Saturday, November 19, 2022

Among the Earliest Settlers


Do you ever wonder who were the first to establish the community your ancestors called home? In my case, some of the first European settlers to move into a wilderness area in North America were my forebears. Since I have no clue what their ethnic identity might have been at that time, perhaps the law of averages can guide me, simply by inquiring as to which immigrant groups settled the areas where my family roamed.

In the case of my Tilson ancestors, they were fairly early arrivals in the southwestern corner of the Virginia colony. Once again, when they moved to northwestern Tennessee—that Washington District of North Carolina which eventually became part of the new state of Tennessee—they were apparently among the early arrivals. If the F.A.N. Club principle holds true—that acronym representing the family, friends, associates, and neighbors of the wandering Peleg Tilson—perhaps that will give me a hint as to what his ethnicity was.

Wandering through the reference materials on this region in the past, I had spotted mention of those early settlers as primarily comprised of Scots-Irish immigrants and their descendants. It certainly fulfills the stereotype: pushing the boundaries of civilization, living on the edge, valuing independence and the room to make their own decisions.

That was where the Tilsons were when they pushed the legal boundaries of colonial Virginia, remaining where they settled, scoffing at the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Again, in the uprising which sought to establish the new state of Franklin, rumblings of perceived neglect and misuse by North Carolina's legislature sounded much like the stereotypical representation of the Scots-Irish.

However, when I look for descriptions of the background of those who settled that Washington County area—whether considered part of Virginia, North Carolina, or Tennessee—all I can find are notes that Tennessee was settled by Virginians or settled by Europeans. This gives me no context for what my roots might actually have been, concerning these early settlers.

Looking for further information on the earliest arrivals in that northeastern tip of Tennessee where my Tilson line eventually settled, it is not hard to find articles on those early names. An oft-repeated article online was drawn from a March 21, 1962, article published in The Erwin Record, Erwin being the Tennessee location of my grandfather's birth and childhood. A "little later" than the first arrivals in 1772 were five men, named as "Baxter Davis, Enoch Job, Jesse Brown and Peleg and William Tilson."

Essentially the same article was drawn from volume two of an 1887 book called, simply enough, History of Tennessee. Whether reading the version drawn up seventy five years earlier makes the list of names more certain, I certainly can't say, but seeing Peleg Tilson in both printings is encouraging. 

Peleg Tilson, of course, is the name I'm following in my current research project, but I can't help but cast an eye on the name Baxter Davis, for within a generation, Peleg's daughter Rachel was married to a Davis descendant, who happened to name his firstborn son by that same Davis name.   

With the convergence of what essentially added up to three states' claim upon the region where Peleg settled, clues to those governmental claims could point us in any of three directions in determining where those settlers had come from. Fortunately, it was easy to see that Peleg once lived in Virginia colony. But I've always been curious as to that other early settler named in those records—the one named Baxter Davis. If he came to Tennessee at about the same time as the two Tilson men, could he have known them back in Virginia? After all, F.A.N. Club and all, one would think it a strong possibility.


  1. Replies
    1. I'm hoping, Miss Merry, but still quite cautious about a name as common as Davis.


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