an ancestral blog by Terrell Ledbetter


At the dawn of British settlement of Colonial America, Spanish culture found roots in Santa Fe and St. Augustine and French culture filtered down from Quebec to New Orleans. The first generation of my family in America began in Virginia in 1621, ten generations back.  This story is also a theme of the settlement of the Blue Ridge and it began before those intrepid souls boarded an immigrant ship to the unknown new world across the Atlantic. This story is a story of many of my family grandfathers but it is probably your story as well. Who were these people who left some family, friends and their daily existence to seek the unknown? Months of cramped and harsh life on a crowded sailing vessel led to a land they knew little about. Why were these people willing to take a chance on an uncertain future?

The prime, but not sole, factor for European relocation to America was religion; conflict of relatively new Protestant religion versus the traditional Catholic religion. In France, by mid 1560, a large growth in Protestants began mostly due to the writings of Calvin.  The Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called, had grown to nearly two million people by that time and considerable conflicts ensued between the much larger based Catholics in France.  From August to early October, 1572, the Catholics had killed thousands of Huguenots (over 25,000 in Paris alone). In 1685, Louis XIV abolished Protestants from France. Roughly a half-million Huguenots left France over the next few decades. Many went to Ulster as did many Scots seeking religious freedom.  IAround 1570, a French Huguenot family named LeBette crossed the channel and settled in a small fishing village on the north coast of England. Seaham was reputed to have been an ancient Viking fishing village. For roughly two generations, my LeBette ancestors lived there: slowly the Anglo language had changed the surname spelling to Ledbetter. In 1621, Thomas Ledbetter (born 1600) married Mary Molisse Thomas (born 1600) and shortly thereafter found passage to Virginia.  Passenger lists do not list the names of this couple but I am confident that they had apprenticed themselves to a benefactor, probably a fellow passenger, and settled in Charles City,County. Virginia after 1621. (Interesting enough, the population of the Colonial states in 1625 was estimated to be 1625 people). The next generation purchased land in what was to become Prince George County in 1635. They purchased hundreds of acres of land south of the James and Appomatox Rivers, south of present day Petersburg, Virginia. Several generations later, land in Brunswick County, Virginia opened up and the Ledbetters, along with many other new Colonialists, moved down the Wagon Road from the Shenandoah Valley to Brunswick for better farming land.

In sharp contrast to the LeBette’s who migrated as indentured servants, John Johannes Chew (1583-1668) arrived in Jamestown in 1621 onboard the ship “Charitie” from England.  John Chew’s family had been a prominent English family for over four centuries. He had received lands from the Virginia Company and became a planter on Pig Island; he became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and was officially called Burgess John Chew. This is a summary of America; one family came here as indentured servants and at the same year and place, another family came here as landowners and officials who had indentured servants of their own.  Over decades, the poor family became landowners and began to prosper while the rich family distributed land and holdings to numerous children thereby diminishing family wealth over several decades. In those instances where the oldest son inherited most of a family’s holdings, wealth was preserved significantly longer.  And here we are ten generations later, and I can reflect on the polar opposite status of my Colonial Virginia grandfathers.

Devastation due to wars between Germany provinces and France created a large exodus of Germans to Pennsylvania. The largest amount of German immigrants to Pennsylvania occurred from 1749-1754. These immigrants mostly came as poor farmers or craftsmen with a wife and two children. By 1775, there were about 75,000 German immigrants in America. In 1742, Johann Jacob Ries (born 1720) boarded the ship “Robert & Alice” in Rotterdam. This ship was not listed as a Palatine ship; it was Mastered by Mortley Cusack. After docking, the immigrants were taken to the Philadelphia Courthouse where their information was  recorded and where they took an oath of allegiance to the Government (England at that time). There is no indication of how this twenty-two year old made a living or where he first lived.  Johann married three years later to another German immigrant, Anna Marie Seiburren.  Eventually the family migrated down the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to Rowan, North Carolina near present day Winston Salem.  They German immigrants moved to new land in significant numbers, whether Morovian or Protestant.

Planned colonization of Ulster, Ireland began under English King James I.  Many Scots from the north lowlands, the highlands, and from Argyle and Galloway migrated to Ulster mostly during the early 1700’s. A few generations later, huge numbers emigrated to the American Colonies. These people were called Scots-Irish.

Hay tartan

The promise of a new life and land drew pure Irish and Scots as well as the religiously motivated Scots-Irish. One such Irishman was Joseph J. McDowell who was born in Northern Ireland in 1715. By this time, the land along the eastern coast was well settled and land for new settlement began in Pennsylvania.  When land opened up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he moved down the Great Wagon Road. At this time he fought in the French and Indian War and was a captain.  In 1761, he moved his family down to Quaker Meadows in Burke County, North Carolina. While ancestry records do not indicate this, Joseph must have had a brother that had migrated with him because the sons of the two brothers were both called Joseph McDowell, were cousins, and became confused in history. These two cousins, besides having the same name, lived in the same county, were in the North Carolina Legislature at the same time, and both were at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Quaker Meadows Joseph McDowell, Jr. son of Joseph McDowell, Sr. (1715) was reputed to be the leader of Burke County troops at the Battle of Kings Mountain while Pleasant Meadows Joseph McDowell, son of “Hunting” John McDowell was a Captain of a company at Kings Mountain.  This a perfect example of how ancestry can be difficult to get right.

carolina wagon road

William James Elliott was born in 1699 in Antim, Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1737.  For seven years he settled in the Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania and became on of the first families to move into the Valley of Virginia, Calf Pasture (Rockbridge) along with William Gay, James Stevenson, and the Garrett, Martin, and Dunlap families in 1744.  He lived in the Beverly Manor (118, 491 acres sectioned off for families in Augusta County, Virginia at the present intersection of I-81 and I-64). This was typical movement down the Wagon Road from Pennsylvania, through the Shenandoah Valley and then down to Rowan, North Carolina. William’s son Archibald lost his life at the Battle of Germantown, Revolutionary War in October 4, 1777.  It was his son William (1790-1862) that moved farther south on the Old Wagon Road to Rutherford County, North Carolina.  Here was land for the taking and was a good place to settle until the Cherokee Indian lands just west of Old Fort were opened up after 1785.

murphy tavern

Captain George Ledbetter (1742-1792) was a member of the Conventions of 1788 and 1789, well educated, and an officer in the Revolution under Col. Andrew Hampton at the Battle of Kings Mountain.  He had made the move down the Wagon Road from Brunswick County, Virginia to Tryon, North Carolina.  His grandchildren and great grandchildren, were farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths that serviced the many wagons that moved from South Carolina up into the Blue Ridge.  Higgins Ledbetter (1862-1932), great grandson of Captain George Ledbetter was a skilled carpenter and blacksmith and serviced many wagons in dire need.  His mother’s family operated a way station, tavern and Inn, for wagon traffic to and from the Bat Cave Area and South Carolina. It was called the Murphy’s High Porch Tavern. When many neighbors or travelers needed food or assistance, this family shared their surplus with them.


great wagon road 2


The wagon roads were improved trails overlaid on ancient indian trails and animal trails.  The trail was rough in many spots and nearly impassable for wagons. But it brought settlers to the Blue Ridge and it brought some commerce in the housing and feeding of travelers and from the upkeep and repair of the rough carriages that moved through the rough terrain.


Terrell Ledbetter

September 22, 2015