an ancestral blog by Terrell Ledbetter . Revised January 17, 2019
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The Black Mountain range consisting of twenty 6000 feet mountains forming a “J”, stand majestically over a mostly wilderness land that is (for most purposes) preserved from settlement, hunting and rampant logging because it serves as the watershed for the City of Asheville, North Carolina. You have seen the valley with the large lake supplied by steep mountain streams in movies. One movies in particular showcases the valley— “The Last of the Mohicans.” There is a family story to this land which falls below Black Mountain Gap and Potato Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Clingman’s Dome and Mt. Mitchell. The prominent family in this picture is the Burnett family of the North Fork of the Swannanoa River.
Frederick McCloud Burnett (March 24, 1882-February 4, 1961) published “This Was My Valley” in 1960, a year before his death. Fred M. Burnett was the great-grandson of Frederick Thomas Burnett Sr. and the son of Marcus Lafayette (Fate) Burnett. He was former district supervisor of the Interstate Commerce Commission from which he retired in 1949 to live in Ridgecrest. The stories he portrayed had occurred as long as three generations before or about a hundred and sixty years. It is easy to understand why there would be confusion. Here in 2019, we have the benefit of census records, marriage and death certificates, land transaction records, copies of personal letters, grave markers, and many collaborating stories of past times. Based upon public and personal records, the following is my depiction of the North Fork Burnetts (Burnet) who were a remarkable American family characterized as strong fighters and adventuresome settlers. The stories told by Fred. M. Burnett saved tales we would otherwise never hear, and we are all grateful to him for saving our history. In this blog, I attempt to unwound the confusion over dates and names that have been erroneously used over settlement of the North Fork upper valley. The fact that the opening chapters of the book stated that the Burnett family settled in North Fork is 1762 magnifies the many inaccuracies in the book. Land records and census records clearly show the Burnett family was in Morgan, Rutherford County in 1800.
Before beginning the story, it is appropriate to build background on general settlement in the Swannanoa Valley. In 1784, Col. Samuel Davidson settled on Christian Creek, a tributary of the Swannanoa River. He was killed by Cherokees and his wife retreated to the safety of Old Fort, some sixteen miles to the east. Samuel’s twin brother, Maj. William Davidson, along with volunteers such as Capt. William Moore and Col. Daniel Smith, tracked to Cherokee raiders down and killed them near present day Biltmore Forest. In 1785, these men moved into the Swannanoa Valley and were granted land to settle. Maj. Davidson settled at Bee Tree. The significance of William Davidson to the Burnett family will be discussed further below.
Subseqently, Buncombe County was formed in 1792. Soon the State of North Carolina issued Land Grants to those that would file on unsettled land. Here men began to file and claim parcels of land along the branches of the upper Swannanoa headwaters called Right Fork of the Swannanoa and the Left Fork of the Swannanoa. Early claimants of land on the North Fork of the Swannanoa and the Laurel Branch were David Taylor and Hamilton Kyle (1804). Four years later, some of this land was sold to our Burnett ancestor.
The story begins with Philip Burnet (born in Scotland in 1688) relocated to New Castle, Delaware in 1712 with his son Frederick Thomas Burnet (born 1708). Son Thomas, as he was called, relocated once again years later to Brunswick County, Virginia. Subsequently he had three sons born in Brunswick County: Jesse Burnet was born in 1733, Thomas in 1735 and Joseph in 1743.
These brothers lived in the Morgan District of Rutherford County, North Carolina at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The Burnet family had taken up land on the Second Broad River north of Catheys Creek near present day Bostic. When the Revolutionary War broke out local gossip was that the Burnet brothers were sympathizers to the British King or Tories (Loyalists). What appears to be more truthful is that the British presence in the area pressured locals to join the British Militia or else face losing property or facing hanging. The oldest brother, Jesse, forty-seven at the time, tried to remain independent. Brothers Thomas and Joseph were possibly on opposite sides of the war. It has been written in various accounts that Joseph and Thomas died the same day, October 7, 1780. It is believed that Thomas had been taken by Tories (Colonists loyal to the British King), tied to a tree and shot. This could have actually been the opposite, shot by Patriots. The locals had suspicions as to who were Loyalists or Patriots. During the battle the militia on both sides looked and dressed the same, except the Loyalists stuck a pine needle in their hats while the Patriots stuck a paper in their hats. A grandson applied for Thomas to be a Son of the American Revolution, so the offspring thought Thomas to be a Patriot.
Joseph, thirty-seven, reported to Captain Hezekial Williams of Steve’s Creek Regiment of Loyalist Militia (British). Loyalist reported to British Major Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Foot. Two hundred-ninety of the Loyalists were killed that day. The Patriot Militia with men such as John Sevier, Joseph McDowell and Isaac Shelby lost twenty-nine killed that day. Some reports from Gilbert Town, Rutherford County in 1780 indicated that Jesse was a Tory at the time of the battle.
Reports show that Joseph was killed in battled fighting for the British.
Of a puzzling nature, Joseph Burnett is listed in the 1790 Rutherford County census and is shown as living near Jesse Burnett. I believe this Joseph to be a son of Jesse. There also seems to be a female and a young male living with Jesse in 1790 that were not his children. This could possible be the family of slain brother Joseph.
Thomas Burnett’s wife remarried a Gasperson shortly after Thomas’ death, therefore Jesse would not have to be housing that family.
Margaret Else (estimated birth of 1740) was rumored to be he first wife of Thomas Burnet and was reputed to have ridden a white horse to the battlefield on that October day in 1780. She was in search of relatives and loved ones. A Dutch woman, she later married a Warren. In “This Was My Valley,” Fred. M. Burnett wrote: “She must have been an intrepid woman, with the courage and resourcefulness required to live in the wilderness, for Granny Else left for those to come after her a legend that she rode a white stallion alone to Kings Mountain seeking and finding her men who had joined other riflemen in the Revolutionary engagement. She did not know a battle had been fought until she met the hardy patriots returning from it. She was so sure she would find them alive, she brought food and clothing with her. She found them near Lincolnton on their way home.” Obviously the original Granny Else was Margaret Else, not Peggy Null (see next paragraph) because of the ages of the two women on that October 7, 1780 date. To add to this confusion, both women were named Margaret Peggy (Margaret Peggy Else and Margaret Peggy Null). I think she was married to some member of the Burnet’s, possibly an older generation than Thomas , if not to Thomas born in 1735. She was said to have crossed the Atlantic as a young woman with her family on the same vessel as the elder Thomas Burnet (father of the Thomas Burnet brother of Jesse and Joseph).
Captain Philip Null was one of the Colonial Revolutionary War heroes, having fought most of the major wars in the conflict. He himself had his throat cut earlier in the war in North Carolina and was found and nursed to health by his wife Anna Marie Margaret Bushong (her parents had migrated from Germany two generations before). Philip and Margaret had a first child, a daughter named Margaret Peggy Null born on August 22, 1780. She was about seven weeks old when the Battle of Kings Mountain was fought. Her father was the second generation in America from a French Hugenot family which had moved from the Alsace/Lorraine area of Germany. The Nulls had settled along the South Fork of the Catawba, west of present day Lincolnton, North Carolina. Philip’s land was directly west of where the battle of Ramsaur’s Mill was fought. The Null farm was about thirty miles east of the Burnet farm.
After the death of his two brothers, Jesse Burnet joined the Colonial cause, fighting battles including Guilford Court House in 1783.
Thomas had remarried a few years before his death at Kings Mountain to Elizabeth Littleberry. They had two sons; Littleberry Burnett and Swan Pritchett Burnett The fate of Margaret Else is unknown other than her possible remarriage. The son of Swan Pritchett Burnett was Joseph Jefferson Burnett who wrote a lengthy letter to nephew Dr. Swan Moses Burnett on September 29, 1886 detailing some of the Burnett heritage.
The first American census, the 1790 , had Jesse Burnett still living in Morgan, Rutherford, North Carolina along with sons Claborn Burnett (1768-1849) and Frederick Thomas Burnett (May 11, 1770-July 5, 1854). Frederick Thomas had been born in Meherrin Parish, Brunswick County, Virginia and his mother was the first wife of Thomas Burnett and was also named Elizabeth. The family had lived off of Rattlesnake Creek which was adjacent to the vast property owned by my Ledbetter ancestors.
As mentioned above, Major William Davidson was born in 1735, lived in Burke County, North Carolina and had a twin brother, Samuel Davidson, the first white settler in Western North Carolina. Samuel was killed by Cherokees. Major William Davidson was also a brother of John Davidson who the Cherokee killed near the present town of Old Fort, North Carolina in July, 1776. Major Davidson had a prominent part in fighting the British. After the Revolutionary War, Maj. Davidson was one of a party of relatives and friends ,who in 1785, crossed the mountains and formed the first white settlement west of Old Fort at the mouth of Bee Tree Creek, Swannanoa, North Carolina.
During the following years, Major Davidson claimed land of the upper North Fork of the Swannanoa, now part of the Asheville Watershed and Burnet Reservoir. Years later, he transacted acreage to Hamilton and Thomas Kyle. On August 15, 1808, Frederick Burnett Sr. purchased 130 acres from the Kyles. It had been recorded that the land was on Laurel Creek which is southwest of the present damn spillway. While that was all the acreage recorded, it is quite likely that additional land was bought but the records are not clear. There have been reports that additional acreage was purchased in 1814.
The records do indicate another 130 acres were purchased in 1824, most likely by Fed Burnett.
On April 14, 1795, Peggy Null age fourteen ran away from home and married Frederick Burnett Sr. in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. The marriage document was misinterpreted as her name was listed as Peggy Neill. Peggy’s parents were enraged and disowned her. A family history of the Null descendants do not show Peggy Null, she had been completely been disinherited.
Captain Phillip Null used his officer script from the Revolutionary War to obtain 1600 acres of land along the Poca River in Kanawha County (now West Virginia). He discovered coal deposits on the land in 1790. It has been offered by Donald Quigley that there was a court judgement against Capt. Null and that there was a Sheriff’s sale of his property in 1802 to satisfy that judgement. The Nulls moved to West Virginia in 1803.
The 1800 United States Federal Census lists Frederick Burnet in Morgan, Rutherford, North Carolina. He was over 26, his wife under 26, and three children under 16. Frederick Burnett Jr. (Fed) was born in 1800. He was eight years old when his family moved to North Fork.
Sometime before 1808, Frederick Burnett must have scouted land around the Swannanoa River and found the upper reaches of the North Fork of the Swannanoa to his liking for hunting. I assume he made the land purchase before gathering the supplies need to resettle and for the journey west. It was said that three wagons were used. These wagons had to be unloaded and dismantled for crossing the Catawba and Swannanoa Rivers. It is likely that brothers Claiborn, David, and Lewis assisted in this undertaking. Fred. M. Burnett wrote that “Granny Else who had enthusiastically adopted herself to pioneer conditions and drove the “spike team” consisting of five horses was riding the saddle horse and driving in the lead with a magnificent white stallion…” Apparently Peggy Null’s grandchildren years after hearing Fed Burnett talking of the original Margaret Else with her stallion at Kings Mountain in 1780 and Peggy Null with her stallion at Old Fort in 1808, confused the two and began calling Peggy Null “Granny Else.” Homespun stories passed down over time were often enhanced or altered. Panther stories attributed to Granny Else were also attributed to my great-great-grandmother Sophronia Jane Burnett. These stories of Sophronia were substantiated by her grandson John Walker. While Peggy was not “The” Granny Else, she became Granny Else when her grandchildren began calling her by that name.
Frederick Burnett Sr. built a two-room cabin on what was then called Laurel Branch. He was a skilled hunter, farmer, and operated the Burnet Mill. It was a grist mill in the valley powered by a water wheel, and later combined with a sawmill owned by Mr. Hart from the north.
Jesse Burnett lost his first wife in 1772. He did not make the move to Buncombe County with his son, but moved there late in life after he had lost his second wife (Sally Coles). He moved to Mecklenburg County, Virginia in 1820. He died in North Fork in 1824. He had lived to be 96 years old, Peggy Null lived to be 95, and Sophronia Burnett Walker lived to be 95. Jesse’s burial site is likely under the water of the Burnet Reservoir.
Fred. M. Burnett wrote that Fed Burnett, at age 16, climbed the ridges to the Blue Ridge and walked along the ridges to Big Lick (Roanoke, Virginia). where he was to get an auger from relatives. This trip took two months. What an incredible undertaking. This route is slower and much more difficult than taking the old Indian Trading Trail to Old Fort and the Holston River Trail up to Big Lick. Someone knowledgeable of the Blue Ridge (before the road was established) must have talked of this route and it was most likely picked over the traditional wagon route because of potential threats from highway robbers and other bad sort. It is possible that by 1816, some small trails had been worn along the Blue Ridge, although it is hard to imagine that there would be horse trails due to the rocky and steep terrain. There were no known relatives at Big Lick; the family had settled in Brunswick County, Virginia and Rutherford County, North Carolina. Questions remain: how was Fed suppose to bring back supplies and an auger with no wagon or horse; how was he able to provide himself food and water for the reported two month journey; what exactly was he to bring back and from whom; is there any significance that the new Springfield Musket was produced in 1816? At any rate, this was a remarkable journey for a sixteen year old accompanied only by the super hunting dog Tige. I view this journey to be a bigger mystery than the Granny Else confusion.
Somewhat after 1820, Peggy and Frederick’s relationship changed for the rest of their lives. Frederick lived with his eldest daughter and her family in Franklin (about 60 miles west). Peggy stayed in the North Fork Valley and lived primarily with her son Fed and his family. The 1820 Federal Census confirms this. Peggy in her later years had long white hair and was deaf.
Fed Burnett and his wife Elizabeth Smart had ten children. Five boys died from the Civil War — battle, disease or injury: Drury, Berryman, John, Thomas, and William. Another son, Marcus Lafayette Burnett (Fate) joined the Confederacy at a very young age (see “This Was My Valley” for his story. and returned to North Fork at war’s end. Elizabeth Smart Burnett had lost her grandfather John Smart at the Battle of Kings Mountain and suffered the loss of five of her sons to the Civil War. She passed away in 1864 before she learned the fate of all of her sons.
My great-great-grandmother Sophronia Jane Burnett was born in 1824 (second child). She was deeded land on Shope Creek after her marriage to James Washington Walker. In the 1997 book by Joan and Robert Goodson entitiled “On the North Fork of the Swannanoa River, ” a great tribute was made to Sophronia Jane Burnett Walker (an article by Deward Edgar Walker, Sr.
This article by Deward Walker read: “She was tall, six feet plus, a gorgeous intriguing figure, beautiful twinkling hazel eyes, a face that could light up with a smile that was most enchanting, and Scottish red hair which seemed to change colors from the morning sunrise to the golden sunset. Her voice must have been like heavenly music. Her commanding personality could subdue the most stubborn person.”
Peggy was living with Fed when Sophronia was born and was obviously a huge influence on her as she grew up. There seems to be many similar features of the two.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway a view of the ancestral Burnett land remains wild and beautiful. When you look down on that majestic valley, you can easily envision the life of that stout pioneer family.
GENEOLOGY: (as it relates to my geneology; not all siblings and children are listed if not related to this story)
Phillip Burnett, born 1688, Scotland, Immigrated to New Castle, Delaware in 1712
Frederick (Thomas) Burnett, born 1708, Scotland, Immigrated with his father to New Castle, Delaware in 1712
Jesse Burnett (1733-April 1824), born in Brunswick County, Virginia, died in North Fork; first wife Rebecca Judith Prince married 1772 in Brunswick County, Virginia. Judith Prince’s great-grandmother was Sarah Warren of Salem, Massachusetts who was falsely accused and imprisoned for witchcraft. Sarah died in prison. Jesse’s second wife was Sally Coles (no further information).
Thomas Burnett (1735-October 7, 1780) born in Brunswick County, Virginia, died at Kings Mountain; possible first wife Margaret Else, second wife Elizabeth Littleberry
Joseph Burnett (1743-October 7, 1780) born in Brunswick County, Virginia, died at Battle of Kings Mountain
Phillipp Burnett (female) (1744-1811 Virginia)
John Burnett (1760-1826 Georgia)
children of Jesse and Judith Prince:
Frederick Thomas Burnett (May11, 1770-July 5, 1854); Married Peggy Null on April 14, 1795 Rutherfordton, North Carolina
Claiborn Burnett (1768-1849)
Lewis Burnett (1771-1818)
Joseph Burnett (1778
Eldridge Burnett (died 1870) Georgia
Sarah Burnett (about 1775-1850) Alabama
Elizabeth Burnett (about 1794) Georgia
Ruth Burnett (about 1790-1800)
David Burnett (about 1801)
sons of Thomas:
Littleberry Burnett-Rebecca Dobson
Swan Pritchett Burnett
children of Frederick Thomas Burnett Sr. and Peggy Null
Frederick Thomas Burnett Jr (Fed) (Nov. 3, 1808-Jan 27, 1886) Married to Elizabeth Smart (died 1864) and Elizabeth Ricketts Kyle
child of Swan Pritchett Burnett :
Joseph Jefferson Burnett (author of 1886 letter)
children of Fed Burnett and Elizabeth Smart
Drury S. Burnett (1822-1865)
Sophronia Jane Burnett Walker (1824-1919)
Berryman Hicks Burnett (1827-1861)
John Burnett (1831-1861)
William Henry Burnett (1833-1871)
Sarah Elizabeth Burnett (1834-1855)
Daniel Burnett (1836-1899)
Mary Jane Burnett Allsion (1838-1917)
Nancy Ann Burnett (1840-1855)
Thomas Frederick Burnett (1842-1864)
Marcus Lafayette (Fate) Burnett (1812-1933)
children of Sophronia Jane Burnett and James Washington Walker
Albert W. Walker (1854-1927) married Nancy Creasman
Sarah Elizabeth Walker (married Bill Daugherty)
Mary Jane Walker (married a Burnett)
Harriet Elizabeth Walker (married a Cordel)
Rhoda Eliza Walker (married a Daugherty)
Robert Albert Walker
Amanda Sophronia Walker (died young0
Julius Alexander Walker (married Alice Roxanna) children included Oden Walker, Maude Walker Morris and Deward Walker
Lula Marsh Walker (died young)
Lena Walker (died young}
child of Fate Burnett
Frederick McCloud Burnett Sr. (March 24, 1882-February 4, 1961) Author of “This Was My Valley”
blog written by: Terrell Ledbetter August 19, 2015, revised June 3, 2017, revised November 14, 2017, January 15, 2019 and May 25, 2020.