Back to my roots
I’m very excited to be getting back to a little genealogy. I’m especially excited since this time I have some big help from Anthony Adolph, a professional genealogist. We’re starting off with some research into the history of my paternal line, the Billings Family, because the trail goes mostly cold at the start of the 19th century.
I’m familiar with the recent history of the Billings line – my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather. Billings men live for a long time and those three generations alone turn the clock back to 1838, when my great grandfather was born to father Richard and mother Mary. Beyond Richard Billings though, I can find no definitive links to the past. Here’s what I know.
I try to be pretty skeptical about evidence. So while I love good stories, I always look for direct evidence.
Wm H Billings
My great grandfather was born in 1838 as either William Horatio Billings or William Horace Billings. Most accounts support the former, although his death certificate and my cousin Steve support the latter. My father, who is the only person still alive that might know, said “It was something stupid that began with an ‘H’ and he wouldn’t talk about it.” For his part, William signed his name as “Wm H Billings.”
Some sources record his place of birth as North Carolina, some as Grayson County Virginia. He is listed in the 1850 US Census in “District 19, Grayson, Virginia,” although his age is mistakenly listed as being nine years old. He appears in census records after that in Virginia until 1880 when he shows up in Piney Creek, Alleghany Co, North Carolina, now married to Caroline Osborne of Ashe County North Carolina. Grayson County Virginia is a few miles from Piney Creek and the house that Wm bought for his family on Potato Creek Rd was even closer – little more than a stone’s throw across the New River. Caroline was twenty years younger than Wm, by the way.
Wm served in the Quartermaster Corps in the Civil War in Grayson County Virginia and later in life he received a pension from the state of North Carolina for his service. He was a merchant who sold Stomach Bitters created from extracts of wild cherry, mahogany and dogwood barks mixed with vinegar. He claimed his bitters could cure just about everything from heart problems to “female weakness,” which is the old school way of saying lady pains.
In 1876, Wm was charged with bastardy for fathering a child with Rocksy Anderson out of wedlock. Ms. Anderson did not have the money to raise the child on her own and was about to turn it over as a ward of the county. Wm claims that he paid her somewhere between $5-$20 in his testimony, but the details are vague as to whether or not she received all of that money. He settled the case for $60.00 in 1877. That would be about $1300 today according to internet inflation calendars.
A couple of decades later he and Caroline welcomed my grandfather into the world. My father visited Wm on his deathbed in 1935 as a young boy, vividly remembering Wm’s long white beard. Dad remembers playing with his aunts at “the big house” after visiting Wm. Wm’s death certificate reports that he died of pneumonia and old age on February 23rd 1935 at the house in Piney Creek NC. He was buried the next day in the family cemetery, right near his house, that now bears his name, “The Soloman Parsons and Wm H Billings Cemetery.”
Wm’s death certificate lists his father as Richard Billings, place of birth unknown, and his mother as Mary Moxley of Ashe Co. What I know about Richard is below. However, the day may come when I write an entry on Mary Moxley, who’s line traces back to 16th century England.
Anecdotal stories about Wm
My father has told me many times that the farm Wm owned was on 5000 acres and included a mine that yielded both silver and lead. My father and brother also claim that Wm had nearly a hundred former slaves in his employ to work the farm and that he both paid them and provided them housing. Also according to Dad, during the civil war Wm sold lead out of the mine to both the Union and the Confederacy, making himself enough money to later setup his Bitters business and farm. Locals, including my father’s best friend since childhood and my honorary uncle Herb Barr, claim that legend holds that Wm knew the location of “the good silver” in the mine and wouldn’t share it with anyone, taking the secret to his grave. The rights to this mine were supposedly sold along with the 5000 acres by one of my father’s aunts in the ’70s or ’80s.
I can’t verify any of this, but it makes for good flavoring. It is important to note that there is now a very large quarry next door to the old homestead, quite literally around the bend.
Richard Billings first appears as the head of my family in the 1830 census. By the 1850 census he is listed as married to Mary Moxley with seven children, including Wm, and living in Virginia. His profession is given as being a miller. Most records show his date of birth as being around 1800 somewhere in North Carolina. The 1860 census lists him as being sixty three years old, North Carolina born and his post office as that of Independence Va.
Richard died in 1873, reportedly in Grayson County Virginia.
Reeves vs. Dickey: The Origin of the Family Mine
I once stumbled across “Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, Volume 51” while googling for Richard. Page 138 records the case of Reeves vs. Dickey in July 1853 in Lewisburg Va. (Lewisburg is now part of West Virginia, by the way.) I had previously discovered that one of Richard’s daughters had married into the Reeves family, so I decided to read this brief after stumbling onto it several times. The full text is available on Google.
This reveals a somewhat epic 1845 land dispute between Jesse A. Reeves and several others over the rights to silver from a mine on roughly seventy five acres in Grayson County Virginia. Reeves had apparently bought a share of the silver in the mine from Richard and sold parts of that share to several other people. There were only two problems: Richard only “owned” the mine through Title Bond from Charles Doughton and the silver was never successfully verified as quality silver. In fact, they were only able to identify it as iron!
I suspect this was the same mine that Wm allegedly owned twenty years later during the civil war, especially since silver is often mistaken for another metal that is regularly found close by: lead.
Anecdotal stories about Richard
Various sources lists Richard’s father as Jasper Billings and some sources claim that Jasper was born in Charleston South Carolina. However I cannot find any concrete, direct connections between Richard and Jasper Billings.
Recently Anthony Adolph discovered a possible connection between the two. In 1804, Jasper Billings, a blacksmith of Wilkes Co. North Carolina took on an apprentice, an orphan named Richard Higgins who was indentured to Jasper until his 21st birthday. Jasper was to teach young Richard Higgins his trade and how to read and write. Anthony was able to find an original copy of the indenture document, which you can take a look at here, RichardBillingsApprenticeship. Keep in mind though that while this is a possibly very interesting development, it is still not definitive proof linking Richard Billings to Jasper Billings or to the boy Richard Higgins. Anthony found this in the ‘Abstracts. Will Books One and Two Wilkes County, North Carolina, 1778-1811. page.21. Year 1804, April, page 125.’
The header of this document reads:
Richard Higgins to Jasper Billings } Indenture
The body reads:
State of North Carolina. This indenture made this 2nd day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and four between William Lenior Esq. Chairman of the County Court of Wilks and State aforesaid of the one part and Jasper Billings of the other part witnesseth that he the said William Lenior Esq Chairman in —– to an order of the County Court and according to act of assembly (?) in such cases made and provided doth put and place and bind unto the said Jasper Billings one orphan – boy named Richard Higgins. – learn the occupation of a black smith with the said Jasper Billings —– to live after the manner of apprentice and servant (?) until the said apprentice shall attain the age of twenty one years during all —– time the said apprentice master shall serve faithfully his lawfull commands every where gladly obey he shall not any time absent himself from his said master’s service without leave but in all things —–good and faithful servant shall behave towards his said master. And the said Jasper Billings doth covenant promise and agree and with the said William Lenior Esq. that —– will constantly find and provide for said —– apprentice during the time aforesaid sufficient diet washing and lodging fitting for an apprentice also all other things necessary both in sickness and in health & to learn the said apprentice to read and write & teach him the blacksmith trade.
In —– whereof the parties have interchange —– set their hands and seals the day & year above —– —– Wm B Lenior EC
Jasper Billings (seal)
Wm Lenoir Ch – (seal)
Richard is allegedly buried in the Old Bethel Church Cemetery in Independence, Grayson County, Virginia.