Adventures In Family History
I always joked that I was descended from Appalachian aristocracy. My mother is a Whitaker from Tazewell County, Virginia, the great-granddaughter of James Whitaker, Jr. He came from Smyth County in 1850 to purchase land that straddles Tazewell and McDowell County, West Virginia. It came to be known as Whitaker Ridge. It was wilderness when they settled, and it still is. The family didn’t make their mark upon the land as much as the land made a mark upon them. This area has an interesting history involving the making of moonshine and family feuds, and the Whitakers gained a colorful reputation for being an ornery bunch. Life on the Ridge was hard. It took a great effort to make a living, so they had to be tough and determined.
My father’s people, the Tates were from Russell County, Scotch Irish immigrants who moved into Pennsylvania, slowly migrated down the Shenandoah Valley, and settled in Southwestern Virginia between the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. Col. John Tate and his brother Robert built log cabins, block forts, one was even named Fort Tate, were active in local government, and served in the militia. There have been Tate ancestors and their descendants who have served in the military from Lord Dunmore’s War to today. My father was a career Marine, serving in World War II and the Korean War. Semper Fi!
My husband, Bill’s, family ranges from First Families of Virginia and Alabama to New England pioneers. His Duke family came from Georgia into the Mississippi Territory in the early 1800’s into what would become Alabama. His third great grandfather, Hardyman Duke, was a territorial judge. He had a large family who settled in Clarke and Wilcox Counties in the area around Lower Peachtree.
His mother’s ancestors have deep roots in Tidewater Virginia with ties to the Cluverius, Walkers, Temples, Fleets, Hills and Baylors. These families thought so highly of their status they intermarried with first cousins for several generations. Dr. Thomas Walker, the famous explorer of southwestern Virginia was his seventh-great uncle. Thomas J. Cluverius, his great-great uncle, was tried for murder resulting in one of the most famous trials of the 1880’s, covered by newspapers across the nation. It was the O. J. Simpson and Scott Peterson trial of that era.
His Yankee ancestor, Warren Russell, migrated from Maine in 1850, fought for the Confederacy at Petersburg, where he was captured and sent to a prison camp in Elmira, NY. The only way he survived the brutal conditions was because his cousin was a prison guard who snuck him food. Warren later became active in politics after the Civil War. Another forebear, Isabella Austin, his eighth-great grandmother, was accused of witchcraft in the late 1700’s in New Hampshire. She survived the accusation and lived to the ripe old age of 86.
I’m the one in the family who collects things – old photos, books, antiques, and more stuff than I even know I have. My intentions have been to share what I have gathered on family history, but it seems like the “hurrieder I go, the behinder I get” to use an old Amish expression. So be patient, this site is a work in progress.
Historic Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park in Tazewell County, Virginia shows the rich history of our nation’s first frontier. You can get a sense of the hardships in the lives of settlers and appreciate the heritage of the unique culture that developed in Appalachia.