The Wyles Family of Kent

Kent County, England

My earliest data on this family is still rudimentary, but there are at least two remarkable individuals in this line, who have left enough in the public record for us to examine more closely. The first of these is Thomas Wyles, the second is his grandson, Tom Russell Wyles, Sr.

Anne Foord Wyles and Thomas Wyles

My knowledge begins with Thomas and Mary Wyles who lived during the first half of the 1700s in Frinstead, which is a tiny, ancient town in the Maidstone borough of county Kent, in south-east England. This earlier Thomas was born in 1711 in nearby Bredgar Parish. We don’t know much more about him, or his wife, whose maiden name is still a mystery to me.

The next two generations also give up very little more than their names and where they lived. Thomas’ son, John Wyles married Sarah Frost in Linstead, Suffolk in 1773.  Their son, also John Wyles, was born in 1775, and married Frances Sears in 1805, in Boxley, Maidstone, Kent.  In 1806, they were in Stockbury; in 1814 they were in Newington Geat, Sittingbourne, Kent; and they were still there in 1818 when their son Thomas was born there, and he was my third-great-grandfather.

This Thomas Wyles was a really interesting 19th century character.  He became  a schoolmaster who ran a boy’s boarding schools with a somewhat revolutionary curriculum focused on hands-on Science and fitness.

Tom Russell Wyles, Sr., my great-grandfather and Thomas Wyles’ grandson, wrote this about his family:

My living in England was with my Grandfather Thomas Wyles, who was born in Kent, either Salisbury or Canterbury. As he once said to me ‘our forefathers came from the south shore of the Baltic and were Jutes. They settled in Kent, farmed, fought, bred and stayed there for some two thousand years.’

“He married Ann Foord after a family row and left on a horse for two for Worcester. In fact, I think he got tight at his brother William’s wedding, raised hell, married ‘Ann’, and left. In Worcester he taught Latin and Greek and worked in a ‘Drapers Shop.’ I believe he left college on account of his advanced ‘Non-Conformist ideas’. He then went to Coventry as Assistant Master to Tyle Hill School. Got some money or made it, and bought Allesley Hall, 3 miles from Coventry. There he ran a boy’s school. Raised eight children, took me in hand in 1879 and did his best with me until 1890 when I came back to Virginia.

Allesley Park College

Although some of the evidence I find contradicts some of the specifics of this account, such as the town of his birth, it is a good synopsis of Thomas Wyles’ life.  Church records show that Ann Mary Foord married Thomas Wyles in 1839 in St. Mary’s Parish Church, Chatham, Kent, England.  Baptismal and census records corroborate family records to show that Ann and Thomas had eight children: Eleanore, Alice, Florence, Horace, Henry, Tracy (my 2nd-great grandfather), Selwyn, and Walter.  He did indeed become a well-known school master and had quite evident progressive views on education and health.

Another note from Tom Russell Wyles, Sr., transcribed by Anne Wyles Coleman on the back of a black and white photo of Ann and Tom:  “His older brother William Wyles inherited the money, so Thomas Wyles had to dig.”  This is also a little confusing, since according to records, John – not William, is the eldest brother, and is still living well after Thomas and Ann’s marriage in 1839, because I have identified a John Wyles whom I believe is our Thomas’ brother in the 1841 and ’51 census.  In these records, John was a Wheelwright by trade, which indicates that the members of this Wyles family were tradesmen, as opposed to leisure class.

At any rate, it seems that even if Thomas wasn’t left with much money, he was given a good education, which he found a way to put to good use supporting his family. Between 1841 and 1847, the family lived in Holy Trinity parish, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, according to the birth dates and places of their five oldest children, and the 1841 census, in which Thomas’ occupation is listed as ‘Cheese Factor’, which means Cheese Dealer.  But he must have begun teaching soon after this, because by 1848, Thomas founded Allesley Park College at Allesley Hall near Coventry.

The Wyles Daughters

Thirty-six years later, in 1884, this listing appeared in Our Schools and Colleges, by Bisson:

Coventry, Allesley Park College

Established as the Midland School in 1848. A high school conducted on the most improved principles and methods.  More than ordinary attention is given to Science, chiefly Chemistry, Zoology, and Physiology. About 70 Pupils are prepared for the University Local Examinations, and have obtained great success, 100 certificates having been obtained up to 1880. 10 have matriculated at the London University in the first division. Special classes are formed as required for University Matriculation, Civil Service, Navy, Competitive, Agricultural, and other Examinations.  There is also a Preparatory School under the superintendence of a Lady. Terms for board and tuition from 45 to 60 per annum.  Vacations 13 weeks in the year. Principal Thomas Wyles, FGS, with 4 resident assistant Masters.

As Tom R. Wyles wrote, Thomas was possessed of ‘non-conformist ideas’, which evidently caused him some trouble in his early years, but which formed the foundation of his reputation as a progressive educator.  At this time, ‘non-conformist’ was a term generally used to describe anyone whose views went against Church of England doctrine and practice.

In the 1851 census, I find Thomas and Ann and their children living at “Hill School”, with a Governess, a Mathematical and Classical teacher, an English teacher, two Nurse Laundresses, a Cook, a Housemaid, and sixteen (all male) Pupils ranging in age from 14 to 7, including a few sets of brothers.

In 1862 an article by T. Wyles appeared in the Proceedings of the International Temperance and Prohibition Convention, entitled “On the use of Intoxicating Liquors as Beverages in Private Schools”.  A few years later in 1865 he presented “The Duty of the Schoolmaster in Relation to The Formation of Character” at the College of Preceptors, in which he lays out his philosophy as to the best way to bring out the best in his students moral characters.  In 1870, he wrote a piece in the Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science on Unsectarian and Religious Teaching, in which he advocates an education free of dictated religious dogma (not free of religion, mind you).

And perhaps more notably, he was an early advocate for science education for children.  In 1876 he was quoted in the “Editor’s Table” section of Popular Science Monthly in an essay on The Promotion of Science, which includes a discussion of some new philosophies about educating children. I think the quote speaks for itself:

Mr. Wyles, of Allesley Park College, claims to have had the best success with chemical and physical experiments and the use of the microscope, and he embodies his views and results in the following instructive passage:

” I believe that such knowledge as I have indicated may be profitably given even to very young boys. They learn thereby to distinguish the precise features and qualities of natural objects, and the conditions of ordinary phenomena; and such teaching undoubtedly exercises in the best way the observing powers, which develop much earlier than the reflective faculty. I am inclined to say that teaching elementary science to boys from ten to thirteen is a greater success than teaching grammar; i.e., that the principles involved are more easily seen, excite more interest, and become therefore a better mental discipline. We rarely have boys come to us with any knowledge of science, and, when they have, it has generally been acquired from lectures, and is worthless as a means of education. We do not lecture, but do real hard class-work, and take periodical examinations on this work, giving it equal value in these and our grade examinations with language and mathematics. We have no reason to believe that this work interferes with or deteriorates the work in language and mathematics, in which subjects we find our boys quite equal, and, except in very rare cases, I may say, superior to incomers of like power, and who have had no science- teaching.

“The great number of men eminent for their vast scientific attainments, who have achieved this eminence in spite of our non- scientific, I may almost say anti-scientific system of education, clearly indicates that many of us have an inherent scientific power or genius surpassing our power in any other direction. I plead for such that they have the same chance of being floated on their scientific voyage as the linguist and the mathematician have on theirs: and I have seen no satisfactory plea why they should not. Value for value, I claim for the science- man a higher status in our present social life than is due to either linguist or mathematician.

“My experience as a schoolmaster has revealed to me many cases where the talent for language or mathematics has been so low that the education effected by these has been of the meanest kind; or where the incessant failure has produced a stolid ignorance, a kind of mental paralysis, most disheartening to all concerned. Such cases have come into my hands, and I have seen intelligence rekindled, and mental power aroused, by simple science – teaching, and the power even for other subjects enhanced thereby.”

In 1882, Allesley Parkis listed in a book called Where shall I educate my son?: A manual for parents of moderate means, by Charles Eyre Pascoe.

Allesley Hall near Coventry

This School was founded in 1848 by the present Director to broaden the lines of intellectual study and training and to raise the moral tone then prevailing in our Schools. It is exclusively residential, and has had a very successful career.  Only so much time is given to the dead languages as the professions demand, and the time thus saved is given to modern languages mathematics science and art.”

Thomas Wyles also espoused vegetarianism and tee-totaling, and conducted hiking tours of the Alps for his students in his eighties.  In 1866, he wrote a letter to The Herald of Health and Journal of Physical Culture (New York, July 1866), in which he tells about one of these tours.

Teetotalism and Strength

Mr Thomas Wyles of Allesley Park College in response to a paragraph that states that a teetotaler and a non teetotaler had tried their strength in climbing Mont Blanc with decided advantages to the former, adds: My own experience in mountaineering has always gone to the same issue viz that cater it paribus the teetotaler will win in all cases of enduring toil. This midsummer, I and seven of my boys had a month’s run in Switzerland. We were on our feet twenty one days and of these the boys would only take one of absolute rest and then most of us took a stroll The least distance we walked in one day was 15 miles the greatest about 36 miles Altogether we walked over about 500 miles and fourteen times we reached heights varying from 7,000 to 12,000 feet ten of these involving considerable work on snow and ice The boys were so eager to see that they would not rest The party were almost wholly teetotal two were vegetarians and these undoubtedly outstripped all the others in power being always the most eager to go on and often saving a fourth of time in making a stiff climb.

In 1897 Thomas Wyles is mentioned in another teetotaler publication for having climbed in the Alps in his 80s.

Below are two letters written by Thomas Wyles to his son Horace, and Horace’s sons, Selwyn and Foord. Both come to me from our cousin in England, Elizabeth French, and were written when Thomas was in his 90s.

“The College, March 26th 1907

My dear Foord and Selwyn,

I thank you very much for writing me your pretty letters of congratulation on my birthday. Also, thank your governess, Miss Hindley, for enabling you to write them. It is very pleasant to feel that at my age, I am able to enjoy life and to keep my body and mind active; and I want you to so live as to grow into useful men, and have a long and healthy life. To do this, you must, as soon as you are able to think and learn efficiently, learn all about yourselves, and how you can best live so as to obey the laws of life. If you will do this, you may be sure that you will have all the health and happiness that is possible to you.

Now, whilst you are young and under Miss Hindley’s tutelage, you must listen to what she teaches you, and this is the best way to grow into useful and intelligent men. And if you do this, you will always have the love and respect of those who know you, and especially that of

Your loving Grandfather
Thomas Wyles.”


“The Cross House, King’s Newton, Melbourne, Derby, March 28 1909

My dear Horace,

Many thanks for your good wishes on my 91st birthday. I was also much pleased with Foord and Selwyn’s notes. I know of some very good books for moral teaching, got up by J.G. Gould of Leicester. When the advertisement (?) meets my eye I will send one each to the boys. You will please tell them that at any time I will be pleased to learn that they are getting on with their education.

March 29th. Could write no more yesterday, and am not much more fit for writing today. I have rolled the lawn today and cross rolled it, and since then put in a good plot of early potatoes. This has been about as much as I am able to do. I should like you to see the place now. I have made all the garden tracks a yard wide, edged them which bricks, laid cornerwise, and have wheeled on to them 4 loads of engine ashes, and 3 loads of gravel. I have also made a path by the lawn from the top of the house steps to the vegetable garden and I am getting the lawn into condition for bowls by much rolling and cross rolling today after yesterday’s rain. I have made three double chairs, and one single one from some stakes cut out of a sycamore tree which we have cut down. Our neighbours tell us that in the spring the country round here is very gay and beautiful with the fruit blossoming. We shall have some fine growing of pears, plums, and apples. I have put in a dozen of apples and plums, and we shall have fruit from these–in time!!

I am in poor trim for writing, so will close with abundant love to yourselves and the children.

Your affectionate father,

Thomas Wyles.”

He may have been ‘in poor trim for writing’ but he sounds remarkably active for a 90 year old man of his time to me!  Elizabeth French’s comments:  “I have a few pictures of Thomas playing bowls upon his much-rolled and crossrolled lawn, and the staked sycamore chairs he mentioned are in evidence.  He is wearing what seems to be his trademark velvet jacket and floppy hat.”


The Children of Thomas Wyles and Ann Mary Foord.

Eleanor, “Nellie” Wyles, was the eldest of the eight children. She never married, and died in Derbyshire.

Alice Wyles married Robert Todd in 1883 in Lancashire, England. They had no children.

Horace Wyles married a woman named Annie Trotter. Of her we have a small, undated, newspaper cutting amongst the photos reading: “WYLES, On the 30th July at 15, Grove St., Didsbury, (nr. Manchester), Annie, the dearly beloved wife of Horace, aged 64 years. Interred at Norbury Chuch, Hazel Grove, August 2. Deeply grieved by son and daughter.” (courtesy Elizabeth French) Only two children are mentioned in this obituary, but there were three: Selwyn, Foord, and Cicely. Cicely Wyles’ scrapbooks are the source of many of these photos and much of the information we have. Evidently Selwyn was quite frail and died young.

Henry Foord Wyles (1841 – 1893), went to New Zealand, and I’d love to know what happened to him there!

Tracy Robert Wyles, my great-great grandfather, was born in Gloucester, England.  Tracy Wyles emigrated to America and bought Bloomfield Estate in Prince Edward County, Virginia, sometime around 1870. He married Anne Trickett.

Walter Clement Wyles (born 1842), about whom Tom R. Wyles wrote “married Polly Knollys, my Aunt Polly – my mother’s best friend. No children. Walter Wyles quite a chap and a gentleman. Aunt Polly lived and died at Jasmine Lodge, Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Aunt Polly’s husband, Walter Wyles did many things. Quite a linguist, painted, artistic, served with Gordon in China and associated with the Cooks of Cook’s Tours in various special capacities. He died of black smallpox in Paris.

Elizabeth French wrote that  “I also have a tiny sketch book inscribed “Walter Wyles, Croxley Green, Hertfordshire” containing a few water colours painted clearly on Walter’s holidays in Dorset, where I live, and in Yorkshire.

Selwyn Wyles (1847 – 1929). Tom R. Wyles wrote that Selwyn “Lived in Nauvoo, Illinois. Fine old chap. He and Aunt Sally both dead. They had three children. The eldest, Thomas Wyles, died a year ago. Susan Wyles married and lives in Sioux City, and Madison Wyles lives in Des Moines.

From Mary Wyles Keller, Selwyn’s granddaughter “I have it that Selwyn and Tracy had owned some land jointly in Prince Edward Co. VA at one time but then apparently Selwyn sold out to Tracy and I think that’s kind of where the family record dwindled. . . . Selwyn and Sally lived in a country home just south of Nauvoo IL, retiring to a house in Nauvoo. For some period of time he was supervisor of a canning factory in Keokuk, IA. A couple of years ago we were able to locate the house where they lived in the country. The family said it had gotten to the place it was to be repaired and updated or else taken down. They opted to fix it so it is now covered with vinyl siding and appears to be loved by the family there. I have a pen drawing that Selwyn did of the place. It is well done. Apparently he did a certain amount of woodworking, too, as we have a few pieces with his mark on them. He made the W and then superimposed the S–kinda looked like a weird $ sign. The house in Nauvoo is gone. The family was active in the Golden’s Point Church which remains an active country church north of Hamilton, IL. It is affiliated with the Christian denomination.

Florence Wyles, the youngest of the eight children, according to Tom R. Wyles, Sr.   “Married a man named Richard Little. He was a surly bastard and lived off of his wife’s money.

Tracy Robert Wyles & Anne Trickett

As I’ve written above, Tracy Robert Wyles was born the fourth of the eight children of Anne Mary Foord and Thomas Wyles, on March 22, 1845, in Gloucester, England.

Like many in England, Tracy Robert was the a younger son of a prosperous family, and although he might have education and some money, he would not inherit the estate of his father. So, sometime before 1870, Tracy Wyles and two other men, Tracy’s brother Selwyn Wyles, and Tracy’s future brother in law John Siddons decided to emigrate to Virginia, and bought Bloomfield Estate, near Darlington Heights in Prince Edward County.

In February 1870 Tracy and Selwyn sailed from Liverpool, England, on board the ship City of Antwerp, which arrived in New York on March 1st.  Then a bit later that year, the two Wyles brothers and John Siddons all appear in the 1870 census at Bloomfield Estate, without the women. I imagine they were having the house either built or refurbished to receive the Trickett sisters.

That same year, 1870, Tracy R. Wyles married Anne Trickett in St. Paul Cathedral in Richmond, Virginia. The service was officiated by the Bishop of Virginia himself.  Ann Trickett was the daughter of Joseph Trickett and Mary Ann Russell.  About the same time, Anne’s sister, Edith married John Siddons in New York, although I don’t know the details.

About the Tricketts: TRW wrote, “As a family [the Tricketts] were all interesting and did things. One Trickett was a very famous Engineer, another, a cousin of my Mother’s, Tom Trickett – I was named after him – was in the Navy and left quite a name. Of others, I don’t know much. One, Sir somebody-Archer was a writer and play critic, etc. I never knew much of the tribe as my living in England was with my Grandfather, Thomas Wyles.” Anne Wyles Coleman’s notes add the following: “Anne Trickett, 12/28/41 – 3/17/74. Bertram Russell some kind of cousin.

Tracy and Anne lived in Prince Edward County, one presumes at Bloomfield with the Siddons and Selwyn Wyles.  At some point, Selwyn sold his portion to the other two and went west to Illinois and Iowa (see above).  Tracy and Anne’s son, Tom Russell Wyles, was born in 1872, and then, at the birth of their second child, Anne Marian Wyles, Anne Tricket died. The baby girl died three months later and left Tracy with a young son to raise.  . TRW wrote, “My mother died when my sister was born in 1874. The St. Anne’s Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia was built in her memory, and she and my sister are buried in that Church Yard.

Shared with me by Terri Maitland on 4/24/00, from the book History of Prince Edward County, Virginia by Herbert Clarence Bradshaw.

Work on the church began in August 1874 when Mrs. Thomas Homer laid the memorial stone. The building was consecrated June 10, 1875 and was dedicated to St. Anne “in affectionate remembrance of Mrs. Annie Wyles, the wife of Tracy Wyles, who died in April 1874. John Siddons was a trustee and he was also on the building committee before the church was built.

After Ann’s death, Tracy moved to Richmond, Virginia, and some time later, remarried a woman referred to as “The Widow Leonard,” who had one baby of her own. Tracy took his new wife and children back to England. The Widow Leonard was Alice (nee Edgar), who came to the marriage with a son named Robert Edgar. I don’t know if this child was the son of Alice’s previous husband Mr. Leonard or not, but according to Elizabeth French, Robert Edgar worked for Thomas Cook’s tours in Japan.

Tom R. Wyles later wrote of his father: “…Lost the money my Mother left me and all his own. In the latter part of his life, I put up funds.”  In London, Tracy became the father of three more daughters, Muriel, Barbara, and Josephine Wyles, and he died in 1919, during World War I.

One of the three daughters, Mrs. Muriel Talbot wrote to Tom R. Wyles about her children and air raids on London (perhaps WWII air raids?), but Tom never heard after he wrote back, and it was feared that the family suffered casualties during the war. However, I have been fortunate enough to make contact with Muriel’s granddaughter, Elizabeth French, who is a physician in England. Elizabeth has been a wonderful source of information and photographs.

Tom Russell Wyles and Mary Richards

Tom Russell Wyles was the only surviving child of Tracy Robert Wyles and Anne Trickett. He was born on Valentine’s day of 1872 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, probably at Bloomfield Estate, and lived there with his parents until Anne Trickett’s death in 1874, when he was only a toddler.  His father remarried, and young Tom moved to England, where he lived with his grandfather, Thomas Wyles, in Allesley Hall near Coventry in Warwickshire from 1878 to 1890.

About this stay with his grandfather, Tom wrote,

Don’t know if my grandfather owned or rented. May have been an entitled estate. Anyhow, it was a lively place. Suppose if now occupied, it has changed a lot. I was there for eleven years and it has many good memories and some damned good lickings. Just had three kids arrested for stealing duck eggs on Exmoor pond. How well I remember when the game keeper of Col. Caldicoots place caught Jim Randall and myself after we had swum over to an island at 2:30 am and filled our handkerchiefs with wild fowl eggs, held handkerchief in our mouth and swam back. He grabbed us as we landed and we went into the parrish jail. The fine was not as bad as the licking. I am afraid as you may see bits of england you will find many things and people of greater prominence and interest than the few relatives I might have, but don’t know. I suppose they did their bit in their time and passed on as we all must do, in fond hope that those near to us or begot by us, may do better and profit by our errors, and omissions. You have a tough job ahead of you but I know will do your duty like a man. As long as I can keep going I will do mine to support you in every way. Your father, Tom R. Wyles

Martha Coleman Weyandt, Tom’s granddaughter, told me this story (October 1999) about Tom and his wife Mary Richards.

Tom Wyles was 18 when he met Mary Richards, who was 15 at the time. Mary’s father was dead, and she was under the male auspices of her brother, Eben Richards. Eben told the young Wyles that he could come for Mary when he was making $100 per month. So Tom Wyles went back to Chicago, where he worked as a secretary. This sad pass for a young gentleman raised at Allesley Hall had come about because his father, Tracy Robert Wyles, had squandered his inheritance leaving the young Tom near penniless. It took 10 years for Tom Wyles to earn $100 per month, but when he was 25, he went back and married Mary Richards in St. Louis at the beginning of the new century in February of 1900.

TRW and his wife, Mary Richards, raised their children in Highland Park, Illinois, where he was the Executive Director of Armstrong Paint & Varnish, and is given credit for having something to do with inventing “valspar” paint. He was also associated with the Steel Plate Fabricating Association (I’m still looking for documentation on this).

Tom Wyles was secretary in the Army, and served in WWI in New York as he was not a young man when he joined the military, and was therefore more useful in domestic bureaucracy than on the front lines. Martha Coleman remembers Tom as a charmer who never knew a stranger. Tom R. Wyles served the Army for many years through four decades of voluntary service first through the Military Training Camps Association and later as Chief Civilian Aide to (8) Secretaries of War, which was later changed to the Secretary of the Army.

According to Tom R. Wyles, III, Tom R. Wyles, Sr. was Chairman of the Green at his country club in Illinois when he was in his 70s. He lost a lot in the stock market crash, but managed to keep his mansion.

In 1954, Tom and Mary retired to a ranch along the Pecos River in the town of Pecos, New Mexico, designed by the architect John Gaw Meem. This house, called El Rinconcito, was designed in the early stages of John Gaw Meem’s career, and was evidently a proving ground for some of his more famous design concepts. There are letters between TRW and Meem in the John Gaw Meem Papers (John Gaw Meem Papers, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico, in General Correspondence, 1945. Box 13 Folder 13 [])  (If any kind soul wants to go to the CSR library in Zimmerman Library and make copies, if allowed, I’d be ever so grateful!)

Only five years after his retirement, Tom R. Wyles, Sr., died. The family received the following telegram from the Army: Brucker [Wilber Marion Brucker]

Western Union Telegram sent in June of 1959 to Mrs. Polly Wyles Day, La Fonda Hotel Santa Fe, New Mexico:

From Secy. of the Army,
I am deeply grieved to learn today of the passing of my good friend Tom Wyles. To your mother, to you, to Lt. Colonel Eben Wyles, and to all the members of your family, I extend my own deep sympathy and the heartfelt condolences of the many other friends and acquaintances of Mr. Wyles in the Department of the Army. Tom Wyles lived a splendid life. One deserving of the richest tributes. Yet perhaps nothing I might say of him today would be more meaningful to you and your family than that he was beloved of all who knew him. We of the Army cherished his friendship, respected his wisdom, valued his integrity, honored his patriotism, and above all loved him for himself.

Perhaps for all of this life, but certainly since the days of his military service in World War I, Tom Wyles loved the United States Army and supported it conspicuously. You of his family know well of the almost four decades of voluntary service he gave toward advancement and the furtherment of its causes, first through the Military Training Camps Association and later as Chief Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. His civilian aide service alone extended over a period of more than 18 years. Even when illness forced his retirement from active participation in 1956, Mr. Wyles maintained his continued deep interest in Army affairs. His many communications to those of us in the Department of the Army, sometimes dictated or written from a bed of pain, were vivid evidence that even in his declining years he stayed abreast of current affairs, kept the Army and the welfare of this country close to his heart, and maintained a perception and understanding as to the needs of both which would have done credit to one many years his junior.

Whether by letter, or telegram, or in person he never failed to inspire us. The Army has lost a faithful and valiant champion. We of the Army have lost a good and understanding friend. With deep sorrow we acknowledge our bereavement and wish to express to you and yours the hope that it will be some comfort to you to reflect upon the life he lived, the example he set for his fellow citizens, and the lasting imprint he has left upon the memories of so many of us. — DA”



  1. 1870 Federal Census for Buffalo Township, Prince Edward County, Virginia, p. 32 (213), dwelling 1489, family 1587. Tracy and Selwyn Wyles along with John Siddons are living together, along with Joseph Winston and William Daniel and his family. Winston and Daniel are listed as being black Virginia natives and farm laborers.
  2. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, (Micropublication M237. Rolls # 95-580. National Archives, Washington, D.C. ( New York Passenger Lists, 1851-1891 [database online]. Provo, Utah:, Inc., 2003.)), 01 March 1870, Ship: City of Antwerp from Liverpool, England, to New York, New York; line 36, microfilm roll 324, list number 141. “Wyles, Tracy and Selwyn, male, gentlemen from England
  3. 1920 Federal Census for Highland Park, Deerfield Township, Lake County, Illinois, (January 1920), page 5A, Sheridan Road 431, Dwelling 92, Family 90, line 40.
  4. 1930 Federal Census for Wayne County, Michigan, ED 82-218, Sheet 3A-179, Detroit, Prec. 27, Ward 8, Block 133, Dover Court Apts., fam. 51.
  5. Bradshaw, Herbert Clarence, History of Prince Edward County, Virginia. (Cited by Terri Maitland on 4/24/00).
  6. Coleman, Anne Trickett Wyles, Notes, Notes written 1978-1979.
  7. Coleman, Martha, Interview.
  8. French, Elizabeth, personal communications, referencing and providing copies of photos and memorabilia from her collection (1999 to Present).
  9. Keller, Mary A. Wyles, (Personal communication), “Electronic.”
  10. Marriage Records #25 of Christ Episcopal Church, New York, New York, (Cited by Rev. Paul Olsson, June 2002).
  11. Prince Edward County, Virginia Births, 1862-96, 125, [WYLES, Tom, born FEB 14 1872, Race W, sex M, father: T.R., Mother: Annie.]
  12. Virkus, Frederick A., Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy, The, Volume I, 1925, (F. A. Virkus & Company, Genealogical Publishers, Chicago, Illinois).
  13. Who Was Who in America. A component of “Who’s Who in American History.” Volume 3, 1951-1960., (Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who, 1966. (WhAm 3)).
  14. Wyles, Tom Russell, Sr., Notes written in the 1950s.

The Ancestors of Rutha Jane Mason, Part I

Who do you think you are?

As it turns out, my answers to that question have been far more complex and interesting than I ever imagined, and knowing more about them has infinitely enriched my experience and my understanding of what it means to be an American.

One of the most compelling branches of my ancestors winds its way back from great grandmother, Sarah Rebecca Lee, through her mother, Rutha Jane Mason.

It is Rutha’s line that I will discuss in this post.  I know some basic facts about Rutha Jane Mason: she was born a little over a century and a half ago in 1859, in Knox County, Kentucky, not long before the start of the Civil War.  She married Stephen Lee when she was 22 years old, and they moved to Ohio, where she bore (at least) 10 children.  Sadly, she died young in 1904, when she was 44 years old, of ‘Tonsillitis’ while visiting her parents, possibly shortly after giving birth to her 10th child, Ruth, who also died the same day and is buried at her mother’s foot.

In 1999, I had the opportunity to speak with my great-uncle Dale Fleming, of Farley, who had this to say about Rutha’s family, including her daughter, Sarah Lee, Dale’s mother.

“Sarah’s dad … was a big, tall, rawboned guy. He drank a lot, was mean, and when his wife died, the twelve kids scattered like birds to survive.  Sarah went to Oklahoma to live with a cousin.  Sarah was little and slim.  She grew up hard and didn’t expect much.”

Rutha Jane Mason was the daughter of James Mason and Sarah Evans, both of whom were descendants of Native Americans and European immigrants, and probably some variety of other ethnicities, such as African and perhaps Jewish, Greek, Turk, or Arab. This is based on recent DNA evidence, and I’ll return to this topic later.

I would like to thank several cousins, including Dusty Pilgrim, Rollie Campbell, Jackie Utley, and Cheryl Bada, who have done the footwork of identifying names, dates, and places, with such consistently thorough scholarship.  Since they have established this framework, I thought I might be able to contribute to the family’s understanding by adding a little historical context.

Beginning with the inhabitants of Virginia at the time of European contact, I’ve tried to sketch out the history behind the names and dates of Rutha Jane’s ancestors, focusing on the Gibson and Collins families, as they migrated from Virginia to North Carolina, and then went on to Kentucky and Tennessee.


Native Americans of Virginia and North Carolina at the time of European Contact

I believe the story of at least one branch of Rutha’s family has its roots among the Native American people of what is now Virginia[i] and North Carolina.  This native lineage was later joined by European immigrants from Spain and Portugal, England, Germany, and beyond.  We don’t have names for these individuals, but we know a little about their people’s history.

The folk living in what is now Virginia and North Carolina at the time of European contact, were members of four distinct language groups divided into numerous tribes and bands. See also the “Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stocks – Eastern U.S.” map at the Perry Castaneda collection online for a nice depiction.

A very simplified outline of these groups and their general location is as follows:

  • Along the Atlantic coast, known as the Tidewater region, lived the Algonquian people, including the Powhattan and others (the famous Pocahontas was a woman of the Powhattan tribe);
  • in the hills of the Piedmont region to the west of the Tidewater area were the Siouan people, including the Monacan and the Saponi, with whom our ancestors appear to be most closely affiliated, as well as numerous other members of this very extensive language group that stretched far west into the continent;
  • they were bounded to the north by their hostile Iroquois neighbors,
  • and to the south by the Cherokee, and others.

There was both trade and hostility between these four native groups, and I imagine that they must have mixed to some extent, so that as descendants of the early people of Virginia, we may expect to have ancestors among all four groups.

Karenne Wood, Program Director, Historical Research Office, Monacan Indian Nation at the Monacan Nation website writes[ii]:

When the first colonists arrived at Jamestowne in 1607, they immediately met with Indian people on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. These Indians belonged to a vast Powhatan autocracy and spoke Algonquian languages. In the piedmont and mountain regions of this area lived Siouan Indians of the Monacan and Mannahoac tribes, arranged in a confederation ranging from the Roanoke River Valley to the Potomac River, and from the Fall Line at Richmond and Fredericksburg west through the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

As early as 1527, European explorers were sailing around the Chesapeake Bay, and presumably making journeys up the great rivers flowing inland, such as the Potomac and the York Rivers, encountering the native people along the way, and probably on occasion mingling with them, conceivably leaving descendants behind with European blood.  This is a relevant issue later in our family’s story, as mounting DNA evidence suggests some connection with the Mediterranean world, which likely occurred early in Colonial history.

Some of the earliest possible sources of this genetic admixture include the party of a Spanish conquistador named Hernando de Soto, who mounted an expedition that penetrated into the area, and ended on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1542.  A little later, there were several expeditions that included slaves of various races, including a group of captives from the Ottoman Empire, who had been kidnapped by pirates in the Mediterranean and sold to Portuguese slavers.  Some of this particular group of slaves may have escaped to live among the Indians, and others were rescued by Sir Francis Drake.  Other possible sources of early non-natives living among the Indians were the ‘Portuguese’ members of De Soto’s expedition, who may, plausibly, have been Converso Jews –part of dispersal of the Spanish Jews fleeing the expulsion from Spain that began in 1492. Certainly there are other groups whose remnants or runaways were taken in by the Native Americans throughout the history of the settlement of the area, most especially the African slaves who were imported to work the tobacco farms.  (See Penny Ferguson’s timeline at Jack Goins’ site for some interesting information on this era.)

At any rate, by the time the English decided to try to establish a colony in Virginia, the native populations had already absorbed a variety of Europeans and Africans, along with the newcomers’ DNA and their diseases which devastated the Indian tribes.

In 1585 the English attempted the first of several attempts at a colony on Roanoke Island, previously called Secotan, off the coast of North Carolina.  This is the famous ‘lost’ colony we learn about in school. From what I can ascertain, this island’s former, native inhabitants had been slaughtered by a previous English expedition in retaliation for a stolen silver cup, leaving it ‘uninhabited’ and available. Dispatched by Raleigh, this group of 75 men, none of whom knew how to work for their survival, lasted until late summer of the next year, when Sir Francis Drake passed by, and rescued those who remained.

A later attempt to build a colony at Roanoke began two years later, in 1587, with 150 colonists, including women and children.  When Indian hostilities toward the colonists began to escalate, they sent their leader back to England for help.  He was delayed for three years by weather and wars, and when he finally made it back to Roanoke, the colonists were gone, their buildings dismantled, and the island was empty.  Their fate is one of the enduring mysteries of US history.  It is possible that some surviving individuals from this colony were either captured by local Native Americans, or went voluntarily to live among them[iii].

In 1607, the English established their first successful colony in the new world at Jamestown, Virginia[iv].   This attempt was mainly a get-rich-quick scheme that really didn’t work as hoped, with the establishment of a colony as a secondary, poorly conceived plan.  Of the 500 colonists who arrived, 50 were dead in the first few months.  By 1610, only 50 survived.   This shockingly high mortality was caused as much by the colonists incompetence and ignorance, which often brought on the hunger, disease, exposure, accident, and Indian hostility that killed them.  The English went stomping about trying to impose their own social structure on the Algonquin-speaking Powhattan Indians, whose territory they had invaded.  They demanded food and were quick to kill their neighbors — perhaps not the most effective diplomatic strategy.  At any rate, several attempts were made by various Indian groups to exterminate the colony, and these very nearly succeeded.

Early (so far unconnected) Gibsons and Collins in Virginia

Although we don’t know if he was our relation, one of the men who lived in the Jamestown colony was a man named Thomas Gibson, who arrived in Virginia on the second supply ship in 1608, and was listed as a tradesman.  He is also listed as one of the original Planters in 1609 at Jamestown[v].  Further, Thomas Gibson’s name is among those who went with Captain Smith on his ‘diplomatic’ mission to the Indians in 1608, and was one of those who were sent to stay with the Powhatans to build their chief, Powhattan, a house[vi]Please note, there is no known documentation of any relationship between this Thomas Gibson, and our first known ancestor, Thomas Gibson, who would have been the right age to be the early immigrant’s grandson.  But the possibility is intriguing.

See the Gibson Timeline website for more details on the various Gibsons in early Virginia, but here I have given a few tidbits on some other intriguing ancestral possibilities:

In 1624 a Frances Gibson is listed among the settlers at Jamestown.  I have seen some speculation that the name Thomas was sometimes written as Francis, but I have been unable to verify that at all.  Also possible is that this is a family member of the Thomas Gibson who explored with Captain Smith — perhaps a child or a wife.  There are no further records of this individual.

There were several other Gibsons who also arrived in the colony during this period, but since there was nearly an 80% mortality rate among colonists, it is extremely difficult to make reliable connections between transported Europeans and later generations who appear in the record.  Further, when colonists mixed with natives, we have a rather less formal appropriation of family names, and surely, they did mix, when men comprised nearly three quarters of the European colonists as late as 1625, although evidence suggests that such intermarriage/intermixing was limited. (See “Women in Early Jamestown” by Kathleen M. Brown, one of the Jamestown Interpretive Essays at the Virtual Jamestown website.)

There are also records of  another Thomas Gibson, who was transported to Virginia Colony in 1642 and settled in Hanover County, Virginia.  Whether he was any relation to any of the earlier Gibsons at Jamestown is unknown, but Hanover County is where our first documented Gibson ancestor lived.

By 1642, the Virginia colony had successfully made the transition to an individual landholder system – as opposed to the dysfunctional corporate system in which hired laborers worked the land, which system had contributed to the downfall of the previous colonization efforts.  The new individual landholder system was a headright system, a complicated mechanism of land grants, by which the colonies were populated by providing essentially the only avenue to land ownership in the colony. A simplified explanation of the system is this: under the headright system, anyone who could pay for a person’s passage to the colony – their own or someone else’s passage – would be granted a certificate redeemable for a 50-acre land patent.  These patents were bought and sold, bequeathed and stolen, and sometimes redeemed decades after the new colonist had set out for the New World, but they did help to generate a steady stream of workers to help establish the colony.

The headright system rewarded individuals who had enough capital to bring their entire family – 50 acres for each woman and child – and also helped to establish the institutions of indentiture and slavery when wealthy colonists were able to buy the passages of numerous servants and/or slaves.  Indeed, something like 80% of the white immigrants came to these shores as un-free individuals – either because they sold themselves into indentiture to pay their passage to a land of more opportunity; or because they had been sold by someone else, such as a parent or guardian; or because they were prisoners of the crown (criminals, rebels, etc.).

These ‘lower classes’ of whites mixed more freely with Native Americans and also with Africans who were brought to the colony often under similar circumstances, and who, during these earlier decades, were sometimes able to earn their freedom just as white indentured servants could.  It wasn’t until later that the institution of black slavery was installed with the rigid boundaries of race and utter lack of rights that would eventually precipitate a civil war.

In spite of the desperate odds, many people, including some African slaves, did manage to survive, and some lived long enough to become landholders. For the English colonists, this was something they would never have been able to do in England; for the Africans, it was a window of opportunity they would not have again for centuries.  Once they became land owners, they had a great opportunity to earn wealth by growing tobacco, which was then exported, taxed, and sold at a great profit for everyone involved.[vii]  Well, almost everyone.

The downside of this lucrative system was that it required a great deal of land, and unfortunately for them, our Indian ancestors had land, which was taken by the colonists, usually by force or chicanery.  By the 1640s, the Algonquin people had been almost entirely dispossessed of their land and their way of life, as an unending tide of settlers poured off the transport ships.  Further to the west, the Siouan, Cherokee, and Iroquois tribes remained, if not untouched – at least much more intact than their coastal neighbors.

This would change rapidly, though, and by the mid 1700s, all the Native tribes of the Americas were feeling the impact of unending stream of European immigrants into their continents.  The Virginia and North Carolina Indians were on the front lines of this displacement.

The diseases that ravaged native populations had run ahead of the Europeans a century and a half earlier, sowing the first seeds of social disintegration, sometimes killing 80% of a given tribe. By 1730, inter-tribal warfare was on the rise, as one group after another was impacted by the influx of new settlers, and as some tribes took advantage of the unrest and change to victimize former enemies.  Of course the European settlers and their leaders were even more destructive to native groups.  And finally, as the transition to tobacco cultivation by individual land holders was established, the Indians were systematically pushed off their land. For a very interesting discussion of this period, see The Siouan Tribes of the East by James Mooney[viii].

The trauma to the tribes was profound.  Traditional lifeways had been disastrously disrupted, clans were splintered and destroyed, and most surviving native groups were repeatedly displaced from their homes, eventually pushing them further up into the Appalachian Mountains and west to what is now Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri.

But not all of the Indians disappeared from the Piedmont.  There were isolated groups of Indian families still moving about the landscape, and these included some bands of Siouan people who came to be called Saponi, from whom we believe we are descended.  A great source of more information on the Siouan people is

Our Gibson and Collins families

When reliable records begin to be kept, the Gibson and Collins families we believe we are descended from are variously described as ‘white’, ‘indian’, and ‘mulatto’, as they move from one location to another, trying to find a peaceful place where they will be allowed to raise their families.  These folk follow many of the same migration patterns as the Saponi people, and are often found in the records living near known Saponi settlements.  The same families are also listed among those in references to free persons of color and African American families in colonial Virginia, such as Paul Heinegg’s book, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the colonial period to about 1820, Volume 1.6.  They were also probably the descendants of some of the early British colonists to the area, who may or may not actually have been Collins and Gibson men.

The first two documented generations of Gibsons in our direct lineage are murky (documented in a direct line, as opposed to documented, but not connected to our known lineage). There is the Thomas Gibson who was transported to America and settled in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1642, whom I mentioned above.  He may have been the European immigrant ancestor of this line, although the direct evidence is still lacking.  The fact that he was transported, indicates that it is possible he was brought to the Virginia Colony as an indentured servant, although this is not certain either.

50 years later, in 1695, in the vestry records for St. Peter’s Parish in Hanover County, we find mention of a Mary and Thomas Gibson – could this be the same Thomas, or perhaps a son or grandson?:

1695- At a vestry hold at ye house of Mr. James Moss in ye behalf of St. Peter’s parish octob’r ye 10, 1695.
To Mary Gibson upon acc’t drawn by ye Church wardens  208
To Thomas Gibson for keeping a bastard child a year and a half  1500
To Tho. Gibson for keeping a Bastard Child 10 months & a half 850

Whether these are our ancestors is not proven, but seems at least possible, as they were in the right place at the right time.  However, Thomas and Mary were very common names, which make positive identification difficult with the information I have to hand.  It is also possible that some of these foster children may have been Native children, and/or that they took on the name of Gibson.

At this time, the major church of the Virginia colony was the Anglican Church, the counties and parishes were very parallel in their jurisdictions, and the church served as the distributor of social aid.  Thus, the Thomas and Mary Gibson mentioned in these records were part of an early foster care system.  It is also interesting to know that the Parish was a very important political unit at this time as well, and that later county boundaries often corresponded with parish boundaries. According to the historian John Nelson, local government in early Virginia should be understood as “parish-county” government, these two “linked institutions sharing, dividing up, and intermingling their interests and responsibilities.” (Bond)

In about 1710 a child named Thomas Collins was born in Virginia, and at least one of his parents was probably a member of the Monasukapanough tribe, also known as the Saponi.  He and his relatives are mentioned several times in the court records in association with other known Saponi people.  According to Collins family tradition, as told to Will Allen Dromgoole by Calloway Collins in 1890, “The Collins were living in Virginia as Indians before they migrated to North Carolina, and they stole the name Collins from white settlers.” See the Searching for Saponitown website for lots of great links to information on the Siouan people of Virginia.

This map shows the known locations of the Saponi Tribe at this time.

Next, there is a Thomas Gibson who wrote his will in 1734, in Hanover County, Virginia.  He would be rather old to be the Thomas Gibson who was transported to Virginia, but could be a direct descendant.

There are also a number of other Gibson families making their way in Virginia during the same time frame, but it is very difficult to pick out the individual strands of related families, especially given that so many of the men are named Thomas and John.  In other words, we are uncertain about who the earlier ancestors of this line are, although there are many theories.  Recent DNA testing has shown that the descent of our line likely comes this way.  It does also appear that our Thomas Gibson was a close relation to one Gilbert Gibson, as they appear together in several records through the years.  Perhaps Gilbert and Thomas were brothers.

In 1734, as I mentioned, one Thomas Gibson made his will in St Martin’s Parish, (which had been created from part of St. Peter’s Parish):

I Thomas Gibson Senior of St. Martins Par., Hanover Co. Sick and weak but of sound mind and memory do make this my Last will and Testament. I recommend my soul to the hand of Almighty God and my body to the earth. After all my debts and funeral charges are paid I give to my loving son Thomas Gibson 50 a. of land; to my well beloved son John Gibson 50 a. of land; to be well beloved daughter Nice? Nicks wife of Edward Nicks, Frances Humdrey and Mary Brook one Shilling each; to my well beloved son Edward Nicks whom I do hereby constitute sole Exor. of this my will and Testament my house likewise my stock of hogs and cattle together with all my Estate goods and Chattels moveable and unmovable to enable c. I do hereby utterly revoke and make void all former wills made by me.

Thomas (+) Gibson Wit: Isaac (x) Johnson, James (x) Phillips, G. Gillingham, School Mstr.

7 Nov. 1734 proved by oaths of the witnesses.

REF: Hanover Co., VA Court Records, 1733-1735

Finally here, with the son Thomas, we believe we have a more firmly documented ancestor!

What we know of this younger Thomas Gibson’s earlier life is scant.  We know he had a wife named Mary, because she is mentioned in one of the land-sale records. I have found no reliable trace of her possible last name.  Yes, it is confusing, because this Thomas and Mary Gibson would probably be too young to be the Thomas and Mary mentioned in the St. Peter’s parish records in the 1690s.  Wish they’d been a little more creative in their namings!

Per the terms of his father’s will (see above), Thomas was granted 50 acres of land in Hanover County (the acreage commonly given in headright; although by this date, the ‘headright’ was possibly purchased instead of granted to a new immigrant). I have not seen the documentation for the location of this acreage, but it is not far from the Pamunkey River area where Thomas would soon have more land. Thomas would have been at least 30 years old at the time of his father’s death, based on the estimated birth date of one of his children.

In 1742, Thomas Gibson appears in a merchant’s account books for Hanover County. Later that same year, Hanover county was split up, and the part where the Gibsons lived was made part of the new Louisa County, Virginia. Below is a map of the various locations I mention in this post, as I work on this lineage, I keep it open in my browser for reference – perhaps it will help make the story clearer if you do so as well.

The migrations of the Collins and Gibson families and allied families (1710-1900s).

In January of 1742, in Orange County, Virginia, a court case was brought against a group of Indian men, among them John Collins.

“Alexander Machartoon, John Bowling, Manicassa, Capt. Tom, Isaac,  Harry, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack,  Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack. Indians being brought before the court by precept under the hands and seals of Wm Russell & Edward Spencer, Gent. for terrifying one Lawrence Strother  and on suspicion of stealing  hoggs……..” The above put up security individually.   It was ordered that their guns be taken from them till they are ready to depart out of this county,  “they having declared their intentions to the Court to depart this colony within a week”   (Orange Co. VA Order Book 3 1741-1743. 309) Orange Co VA Microfilm Reel 31, VA State Archives.

One researcher, Brenda Collins Dillon commented on this case: “My research turned up [that] the above case could have had something to do with an Indian ceremony where the earth is scorched and a feast takes place to celebrate the coming of the planting season. Also my feeling [is] that this land that Governor Spotswood’s plantation was on, was probably Indian land to begin with, and the Indians were doing to them what seemed natural.

Then in 1743, Thomas acquired land on the Pamunkey River, in Louisa County, about five miles north of present day Richmond. I believe this was not far from the land he inherited from his father.  At this time, Louisa County was being settled by tobacco farmers who were rapidly taking over the former hunting grounds of the Pamunkey and Chicahominy Indians.  So the fact that Thomas was granted land there may indicate that he was farming tobacco.

Two years later, in 1745, we find the following, in the Louisa County Court’s records:

“William Hall, Samuel Collins, William Collins, Samuel Bunch, George Gibson, Benjamin Brannum, Thomas Gibson, & William Donothan appear to answer an indictment for concealing tithables. Plead not guilty, Case continued.” (Louisa County, Va., Tithables and Census). 

The concealed thithables in question may have been these men’s wives.  At that time, tithables meant the number of taxable individuals in a household[ix].  Thithables were variously defined during the colonial period; originally, as set down in 1624, it meant “every male head above sixteen years of age.” Over the next century, this was gradually adjusted to tax a broader range of people, including slaves and indentured servants of both sexes, and free non-whites (i.e., Indians, Blacks and people of mixed race) of both sexes.  In other words, women who were ‘white’ were non-tithable, women of color were tithable.  (I don’t know which one bothers me more!)

Therefore, when these men were brought to the Louisa County court for concealing tithables, it was likely that they were trying to either not report a wife at all, or were trying to pass her off as white, and therefore non-tithable, when whomever brought the suit considered said wife to be a woman of color.  From this we learn that the ‘color’ of at least some of the members of this household, probably women, were either Indian, African, or of mixed ancestry. In later records, the members of this family, including the men, are listed as being mulatto, and the family moved together with other families who are variously listed as Indian, mulatto, and negro, and along the same general migration path as the Saponi Indian tribe took.

The suit against Thomas Gibson was dismissed by the court on 24 September of the same year, because he was not an inhabitant of the county [Orders 1742-8, 152, 157, 167, 171], but within a few years, in 1747 and 1749, Thomas and Mary were selling their Louisa County land holdings on the Pamunkey River (adjacent to Gilbert Gibson’s land), and were moving south into North Carolina. About the same time, in 1747, Thomas Collins also sold his 186 acres of land on Turkey Creek on the south side of the South Anna River in Louisa County.  The records show that his land was near that of Gilbert and Thomas Gibson and Samuel Bunch. There would be some movement back and forth into Virginia by various members of the family, but our branch of this group would never again live in their ancestral lands.

Into North Carolina

We find the Gibson and Collins families next in 1750 in Granville County, North Carolina along the Flatt River.  In 1750, Thomas Gibson is on the tax list there, and in addition to himself, he also paid the tax for Charles and ‘Majer’ Gibson, presumably his sons.  Major Gibson has recently been identified by genetic testing as the ancestor for our line of Gibsons.  This is the first record I know of for him.  Also in Granville County’s tax list for that year are John, Samuel, and Thomas Collins, Sr.

It was also in 1750, in North Carolina, that David Collins, the son of John Collins, was born.

The following year, in 1751, Thomas Gibson received 640 acres on the south side of Flatt River joining John Collins, on the “Rocky Branch” He later sold part of this land to Joel Gibson in 1770.

Granville County, North Carolina, had been Tuscarora Indian territory, but after a war with that tribe in 1717, the British pushed the tribe out, and began to take over their former lands.  The Flatt River is very near the known area where a group of Saponi Indians was recorded in the early 1750s, and again in 1755; so this, combined with the other records associating the Collins and Gibson families with the Saponi, works to build the case for a possible tribal connection with at least some members of these families.  I say at least some members, because I think it is conceivable that English colonists, probably men, were married with Native women, or alternately white women who married ‘free men of color’, thus creating bi-cultural families.

At this time, children were conferred the social status of their mothers, therefore, if the mother was a free woman, her children would also be free; if she were a slave, her children were born into slavery, regardless of the status of their fathers.  Those families with a Native female head of household may have followed the woman’s Native kin group as it moved across the landscape.

Granville County was also on the edge of the settled frontier of North Carolina at this time, and the Collins and Gibson families likely traveled south along the Upper Road branch of the Great Wagon Road. The Great Wagon Road was an ancient and crucial inland route originally used by the Natives – part of it was known as the Great Warrior’s Trail. The European settlers used the road for trade and to get to new settlements, and it eventually ran over 700 miles from Philadelphia south through Virginia and the Carolinas into Georgia.  It ran between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, crossing to the other side of the Blue Ridge at the Roanoke River Gap, and continued south into the Carolina Piedmont to modern Winston Salem, where it was joined by the east–west Catawba and Cherokee Indian Trading Path to at the Trading Ford across the Yadkin River, in Rowan, North Carolina, thence to Charlotte and on to Rock Hill, South Carolina where it branches to take two routes to Augusta, and Savannah, Georgia. (Map from Southwest Virginia Campbells web site; read more about the Great Wagon Road at the Georgian Index website).

Since this trail was an ancestral Indian road before the colonists ever arrived, so it was also a logical route for our Saponi folk to have taken. The Flat River grants were located just north of Hillsborough, and thus within easy access of the Great Wagon Road.  Many settlers traveled the road on foot, on horseback, with their families and herds of livestock, and even the occasional Conestoga wagons pulled by teams of oxen. Either way, the road was notoriously difficult to travel, although it was the only way to make the inland trek.

In 1752 parts of Granville County, Bladen County, and Johnston County were combined to form Orange County.  Our ancestors were primarily located in Granville and the new Orange Counties.

In 1752, in Granville County, North Carolina, we find that Thomas Collins received a grant on the Flatt River by Dial’s Creek.  Witnesses to this transaction were Paul Collins, George Gibson, and Moses Riddle, who may have been Thomas Collins’ father-in-law.   In the 1755 tax list for Orange County, North Carolina we find the following Gibsons:

Thomas Gibson 3 tithes (mulatto)
Charles Gibson 1 tithe (mulatto)
George Gibson 1 tithe (mulatto)
Mager Gibson 1 tithe (mulatto) (also in NC Federal Census)

John Collins also appears in the 1755 tax records for the Flatt River area, which was near the Virginia-North Carolina border, along with Thomas and Samuel Collins, and all three were also listed as mulatto.

At this time in the history of the eastern colonies, during the height of the slave trade from Africa, skin color was of paramount importance as part of the system of subjugation of anyone who was not white. Because of this, a person’s skin color had a great deal to do with their options in society.   Around the end of the 1600s and continuing into the early 1700s, there were a series of laws enacted which severely limited the rights of Free Persons of Color, as they were termed.  These laws forbade people of color from employing white servants, it kept slaves from being manumitted unless they were taken out of the colony, and perhaps most draconian, it forbade interracial marriages, and the illegitimate mixed-race children of white women were ordered to be bound out for 30 years!  Imagine having your children taken from you and sentenced to thirty years bondage for the crime of being born mixed race![x]

Our Collins and Gibson families would have been subject to all these restrictions to their freedoms.  This may be why they lived in the hill country, far from towns and cities, where perhaps they could attract less attention.  In the coming century, they kept moving.

In Part II of this narrative, I’ll follow these families from North Carolina into Tennessee and Kentucky, as the Bull/Turnbull, Mason and Evans families (and others) join the line.  I’ll try to get this posted soon.  In the meantime, I welcome your comments and corrections.

External Links

[i] For an excellent discussion of the Native Americans in Virginia, see the Swanton list at

[ii] Karenne Wood, “The Monacan Indians of Virginia”

[iii] For more about the Roanoke colony

[vii] For further discussion of the headright system, see Wikipedia : ; and Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet II : Understanding Headrights :

[ix] For a great explanation of thithables, see

[x] If you are interested in learning more about the racial relations in the Virginia and North Carolina colonies, see Paul Heinegg’s website: Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.