The Walker Families of Southeastern Rockingham County, North Carolina

Mark B. Walker
7 January 2000


The Piedmont region of North Carolina was the American frontier in the 1740ís and 1750ís. This lush, rolling country was the recipient of a flood of travelers from the north. Many were the descendants of Scottish or Scotch-Irish immigrants who had arrived in Pennsylvania in the first half of the 18th Century. Among the early settlers to appear in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina in the 1750ís and 1760ís were several who bore the Walker surname. Although the details of their arrival are lacking, James and Alexander Walker, two brothers with clear ties to Pennsylvania, are firmly documented from the late 1770ís in an area that is today southeastern Rockingham County. William Walker, a man probably related to the brothers, also appears in public records from that time. These three may in turn have a connection to a Walker who lived in the area prior to 1769.

The Setting

The American frontier in the 1740's was only a few hundred miles inland from the Atlantic coast, and in North Carolina, it could be found in a vast area of the northern Piedmont known at the time as Anson County. The county was so large, in fact, that its western boundary was fairly well undefined. The era was full of change and movement, however, and the territory was the beneficiary of a river of humanity come from as far away as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. With the Shenandoah Valley as the conduit, so many souls poured into the area from the north that the colonial government had to create new counties in rapid succession just to administer the growing population. Rowan and Orange were made from Anson in 1753, then Guilford from parts of Rowan and Orange just five years before the great declaration of American independence. Next came Caswell County from Orange in 1778, and finally, Guilford was subdivided in 1785. The northern half of the old Guilford County was henceforth known as Rockingham County, while the southern half retained the original name. [1]

Early in the 1750ís, a group of individuals associated with the Nottingham Presbyterian Church in eastern Pennsylvania purchased lots in Orange County, North Carolina, from the British aristocrat John Earl Granville.[2] Pennsylvania Proprietor William Penn had for many years maintained a policy of inviting various ethnic and religious groups from Europe to settle in the border regions of his own colony in an attempt to extend it southward and thereby prevent Lord Baltimore, Proprietor of the neighboring colony of Maryland, from pushing his northern border up to 40 degrees latitude.[3] The border between the two colonies would not be finally established until many years later. One group that accepted the invitation was the Scotch-Irish, persons of Scottish ancestry from Northern Ireland.[4] These immigrants had arrived early in the 18th Century and established both a community and the Nottingham congregation.[5] By 1756, 19 families from this community had taken possession of the lots in North Carolina,[6] which were located on North Buffalo Creek in the area now encompassed by the city of Greensboro.

One of the lasting artifacts of this community is Buffalo Presbyterian Church, a congregation that exists to this day in Greensboro. A Nottingham family, soon after settling into its lot on North Buffalo Creek, invited a Presbyterian minister to preach in the area, an event that proved to be the catalyst for the founding of this church.[7] Around the same time, people were beginning to set up homesteads along Haw River roughly 20 miles to the north.[8] These pioneers soon established their own church, Speedwell Presbyterian, a congregation that still meets a few miles south of Reidsville.[9] A few years later, in 1762, settlers began to meet for worship a few miles southeast of Speedwell and in 1770, they bought land just south of Haw River for a church, Haw River Presbyterian.

The Three Brothers and Others

Immigrants soon began to fill this area, which would eventually become the southeastern corner of Rockingham County. It is a well-watered region where Troublesome Creek flows into Haw River and both Hoganís Creek and Country Line Creek have their sources. Two brothers, James and Alexander Walker, applied for land grants in this territory in 1778 and 1779, when it was still a part of Guilford County.[10] James obtained two lots of 200 and 500 acres on Hoganís Creek in 1780,[11] while Alexander received a 340-acre tract on Hoganís Creek in 1783.[12] James and Alexander had another brother, John, who had migrated to Davidson County in the Southwest Territory (present-day Tennessee) by 1793.[13] Another early Walker arrival in that region was William Walker, who obtained a land grant on Country Line Creek, very close to the border between the current Rockingham and Caswell counties, also in 1780.[14] William may have been a brother to these other three.

They, however, were not the first bearers of that surname to develop a connection to the area. A man named William Walker died in 1769 in Orange County, leaving his worldly goods to his wife and five sons, William, James, Abraham, John and Alexander.[15] In particular, Alexander was to receive his father's land on Hoganís Creek, which crosses present-day Rockingham and Caswell counties and empties into Dan River. At that time, Hoganís Creek was near the far western edge of Orange County: its source was only a few miles east of the border with Rowan County. Nevertheless, we can be reasonably certain that the Hoganís Creek property was within the area encompassed by Rockingham County. One witness to Walkerís will was a John Robertson, very likely the same man who, along with Robert Given and Thomas Flack, acted as a trustee in 1770 for a two-acre lot given by one Robert Mateer for the use of the Haw River Presbyterian Church.[16] William Walker also bequeathed an unidentified property to two other sons.

The Walkerís Presbyterian Roots

Whatever their personal link, William and James, along with their families, associated themselves with Haw River Presbyterian Church. Although the church suffered a schism and had died out by the 1830's,[17] its cemetery still exists in a circular grove of trees off Candy Creek Road in Rockingham County, less than one mile south of the river of the same name. The graveyard stands as a primary source of information on the early Walkers, for they represent the largest family grouping in the cemetery, which seems to contain representatives from the families of both William and James. The grove that encircles the place rises from a hill in the midst of a field. The road shoulder gives the visitor just enough room to park before he begins the quarter-mile hike along a path that cuts through a field bearing lush green tobacco growth in summer, past the tree-ringed mirror surface of a small pond; along the low side of the rise and then sharply right up the incline to the edge of the grove. One enters, fighting brambles and branches, and then suddenly, there are the stones. Fallen and rotting tree trunks divide the rows of crude, gray gravestones; dead vegetation covers the tombs like a bed of insulation. The oldest marker bearing the Walker name is that of William himself, who died on 14 December 1800, in the 63 year of his age. This stone is at the approximate center of the grove; the main line of Walker tombstones stretches from it in the general direction of Candy Creek Road.

Facing the road, the next stone in this chain is that of William's wife, Mary. Off to the left are the graves of William's son William and Vilet, probably the younger William's wife. Immediately behind the visitor, another stone displays the year 1809, the name, A. Walker, and notes that he died in the 36 year of his age, marking the final resting place of the elder William's son, Abram. There appears to be no grave here for the other son, Samuel Herron, although another tombstone, just beyond the younger William's, bears evidence that a son of Samuel H. and Sarah Walker died in early childhood. This set makes up the William Walker family grouping, separated by a fallen tree, from the James Walker family grouping. On one side of this trunk is the grave of William's wife Mary. On the other side, is a tombstone which has the letters "J.W." as its only legible script. A few feet to the left of this stone is another with the lettering, ďA. Walker.Ē Could they be the graves of James and his wife, Ann? This line of tombstones stretching off in the direction of the road also has the name of James' son William. Scattered about this side of the cemetery are the graves of Jamesí sons Abram and John, and a number of William's and John's children.

William Walker

William (1737 - 1800) and Mary (1746 - 1813) had 3 sons and 2 daughters, born between 1767 and the late 1780ís. The most significant source of information on William and his family comes from his will, which was composed just a day or two before his passing. His wife, Mary, was to inherit the western 200 acres of his plantation, his stock, furniture, farming implements and Neagroes, except for those designated for the other children. The eastern 200 acres were for Abram, as well as half the farm tools, one bed and furniture and one cow. Additionally, he was to choose one slave, either Dave or Milley. Samuel was to receive his mother's portion of the property after her death; in the interim, his father bequeathed him "the other of my above-named Neagroes after Abram's choice, one sorrell colt, saddle and bridle, one cow and one bed and furniture." The will further specifies that Rachel and Mary should each inherit a horse, saddle and bridle, a bed and furniture, "twenty-five dollars worth of furniture suitable for housekeeping," and $30 cash. Mary was also to receive a Negro child named Ann (one might speculate that she was the daughter of Dave and Milley). William seemed unusually concerned about the latter daughter and indicated that she should obtain her upkeep from his estate while she remained single. The son William inherited $125 cash, perhaps an indication that he was already established with his own property and family.

It is not clear how numerous were the descendents of William and Mary Walker. Their son William had a son, also named William, born before 1800. His grandfather left him a legacy of $30. A court record of 1836 suggests that William had at least one other son, Talmon,[18] but there is little additional information on him. Samuel, apparently married late in life, wed one Sally Settle in 1817, as indicated in a Rockingham County marriage bond. Approximately a year later, a son was born to them; he is known only by his initials, W.W. The child died four years later. His tombstone at Haw River Presbyterian Church identifies his mother as Sarah, possibly her middle name or her real first name. Samuel and Sally (Sarah) also begot two sons who lived to adulthood. Josiah, born in 1819, married Zilpha A. Young in 1845. The 1850 Census shows that they already had two children. The other son of Samuel Walker, James Madison Walker, wed Elizabeth Jane Young in 1844. They already had one child by 1850. Both Josiah and James, along with their mother, migrated to Tishomingo County, Mississippi, sometime after 1850.[19]

James Walker and the Pennsylvania Connection

James (circa 1740 - 1803) and wife Ann (nee McClintock) raised 8 children, all born between 1766 and the early 1780ís. Like most landowners in the region, farming provided the source of his income. Jamesí 1803 will establishes the names of his children, and several Haw River tombstones can be matched to them. Another invaluable source of information on James Walker and his family comes from the Walker-Waynick Papers, a private collection of letters and other documents preserved by a descendant of James through his son, John. Copies are available from the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. Seven letters written between 1793 and 1813 to James and Ann establish a solid connection between their family and Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The bulk of the letters, from Annís brother, Daniel McClintock, and friends Jean and Daniel McDannell, all residents of Pennsylvania, have to do with the estate of Annís brother, Alexander, who had died some time before 1797. Ann may well have been named as a legatee in Alexanderís will, and many of the letters appear to have come in response to her queries about the disposition of the property.

The earliest letter is from Jamesí brother, John, who was living in Davidson County, in the part of the Southwest Territory that later became Tennessee. At the time, Davidson County was a fairly extensive area that centered on present-day Nashville; it was divided into a number of smaller counties in the early 19th Century. It is not certain where in that region John lived, and it would be unwise to assume that it was necessarily in the area encompassed by the current county of the same name. The letter details Johnís conversion of some gold and silver pieces at Jamesí request, although there is no reference to the reason for this action. This short missive seems to indicate a certain closeness between the brothers -- it ends with an invitation to James: ďWe are all well and Desire to be remembered to all Friends and should be glad, you would Step over the Hill and see us some time. I am your Loving Brother, John and Ann Walker

Alexander Walker

That Alexander was Jamesí brother is clear from a deed James wrote on 22 May 1803, the day after he composed his will. In it, James gave a 49-acre plot of land to his nephew, James, son of his deceased brother, Alexander.[20] Alexander had died some years earlier: a county court record of November, 1794 confirms his death, the name of his wife and the names of his two sons. Alexanderís widow, Eliza (possibly Elizabeth), went to court with her son James to testify that her husband had died without a will. This brief entry in the court minutes indicates that Eliza gave the sum of 500 pounds to her son William.[21] There was nothing unusual about this activity: in that era, the family of a deceased landholder almost always looked to the courts to settle the estate, whether or not that individual had left a will. Typically, the widow, sometimes along with another person, was appointed administrator of the estate. What does seem odd was that William, who could not have been more than 10 or 12 years old, would have received anything. The fact that James was less than one year old would explain why Eliza traveled to the court house in Wentworth with only the one child. One might speculate that William and any other children stayed with friends or relatives.

Later, in 1835, both William E. and James would appeal to the court to divide the property of their father. That latter record would note that the father, Alexander, had died intestate, and that the sons, as his only surviving male heirs, were entitled by state law to divide up his estate on Hoganís Creek.[22] What might explain the 41-year delay in the resolution of the matter? U.S. Census records of 1800, 1810 and 1820 show an Elizabeth Walker as a head of household in Rockingham County. In the two later censuses, her entry appears very close to the one for William E. Walker. In the 1830 Census, the entry for James Walker shows that one member of his household was a woman in her 70's. If the Elizabeth Walker in the census records were the mother of William and James, it would be reasonable to conclude that she, as the owner of the Hogans Creek tract, died in 1835. This event then prompted the brothers to take possession of the land. Furthermore, under this scenario, the brothers lived on and worked the land for their mother (there were probably two houses) while she was living, and James and his family cared for her in her last years. The census data would lead to the conclusion that Eliza or Elizabeth Walker was born between 1750 and 1755.

The Case For A Common Parentage

Although it is certain that at least three Walker pioneers -- James, Alexander and John -- were related, there is a body of evidence that would tend to include William (1737-1800) in this family. This evidence even suggests the identity of the father.

The names of the three brothers match three sons named in the 1769 will of W illiam Walker. If evidence were available to add the younger William as a brother, the probability that they were sons of the 1769 testator would increase markedly. Only the son Abraham is unrepresented among them. Additionally, it is certain that the elder William lived in the area inhabited by the others, given the reference to a Hoganís Creek property in his will and his association with John Robertson.

The Walker-Waynick Papers add additional circumstantial evidence, since they establish a clear link between the three brothers and Pennsylvania. William Walkerís 1769 will also has a reference to Pennsylvania: ďItem. I do give and bequeath to my well beloved son John Walker ten pounds he Received in Pensalvania and Twenty pounds in North Carolina and what Cattel he Received.Ē Although it is true that many early settlers in the North Carolina Piedmont came from Pennsylvania, the reference in the will and Jamesí well-established link to that state are testimony to a probable family connection between the two men, when taken in the context of all the evidence.

The predominance of certain names in these families may point toward common origins. The names William, James, John, Alexander and Abraham or Abram appear in every generation for four generations or more. Although precise birth order is not always easy to ascertain for the children of the pioneers, the available data suggest that the younger William, James and Alexander all chose the same name, William, for their first-born sons. In so doing, they may have been following a Scottish custom where the first son received the name of his paternal grandfather.[23] In such a case, William, James and Alexander would each be the son of someone named William.

Final Matters

Migration drew many families away from Rockingham County in the years before, during and after the Civil War. The descendants of the Walker pioneers were no different from any others in that respect. As populations thickened in the regions stretching west to the Mississippi River, many whose ancestors had come to North Carolina in the latter half of the 18th Century set off for those areas in the 1850ís and 1860ís. Walkers moved as far away as western Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi. This phenomenon may turn out to be the explanation for the lack of data in North Carolina records about some children and grandchildren of the pioneers. One thing is certain: by the time of the U.S. Census in 1850, all the Walker families in Rockingham County were living in the southeastern quadrant of the county and they could virtually all trace their ancestry back to the original three families. In the 18th Century, there were other Walkers who settled in the north and center of Rockingham County, mainly along Dan River and its tributaries. However, they apparently left no descendants in the county with the Walker surname.

One mystery remains. Very few marriage records exist for the children of the Walker pioneers, particularly the men. A comprehensive search of marriage record databases for North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland has turned up no information that can be associated with those individuals. In some cases, the identification of a person as the wife of a Walker male is based on the proximity of one grave marker to another. Such identifications were made in particular for William Walker, son of William, William Walker, son of James, and John Walker, another son of James. No reason for this information gap is known.


1 Butler, Lindley A., Our Proud Heritage: A Pictorial History of Rockingham County, N.C. (Basset, Virginia: The Basset Printing Corporation. c. 1971) pp. 6, 7.
2 Rankin, S.M., Rev., History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone and Co.) p. 2.
3 ďNew Munster, the Nottingham Lots and the Welsh Tract,Ē local history web page maintained at Cecil County (MD) Community College,, Paragraphs 9 and 11.
4 Ibid, Paragraphs 3 and 4.
5 Ibid, Paragraph 13. Although West Nottingham Presbyterian Church is located in Colora, Maryland, just a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border, early 18th Century documents placed it in Pennsylvania. Its location in Maryland is the result of the Mason-Dixon border survey of 1763-1767.
6 History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and her People, p. 3.
7 Ibid, p. 5.
8 Our Proud Heritage, p. 7.
9 Ibid, p. 81.
10 Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy, Vol. XX, No. 2, December 1995, p. 51.
11 Guilford County, NC: Deed Book 2, p. 140, #333 and #369, both dated 1 March 1780.
12 Ibid, p. 408, #886, 14 October 1783.
13 Letter from John and Ann Walker to James Walker, 22 July 1793, preserved in the ďWalker-Waynick Papers,Ē a collection of documents related to James and Ann Walker preserved by a descendant of James. A copy of the collection is maintained under file number P.C. 1456.1 at the North Carolina Division of Archives and History.
14 Guilford County, NC: Deed Book 2, p. 140, #318, dated 1 March 1780.
15 Orange County, NC, Will Book A, p. 100.
16 Guilford County, NC: Deed Book 1.
17 Our Proud Heritage, p. 81.
18 Minute Docket, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rockingham County, NC, May 1835 to February 1840, p. 97 (February Term 1836).
19 Alcorn County Historical Association, The History of Alcorn County, Mississippi (Dallas, TX: National Share Graphics, Inc., c. 1983) pp. 579-581.
20 Deed Book O, Rockingham County, NC, #1781, pp. 176, 177.
21 Minute Docket, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rockingham County, NC, Book 2, p. 341 (November Term 1794).
22 Deed Book 2G, Rockingham County, NC, #5576, p. 167.
23 Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald, In search of Scottish ancestry, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. c. 1984) pp. 71-80.