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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Small Pieces of the Puzzle Contribute to the Whole—Alexander West (c1730)

Some information that I recently found in a document sent to me by my 5th cousin, Howard Douglas “Doug” Land, Jr., was of great interest to me.  The article, entitled “A History of Alexander County, North Carolina,” was written by William E. White.  It was copied from a scrapbook owned by Mrs. Bynum D. Deal of Davidson, North Carolina.  Mr. White published the document in the Taylorsville Times in 1926.  As I read the document, my interest was immediately stirred by my paternal West family surnames of West and Carlton and by my maternal Hughes family surnames of Hughes and Honeycutt.

As I read further, I discovered notations about Alexander West, who, I assume, was my 5th great grandfather, Alexander West (born about 1730), and his son, Alexander West (born in 1751).  Before I address the information found in the article, I would like to revisit the historical and political events that were occurring during those turbulent years of the 1760s and 1770s.

Western North Carolina was experiencing corruption, tyrannical power, and excessive taxation at the hand of the Colonial government, namely that of provincial governor, William Tryon.  The events leading up to the rebellion began as early as 1765. Those living in the back country of Western North Carolina were “freeholders peacefully living in a frontier paradise.”  In 1766 due to the political unrest developing in the back county, the Sandy Creek Association, the first Regulator group, was organized. Political instability in the backcountry came to a head when Governor Tryon decided to build “his palace” in New Bern, for which large sums of money were appropriated by the colonial government.  To the Regulators, this proposed building represented the corruption of government that they believed existed.  Likewise, the Regulators were suspicious that the government was conspiring to take away their liberties, threaten their property, and restrict their rights as Englishmen.  As a result, additional Regulator organizations were established in Western North Carolina.  In 1768, Governor Tryon ordered them to disband, and militia units from coastal counties were sent to Orange County.

On May 16, 1771, the Regulators respectfully petitioned Governor Tryon to hear their grievances.  Tryon rejected their request, ordered them to lay down their arms, and gave them only one hour to meet his demands.  The Regulators were enraged, dared the governor to “fire and be damned,” and the battle of Alamance on Great Alamance Creek near Hillsborough, then known as the “capitol of the backwoods,” began.  The numbers of militia who were killed and wounded are debatable.  However, the Regulators sustained heavy causalities including several others who were hanged.  In 1775 with the Revolution underway, Governor Martin, with the King’s permission, granted full pardons to all of the Regulators with the exception of Herman Husband, the organizer of the first group.  This was done with hopes of enlisting support for the British cause.  The pardon, however, did not rally great support for the British cause.

The Regulator movement was centered in the counties of Anson, Dobbs, Halifax, Rowan, and Orange. Western North Carolinians wanted a new political system.  Even though it was squelched, the Regulator movement was a rehearsal for revolution and was clearly a forecast of the revolutionary events to come. 

My fifth great grandfather, Reverend George McNeil (1720-1805), was affiliated with the Sandy Creek Baptist Association.  In my blog post of August 30, 2012, I stated the following about Reverend George McNeil:

He was affiliated with the famous Sandy Creek Baptist Association which Shubal Stearns started with six local Baptist churches.  This organization was likely the same as the Sandy Creek Association, a precursor of the Regulator Movement that protested government oppression and abuse of funds.   After the battle between the Regulators and the English militia in 1771 in the outskirts of Hillsborough at Alamance Creek, Governor William Tryon assumed that the Baptists were Regulators and concentrated over 3,000 soldiers in their areas to harass and terrorize them.   In the letter of May 28, 1898, G. W. McNeil, Sr. states that “he [George McNiel] joined the Regulators and after the battle of Alamance and fled for safety into Virginia where he lived for a time in Grayson County.”

And now to my West ancestors…

As I have lamented so many times, I have reached a “brick wall” in my search for my fifth great grandfather, Alexander West, who was born about 1730.  Research indicates that he was associated with individuals who lived in Orange, Surry, and Wilkes Counties.   In Orange County I have found him connected with John West, Sr. and with John West, Jr., in 1752-1768 and in 1754 with William Mills and William Mills, Jr.  He is found in an early North Carolina census in 1755 in Orange County.   In Surry-Wilkes County in 1771-1777, he was mentioned with his son, Alexander West.   In 1778 in Wilkes County he or his son, Alexander West (1751-1834) was noted in association with William Triplett on the Yadkin River and James Tugman on Glady Branch, with John Ferguson, William Brown, and Daniel Johnson in 1779, with Isaac West and Bray Crisp on Glady Fork in 1782, and with Daniel Sutherlin on Glady Fork in 1784.

In the article, “A History of Alexander County, North Carolina,” the following statement was made about Alexander West who, I presume, was the Alexander West born about 1730:

“Also there is documentary evidence that Alexander West assisted in building houses in Hillsboro after it was laid off on the lands of the great surveyor, William Churton.”

In another section of the document, Alexander West,  who, again, I presume to be the Alexander West who was born about 1730, is described as “a refugee,” implying that he was one of the many who left the Hillsborough area of Orange County sometime prior to 1771 due to the tyranny of Governor Tryon.  This section is quoted below as follows:

Alexander West was another refugee; a large muscular man, of prodigious strength and physical powers and at the same time a man of excellent judg­ment and undoubted integrity. Nelson A. Powell, the historian of Caldwell County, leaves the record that Alexander West assisted in building the first houses in the town of Hillsboro. He first settled on lands between Barrett's Mountain and Lower Little River, but after the Revolutionary War, sold out there, and moved to lands on Upper Little River, in what is now Caldwell County. His descendants still live in Caldwell. It is told of him that he would not use dogs in the capture of game, but depended upon his complete knowledge of the habits of the wild animals and was entirely successful.”

A third reference to Alexander West concerned the establishment of an iron works by Andrew Baird sometime after 1788.  Baird was given a grant for 18,000 acres in Whittenburt Township of Alexander County.  Some tracks of land belonging to other individuals within those 18,000 acres were excepted from the grant.  However, a prior land grant to Alex West, which lay within Baird’s grant, was not “excepted.”  The reference to this Alexander West may have been the son of Alexander West born about 1732.

Other West relatives…

In addition to the Alexander Wests, two distant cousins were mentioned in the article.  Brothers, J. [James] Harvey West and Hiram West, who were my 2nd cousins 4 times removed, served at the Bethlehem Church in 1871.  Hiram West was the pastor from 1872 to August 1878.  H. [Hiram] West was listed as the pastor at Dover Baptist Church in what was then Burke County on April 9, 1864. J. H. [James Harvey] West served at Center Church from December 3, 1865 to the “5th Saturday” in January 1876.

Another relative…

Henry Carlton “of the Yadkin settlers from Virginia entered and located at the Hickory Knob in the pioneer days.  The Knob in its primeval condition was an ideal mountain home, but Henry drifted back to his old settlement and finally emigrated to the west.”  I assume that this Henry Carlton was the son of Thomas Carlton and Mary Land, my 4th great grandparents.

Even though these are “tidbits” of information, those small pieces add to the completion of the larger puzzle.  Thanks, Doug, for sharing this article and for all of the materials that you so graciously share.

  • McNeil, George W., Sr. Personal Letter Describing His Grandfather, Reverend George McNiel, for a Memorial Booklet, May 28, 1898.
  • Mobley, Joe A., ed. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Ready, Milton. The Tar Hill State, A History of North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 2005.
  • White, William E., “A History of Alexander County, North Carolina,” Taylorsville Times, 1926.