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Selected Roberts Papers: Seven Generations of a Southern Lineage

Selected Roberts Papers: Seven Generations of a Southern Lineage

by Charles Stewart Roberts MD

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This book describes seven generations of a single Roberts lineage in the Southern States. A selection of public and private papers is included which refl ects the times and the temperaments of the authors. The Roberts in this lineage crossed the Blue Ridge in 1770 and were British loyalists on the Virginia frontier at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In the


This book describes seven generations of a single Roberts lineage in the Southern States. A selection of public and private papers is included which refl ects the times and the temperaments of the authors. The Roberts in this lineage crossed the Blue Ridge in 1770 and were British loyalists on the Virginia frontier at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In the next three generations, the family settled in newly-opened Indian Territory in South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi,respectively. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Roberts patriarch was a Unionist judge in Georgia, while the eldest son was a Secessionist attorney in Mississippi. The post War generations commenced with a literary college president who was life-long friends with the Candler brothers of Emory and Coca Cola. The next three generations were physicians. The first was the fi rst cardiologist in Georgia and a national medical leader. The second is a researcher in heart disease whose publications and addresses have had worldwide influence in medicine. And the last is author of this book.

Cover Photograph James William ("Will")

Roberts was twelve when this photograph was taken in Atlanta during the Civil War, in which his father, in the 13th Mississippi regiment, had died. To support his mother and younger siblings, Will sold newspapers and apples (shown in the basket he is holding) in front of the Atlanta hardware store of Joseph Spencer Stewart, an Emory College graduate (1849), who later funded the education of Will at Emory College (1st honors,1877) in Oxford, Georgia. Will married Cliff ord Rebecca Stewart, a daughter of Mr. Stewart, and became minister of Trinity Church in Atlanta and president of Wesleyan College in Macon.

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Selected Roberts Papers from Seven Generations

By Charles Stewart Roberts

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Charles Stewart Roberts, MD
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4759-9283-0


John Roberts, Sr.

[c. 1764–1848]


John Roberts, Sr., (JR) was born in Virginia, according to his son James, probably in Halifax County, the county mentioned in his Revolutionary War pension application. Halifax County was created from Lunnenberg County and was further partitioned to create Pittsylvania and Henry counties, a region called "Southside Virginia," on the North Carolina border.

JR entered the world about 1764 on the Virginia frontier. The French and Indian War (1756–1763) had ended and the Stamp Act, a British measure to pay for the war, was passed in 1765, only to be repealed in 1766. In 1763 a Royal Proclamation established that lands west of a line at the crest of the Appalachian Mountains would be an Indian Reserve. No colonist doubted that this order was temporary.

JR resided in at least 4 states in this order: Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. His military service at the time of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 1781) was brief (he was about 17 years of age). He apparently did not experience combat, but served in the North Carolina or Virginia militia as a collector of provisions, such as corn. The country through which he traveled was Caswell County, North Carolina and Halifax County, Virginia.

JR arrived in South Carolina about 1790. The United States of America had been formally recognized since the Treaty of Paris in 1783. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President in 1789. A son of JR, James Roberts (direct ancestor), would name his eldest son after the first President.

Migration from old Halifax County, Virginia, to the Pendleton District of South Carolina was common. The Pendleton District was formerly Cherokee territory in upper South Carolina. It was called the "Golden Corner," comprised of 3 counties: Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens.

JR acquired land, perhaps initially by inheritance, in what is now Anderson County and resided there for at least 30 years. His land was along Mountain Creek, a branch of the Savannah River. At times he had more than 500 acres and was "engaged in agriculture," according to the 1820 census.

Around 1790, the year JR arrived in South Carolina, he married Margaret (called Peggy), and they had 6 children, all born in South Carolina. His eldest son, Sterling, became a prominent Baptist minister and secessionist in Georgia. His third son, James, my direct ancestor, was also a farmer, as well as an elected public official in Georgia.

John and Margaret Roberts were Baptists in South Carolina, and probably previously in Virginia, though JR apparently did not attend Mountain Creek Baptist Church regularly and was even cited for nonattendance. In the back country of Virginia a movement away from the Established Church (Anglican) occurred in the mid-eighteenth century. Jefferson's Statute of Religious Liberty was passed in 1786 in Virginia, which disestablished the Anglican Church, a law supported by Baptists. The Roberts lived on the frontier in Virginia where membership in the Baptist Church was common.

Eventually, the couple moved to Georgia, and then to Mississippi, where they resided for a decade with the family of their wealthy son Griffin at Cedarwyke Plantation.

JR left no written documents, except the Revolutionary War pension application, which was submitted in 1839 when he was about 75 of age. The application was rejected because his military service was too brief. John and Margaret Roberts both died in 1848 after 58 years of marriage. A Roberts genealogist in Texas, Raymond Bradford Roberts, wrote a brief essay on his related Roberts line (1764–1950), calling JR, "the Keystone American Ancestor."


c1764 Born in VA (1880 census: son James states that both of his parents were born in VA)

1767 Pittsylvania County formed from Halifax County, VA (James, Cornelius, and William Roberts living on Snow Creek in new Pittsylvania County)

1781 Served 3 months in NC militia (age 17) around the time of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Cornwallis won the field but at great cost.)

1790 Moved to Pendleton District, SC (age 26) (Two John Roberts appear in the 1790 census in Pendleton District; our John Roberts is living with 2 women—his wife and daughter.) Married Margaret (Peggy); she was born c1765 and died in 1848. Their 6 children were born in SC:

Elizabeth—married Johnson Hall in 1808 in Pendleton District, SC. The Hall family came from Halifax County, VA, about 17855.

Sterling (1790–1866)—married Matilda Durnam; 7 children, of whom 6 were born in Pendleton District. He mmarried Sarah Carroll; 2 children born in Hall County, GA.

He was a pastor at Flat Creek Baptist Church, 1837–1866, in GA. Son Sterling Mercer RRRRoberts (b.1820) was also a minister in GA. (Called "Sterling" in SC and "Starling" in GA.)

John, Jr. (1793–1836)—married Elizabeth; died in Gwinnett County, GA.

James (1797–1883)—Direct Ancestor. Married Mary "Polly" Phillips

Griffin (1801–1852)—Settled in Monroe County, MS (former Chickasaw territory); plantation owner. "Cedarwycke": 815 acres and 34 slaves in 1850. He was the wealthiest of the antebellum Roberts family. His parents came to live at his plantation (c1838–1848).

Cooper Bennett (1802–1860)—married Permelia Phillips, 1828, in Walton County, GA. Named after pastor of Shockley Ferry Church in Pendleton District, SC (by the Savannah River.) Note: James and Cooper married Phillips sisters.

1793 A John Roberts received deed of real estate, personal property, and slaves of William Roberts, though it is not clear if he is our JR (September 25, 1793, Anderson County; Pendleton District, SC)

1801 Sold 220 acres on Sadler's Creek to Jacob Capehart

1802 Bought a 172-acre grant from Hugh Simpson

1806 Sold the same 172 acres to David Andrews

1820 Census of Pendleton District shows three heads of household: JR and two of his sons, John Roberts, Jr., and Starling Roberts.

1822 Sold 59 acres on Mountain Creek to David Tate for $17.82; this was part of a 592-acre tract he owned; surveyed in 1817.

1812–27 Member of Mountain Creek Baptist Church, near Anderson, SC. First record of the church was 1798, but formally recognized in 1812. Its sister church was Shockley Ferry Church, near the Savannah River. Located 7 miles southwest of Anderson on Brown's Ferry Road

1826 Margaret Roberts, wife of JR, and Fanny (sister perhaps), applied for letters of dismission from the church.

1830 Residing in Elbert County, GA

1834 Residing in Gwinnett County, GA; joins Sweetwater Baptist Church.

1836 JR is "restored and dismissed" from Mountain Creek Baptist Church after he sent a letter from his new home in GA ("praying restoration and dismission").

1839 Residing in Monroe County, MS, on Cedarwyke plantation of son Griffin. They lived in the same home for a decade or more.

1839 Applied for Revolutionary War pension on April 10,1839 (Claim 8871)

Application rejected by Stephen Cooke in Columbus, MS, on May 29, 1839, as his militia service had been < 6 months.

1848 Died in Monroe, MS, on October 14, and buried there JR was about 84 years of age. His wife, Margaret, died the same year, at 83 years of age


The father of John Roberts, Sr., is uncertain. DNA analysis of Roberts descendants has been helpful, along with family records, to paint a picture of the ancestry. It appears that our Roberts line came from Kent, England, and settled in Virginia (probably New Kent County), eventually in old Halifax County (which was further partitioned further into Pittsylvania and Henry counties).

Our Roberts line appears to have crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains about 1770 and settled along the border counties of Virginia (Grayson County) and North Carolina (Surry County), with family members on both sides. There appears to have been a Loyalist sentiment in some Roberts family members early in the Revolutionary War (1775–1781). Many Roberts from this vicinity migrated into Kentucky and Tennessee. John Roberts, Sr., arrived in the newly opened Cherokee land in upper South Carolina around 1790.

1. DNA analysis. My autosomal DNA was compared to their world DNA database, which has 7 continental groups based on genetic similarity. My DNA showed 2 groups: "Europe (Western European)" with 89 and "Europe" with 11. A test of my Y chromosome reveals that I belong to haplogroup R1b1a2 (shorthand: R-M269),of northern European origin. A test of mitochondrial DNA, which includes maternal ancestry, shows haplogroup V, which also shows a northern European origin (present day "Germany, England, Ireland, United Kingdom, Scotland" from FamilyTreeDNA).

2. James Roberts of Snow Creek (old Halifax County, Virginia). A close DNA connection exits with this Roberts line. The parents of this James Roberts were from Kent, England, and James appears to have been the father of Cornelius (c1746–1788) and perhaps William (born 1735–40). In 1760 James Roberts owned 400 acres on Snow Creek, and both sons are recorded as living on Snow Creek in 1767.

Many Roberts in old Halifax County came from Kent. Some Roberts appear to have migrated directly south into North or South Carolina, staying east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Others crossed the Blue Ridge, moving from east to west within the Virginia—from old Halifax County in the east into what is now Grayson County in the west, never far from the North Carolina border (Caswell and Surry counties). The westward migration of James, Cornelius, and William appears to have occurred about 1770, before the Revolutionary War (1775–1781).

Cornelius Roberts married Mary Benton (about 1766) who was a daughter of the Dan River Bentons (the family of Thomas Hart Benton, the painter). William Roberts married Elizabeth Wallen, daughter of Elijah Wallen, a famous long hunter (see Elisha Wallen the Longhunter, by Carolyn D. Wallen, The Overmountain Press, Johnson City, Tennessee). William Roberts, also a long hunter, accompanied Elijah Wallen on a long hunt across the Blue Ridge into Cherokee territory in 1761.

The Roberts were also connected with the Rogers family who also migrated from Pittsylvania County (old Halifax County) across the Blue Ridge in 1770. Doswell Rogers, a friend of Elijah Wallen, had a daughter Catherine, who married William Roberts, Jr. (born 1765), with many children (Descendents of Dauswell Rogers, 1776, Gateway). Doswell Rogers stated in a deposition in 1812 concerning a long hunt in1761: "The Wallens, Bentons, William Roberts and others named these streams as they went through the hunting lands."

After crossing the Blue Ridge in about 1770, James Roberts and his two sons settled in the Elk Creek District of what is now Grayson County, Virginia, along the border with North Carolina. Elk Creek is a branch of the New River. Many Roberts settled in the Elk Creek area, including Roberts from Surry County, North Carolina, the adjacent county. Many Roberts connected to this line continued to migrate westward, into Kentucky and Tennessee.

3. Tory Loyalists. James Roberts of Snow Creek, in old Halifax County, Virginia, originally from Kent, England, was probably the Tory Colonel who was active west of the Blue Ridge early in the Revolutionary War. Most white colonists in Virginia and North Carolina thought of themselves as English. Cornelius and William Roberts also appear to have had Tory sympathies early in the Revolutionary War (1775–1781).

In Lord Dunmore's War of 1774, which was waged by the British against the Shawnee Nation, several Roberts were enlisted in southwestern Virginia. Captain David Looney's Company of 34 men from Fincastle County (southwestern Virginia) was ordered to stay behind and guard the frontier, instead of marching toward Ohio to participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Lieutenant Daniel Boone and his son Israel were among Looney's Company who stayed behind with 2 Roberts men (Cornelius and William), 4 Wallen men, and others.

Many men of Looney's Company were identified as Tories in the early part of the Revolutionary War. They opposed American attacks on the Cherokee in 1776, siding with the British and Cherokee. Many of the men, such as Elijah Wallen, had Cherokee connections. Later in the Revolutionary War and after 1781, many Roberts in southwest Virginia do appear on American militia rosters, perhaps as their loyalist sentiment faded.

Early in the war, a Tory Colonel James Roberts and his son, Tory Captain James Roberts, were active west of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the border counties of Virginia and North Carolina. Recollections of them can be found in pension applications such as the following one about the father and son:

Roberts was on his route to Ninety-Six with about 20 men though he (son) did not come with him. Col. Roberts was passing through (now) Ashe County (NC) and passed by Benj. Cuthbirth's and robbed his 5 valuable horses. I think this was 1781. Some time after this Capt. James Roberts, son of Col. Roberts passed through Ashe on the same trail that had been traveled by Col Roberts. The Captain had but 4 men besides himself, one Tory and 3 British soldiers.

Between raids, they found safety in the vicinity of Cornelius and William Roberts in the Elk Creek District in the western part of Grayson County, Virginia. A June 15, 1776 letter from William Preston to Edmund Pendleton observed "Roberts with Tories on Elk Creek."

Colonel Roberts had land confiscated in both Virginia and North Carolina because of his Tory partisanship. ("On 5 July 1776 the land of James Roberts of Montgomery County, VA, was confiscated and sold because he had taken up arms with the British." From New River Notes). William and Cornelius Roberts were also accused of activities against the American government and had land confiscated in Virginia. In a Court Session in Montgomery County, Virginia, in 1780, however, their property was returned because of lack of evidence.

4. John and Elizabeth Roberts of Surry County, North Carolina. A very close DNA relation (Y chromosome DNA analysis—1 genetic distance for 67 markers) exists between me (CSR) and descendants of John Roberts (c1730–1808) and his wife Elizabeth (c1734–after 1817)of Surry County, North Carolina, representing the lines of 2 of the 14 children born between 1756 and 1782. Surry County was formed from Rowan County in 1771 in western North Carolina, along the southwestern Virginia border, adjacent to Grayson County, Virginia.

Additional information on the family of John and Elizabeth Roberts can be found in a book by Earl Roberts called Roberts Forebears of Roberts Cove, Grayson Co., Va., and Surry Co., N.C. (1986), and in a book by Merritt Roberts called Roberts-Allen Families and Related Families Davis, Highfill, Rogers (1985).

The Surry County Roberts (John and Elizabeth Roberts with 14 children), to whom our line is very closely related, appear to be connected in some way to the many Roberts (James, Cornelius, and William) in the Elk Creek District of Grayson County, Virginia, the adjacent county. Colonel James Roberts, the Tory, owned land in Surry County which was confiscated in 1799 by act of the legislature in New Bern, North Carolina.

A son of John and Elizabeth Roberts, William Roberts, Sr. (1770–1838), the eighth child, settled in Roberts Cove, Elk Creek District, Grayson County, Virginia, where these Roberts already lived. Furthermore, William Roberts, Sr., had an older brother, John, born in 1766, whose relation to our John Roberts, Sr., is unknown.

5. James Roberts, Jr (1728–1786). A formidable figure in local politics in early Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties was James Roberts, Jr., whose father James Roberts (1795–1769) also came from Kent, England. In 1752, Halifax County separated from Lunnenburg County, and Peytonsburg was laid out as its county seat. "James Roberts, Jr., began his career as a town founder in Halifax County." Roberts gained title to the land occupied by Peytonsburg and laid out the town in 1761 with an act of the Virginia Assembly.

Excerpted from Selected Roberts Papers from Seven Generations by Charles Stewart Roberts. Copyright © 2013 Charles Stewart Roberts, MD. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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