Thomas Harvey hardly knew his father.  In a previous posting I described the poignant letter penned by Alexander Balus in March of 1864 prior to his death in September.  The letter was addressed to his son, Thomas Harvey.  From that letter one can easily discern the apprehensions and fears that Alexander Balus was experiencing.   His sense of urgency in providing his son with some fatherly guidance, some written advice for his life, was quite clear. 
At the time of Alexander Balus’ death, Nancy and Thomas Harvey lived in the Upper Division of Wilkes County in the Lewis Fork area where they had lived since 1851.  Their property was near that of Alexander Balus’ father, John Balus West.  In fact, Alexander Balus had purchased land from his father in 1857.  According to census records, Alexander Balus and Nancy were living on the south fork of Stony Fork in 1851 which was most likely in the Lewis Fork area and which was most likely the same land on which they lived when they were first married.  I have discovered that areas remain the same but the names designating them change.  When Alexander Balus was killed, he and Nancy owned approximately 135 acres of land in the area.
Not only did they live near Alexander Balus’ parents, John Balus and Mary Ann Swanson West, and his brothers, William Thomas Jefferson West and John Witherspoon West, but also they lived near Nancy’s family, the Lands and the Carltons, all of whom lived in the Upper Division of Wilkes County.  In addition, Swanson families, who may have been relatives of Alexander Balus’ mother, Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson, lived in the Upper Division.  Therefore, family members who could lend support and comfort to Nancy and Thomas Harvey were abundant.
In fact, CALT, my 1st cousin 1X removed, said that Nancy Land West’s brothers were significant role models for young Thomas Harvey as he was growing up.  The 1870 Census indicates that Nancy and Thomas Harvey were living in the household of her brother, James C. Land, in Elk Township of Wilkes, North Carolina, which was designated as the Upper Division in earlier records.  In addition to Nancy and Thomas Harvey’s living with James C. Land, Nancy’s father, Thomas Land, was living in the household during that same enumeration period.  
Twelve years after her husband’s death, Nancy Land West began purchasing property in the Stony Fork area.  In February of 1876, she bought 120 acres adjacent to the Lands’ line and Franklin West’s line.  In August of 1876, she purchased 24 acres on Buck Branch which ran up Stony Fork Creek to Thomas Land’s line.  In July of 1879, James C. Land and wife Nannie, and Thomas C. Land sold 56 acres on Stony Creek to Nancy Land.  In February of 1884 she purchased 50 additional acres in the area.  By 1884 Nancy Land West owned approximately 385 acres on Stony Fork.  Even though North Carolina began issuing pensions for widows of Confederate soldiers from its state in 1857, I can find no records indicating that Nancy West received a widow’s pension.  How did she fund these land purchases?  Certainly not as a widow who was living off the farm.  Perhaps, instead of inheriting land, she received a monetary inheritance from the estate of her father who died in 1871 and used this money to buy land.  She was surely thinking about an inheritance for her son, Thomas Harvey.   
In the 1880 Census, Nancy Land West is listed as the head of the household in Elk Township of Wilkes County with Thomas Harvey living with her.  Again, they were residing near relatives.  Her brother, James C. Land, lived two dwellings away; her brother-in-law, Franklin West, lived eight dwellings away; and her first cousin-in-law, Thomas Clingman West, lived nine dwellings away. 
In May 1885 she sold 120 acres on Buck Branch of Stony Fork to Thomas Harvey, her son.  The land was adjacent to property belonging to the Lands, the Waters, Franklin West, and the Tripletts.
Unfortunately, the 1890 Federal Census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921.  Therefore, I do not have that source for “reading between the lines” in the lives of Nancy and Thomas Harvey during the ten-year period which was included in that census.
On January 5, 1882, Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil were married in Wilkes County.  She was 18, and he was 23.  In all likelihood, they had known each other all of their lives since the McNeils and Wests lived in Upper Wilkes County. 
Furthermore, they likely attended Mount Zion Baptist Church while they were growing up.  Many of my Wilkes County ancestors including the Wests, the Lands, the McNeils, and the Carltons are cited multiple times in the church’s records between 1849 and 1896.  T. H. West and A. A. West were elected deacon and co-sponsors.  In 1889, T. H. West was elected trustee.
Thomas Harvey and America continued to live on their Stony Fork farm until 1902.  They had 13 children, 12 of whom were born, presumably, on the farm at Stony Fork.  The thirteenth child, Viola N. West, was born after they moved to Banner Elk, North Carolina. 
The descendants of Thomas Harvey and America Ann McNeil West are many.  I have included in the table below the information that I currently have in my files regarding their descendants.  All of their children are deceased.  I have not provided names of any grandchildren who are still living in order to protect their privacy.  I would certainly appreciate any additional information that anyone may have and any corrections that should be made.  Please contact me through this blog or my personal e-mail if any of my readers wish to add information or make corrections.
Descendants of Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil

Grand Children
Great Grandchildren*
2nd  Great Grandchildren*
3rd  Great Grandchildren*
Nannie Lou West
Cornelius Mai Triplett
John H.Triplett,
Edna B. Triplett,
J. Fred Triplett
A. Judson West
Martha Alice West
Milton McNeil West
Myrtle Triplett
Maxine Triplett West,
Marie Doris West
1 granddaughter
1 grandson
William Charles West
Ada Beatrice McQueen
William Charles West,
Alzenia Helen West,
Living Female West
2 granddaughters
3 grandsons
4 gr. granddaughters
2 gr.  grandsons
1 2nd  granddaughter
7 2nd gr. grandsons
Rosa Belle West
David Sidney Jones,
Frank Butner
Sallie Jane West
Robert Leonard West
Margaret Clyde Lowrance
Robert Leonard West,
Herbert Milton West,
Living Male West,
Dorothy Jean West,
Max Kenneth West,
Living Male West
3 granddaughters
6 grandsons
Ethel Elizabeth West
Charles Durwood Graham
Living Male Graham,
Living Female Graham,
Living Male Graham
Willard A. West
1899-bef 1903
Flora Annie West
Leo Lawrence Lowe
June Lowe,
Living Male Lowe,
Living Female Lowe,
Living Male Lowe,
Living Male Lowe,
Living Male Lowe,
Living Female Lowe
5 granddaughters
5 grandsons
Guy Harvey West
Mary Ann Trivette
Guy Harvey West,
Living Male West,
Living Male West,
Living Male West,
Living Female West
Viola N. West

*Inadequate information available
Two of these children, A. Judson West and Willard A. West, are buried across the road from the home place in the Thomas Land Family Cemetery on land that had once belonged, most likely, to the Land family.
Harvey and America West's two-story, white farmhouse
was likely located at this site. 
The home where Thomas Harvey and America lived must have been a lovely place.  The house has been described as a two story, white farmhouse.   It was located on the current Mt. Zion Road across from Stony Creek just a short distance east of the intersection of Stony Fork Road and Mt. Zion Road.  The old building which, at one time, housed the Mt. Zion Post Office, is across the road from the home site.  I am thankful to those who remember the house and have shared their descriptions with me.   My 1st cousins 1X removed, a former mail carrier, and a new blog follower have provided me with this description.  Neither the mail carrier nor the new blog follower knew the Wests but remember the Wellborn family who owned and lived in the house from 1902 until it burned sometime in the 1980s.  
In 1902 for an unknown reason, Thomas Harvey and America West decided to move to Banner Elk, North Carolina.  They traded farms including, of course, the house with all of its furnishings, with the Wellborn family, who owned the Banner Elk farm.  My research of land and census documents reveals that many Wellborns lived in the Stony Fork area prior to this exchange.  Again, I wonder what promoted this move.  Did the Banner Elk Wellborn family want to return to Stony Fork?  Did this Banner Elk Wellborn family represent a branch of the family that wanted to move to Stony Fork to be near other relatives?  Which family initiated the move?  I don’t suppose that I will ever know.
However, in 1902 according to CALT, the West family took their milk cows and the few possessions that they could transport in a wagon and set out with their eight children and Thomas Harvey’s mother, Nancy, on their journey to their new home.  The possibility exists that America had never seen the property in Banner Elk; hopefully, Thomas Harvey had visited it before “the trade” took place.  According to CALT, the children thought they were “going west,” which, indeed, they were, but only about 35 miles west!  Flora, the youngest child at that time, and likely, the two women rode in the wagon.  The other children walked as they traveled along the Daniel Boone Trail.  I wonder how many nights they spent on the trail as they made this trip by foot and wagon.  On each of the trips that I have made from Banner Elk to Boone and then on to Stony Fork, I am reminded of what a difficult journey that must have been.  Of course we were traveling in a car on US421 and not on the Daniel Boone Trail! Certainly, this West family demonstrated that same adventurous pioneer spirit of those early settlers who pressed westward seeking a better life. 
The next year, 1903, after Thomas Harvey and America moved to Banner Elk, Thomas Harvey’s mother, Nancy Land West, passed away.   In 1905, their last child, Viola N. West, was born.  CALT described this birth as being a difficult delivery for America.  Viola was a special child who was born with hydrocephalus, a condition which can be treated today with a shunt.  Of course in 1905, Viola did not have the benefit of such a medical technique that would have given her a normal live.  She never attended school and died at the age of 14. Another daughter, Sallie Jane West, died in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the relatively young age of 25.  Her death was due to complications from the flu which she contracted during the 1918 epidemic.
My father, William Charles West, Jr., as a young boy, visited his grandparents on a regular basis.  My 1st cousin 1X removed, FL, described my father’s summer visits during which he would stay several weeks at a time on the farm.  My father, who was about eight years older than FL, fished and hunted with his 1st cousin.  My dad always had fond memories of his cousin, FL, and seemingly, enjoyed those times he spent with him on their grandparents’ farm.  Today, I recognize characteristics in FL’s appearance, mannerisms, and speech which greatly resemble those of my grandfather and dad. 

Banner Elk Home
Photo taken by grandson,
William Charles West, Jr.

On the Foot-Bridge, 1949
Charlotte (front), my cousin CATL,
and my dad, William Charles West, Jr.,
holding my sister, Sandy

I regret that I never had many opportunities to visit my great grandparents in Banner Elk.  From the visits that I had, I remember the farmhouse, which was, also, a white frame two-story home that was located some distance from the main road.  I remember the creek that flowed through the farm which was at the foot of Sugar Mountain.  I remember the log foot-bridge that crossed over the creek. I remember the barn which was a short distance from the house.  And I remember my last visit in August of 1949, a last visit to see Thomas Harvey just before he died on August 24.  As an eight year-old at the time, I didn’t understand the poignancy of this visit. Sadly, this was the last time to see America, also, since she passed away in November of that same year.

The Two Remaining Chimneys

As I became an adult and my husband and I took trips to Florida, we often took the route through Banner Elk and Boone.  As we drove along NC Highway 105 on our way to Boone, I began looking for “the glove factory.”  I used the factory as my locator because the farm was on the land some distance behind that building.  For many years I could see the farmhouse just beyond the creek; then a few years later, I noticed that a trailer had been placed near the farmhouse; and finally, on one of the trips, I saw only two chimneys standing where the farm house had stood – the farmhouse had burned to the ground.  On the recent trips to Banner Elk, I found that a Lowes’ home store now occupies part of the land.  During these recent trips, I wasn’t able to locate the site of the house because of the growth of the trees and the buildings that are now along NC Highway 105.  Without my cousin, CALT, who took me to the site of the home place two years ago, I would never have been able to find it.  In September 2009, CALT and I walked the grounds through the weeds and poison ivy.  We saw what was left of the steps that led up to the front porch; we saw the two chimneys determinedly standing where they had once supported the sides of the farmhouse; we saw the thriving rose bushes, surrounded by overgrown grass, that America McNeil West had planted many years ago.  We walked toward the part of the farm where Lowes’ store is currently located to a clearing where we found a farm road leading to the highway, US105.  From this location CALT pointed out where her aunt and my great aunt, Rosa Belle, had lived in a house across the highway from the farm.  She also pointed out where her paternal grandparents and her parents had lived on a farm adjacent to the West farm.  Forlornly, as a sign of the passing of time, a “For Sale” sign stood at the edge of the property on the road that led from the highway to the driveway. 

"For Sale"

CALT grew up in Banner Elk and has the first-hand knowledge that I don’t have.  I greatly appreciate the time that she spent showing me the home site and the information that she has shared with me.
I have many fond memories of Great Aunt Alice (Martha Alice), an educated, sophisticated lady.  Aunt Alice had moved to Kent, Washington, but made frequent visits back to North Carolina and Tennessee to visit her family who remained in this part of the country.  Later, she returned from Kent to Banner Elk to care for her ailing parents until their deaths.    Aunt Alice was the administrator of the estate of Thomas Harvey and America West and sold the farm to the Von Cannon family who lived nearby.  My grandfather, Aunt Alice’s brother, wanted to purchase the farm, but evidently, Aunt Alice felt that selling the land to someone other than a family member was a better option.  My understanding is that the farm sold for about $10,000 in the early 1950s.  Today, this property, which is at the foot of Sugar Mountain, a famous ski resort in North Carolina, would be worth a great deal more.
Aunt Alice also told us about some of our relatives on the McNeil side of the family.  She sent me a photograph of my 2nd great grandfather, Rev. Milton McNeil, who was a minister, a politician, and one of the “best-known” figures in Wilkes County during his time.  She enabled me to contact George Larkin Pearson, my 1st cousin 3X removed, who was Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1953 until his death in 1981.  His personal papers, books, and memorabilia may be found in the James Larkin Pearson Library at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
My great grandmother, America McNeil West, was Pearson’s first cousin.  Apparently, both shared a talent for writing.  According to CALT, America McNeil West was an artist and a writer.  Supposedly, she was writing a novel prior to her death, but sadly, according to CALT, no novel was found among her things after her death.
While I was in Bakersville, North Carolina a couple of years ago, researching my mother’s family, I experienced a most unusual event; I met a lady in the historical society office who had been a student of Aunt Alice at Cranberry High School.  When I told her I was also researching my West ancestors, she mentioned that a Miss West had taught her typing class at Cranberry High School.  As I described Aunt Alice and mentioned her first name, we realized that Aunt Alice had been the teacher.  The former student spoke fondly of Aunt Alice.
Indeed, Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil most definitely left quite a legacy.

The West Family at Home in Banner Elk
L-R: Thomas Harvey, Mack, America, Lou, William Charles, Sr., Alice, Ethel, Robert, Flora

Thomas Harvey and America
His 90th Birthday, 1948