THE WESTWARD MIGRATION OF THE
HILL FAMILY OF ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, NC
(1759-1805)

(Caution: This Hill family is not to be confused with the family of William Hill, husband of Susannah Smithers, or Rev. William Hill Jr., husband of Elizabeth Halbert. These two families were prominent contemporaries of William Hill and Hannah Bridges in north central North Carolina.)

Thomas Hill was born in what is now Rockingham Co., North Carolina on Dec. 22, 1759.1 He was raised and nurtured in the family of William Hill and Hannah Bridges,2 but it is virtually certain that William was not his father. I have arrived at this conclusion on the basis of DNA testing. Four descendants of William Hill and John Hill, Sr., who was probably Williamís brother, have DNA which are near prefect matches with each other. However, their DNA does not match descendants of Thomas. I have found that Thomasí DNA does match the DNA of a descendant of Thomas Grogan (c.1727-) who was born in Ireland and came to America in the mid 18th century. Thomas Grogan settled in what is now Rockingham Co., NC. I do not have evidence that this Thomas Grogan was Thomas Hillís father. There were others in the Grogan family living there at the time. Nevertheless, Thomas Hill became, somehow, a member of the Hill family and I have written the remainder of this narrative with that in mind.

I have no records that show when or where William and Hannah were born but based on the ages of their known children, it is likely they were born in the 1730's.

The family owned 382 acres on Buffalo Island Creek (see map), a tributary of the Dan River, in the northwestern corner of what is now Rockingham County near the Virginia line. William and Hannah's property adjoined property owned by Gustavus Hill on the north and John Hill Sr. on the south.3 Thomas Bridges, Hannah's brother, owned the land next to John. This may indicate that all of these people may have come to the region together. According to Thomas' son, Abner, these Hills were of Welsh extraction.

William and Hannah Hill, Gustavus and his wife Charity, and Margaret Hill (John's wife?) all belonged to the Matrimony Baptist Church which was located nearby and is still in existence (1996). William and Hannah joined this church on the same day, February 12, 1779.4 This church was one of the many daughter churches of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Randolph County. It is ironic that a separate branch of our ancestors played a major role in the founding of Sandy Creek in 1755.

The record is puzzling with respect to when the Hills came to Rockingham County. William and Hannah joined the Matrimony Church in 1779 and the deed to their land was issued in 1780. However, another deed issued to Henry Scales in 1778 refers to John Hill's adjoining property even though this property was not deeded to John until 1783. This would indicate that there might have been a considerable time between the actual acquisition of land and the dates that deeds were issued. In fact, according to footnote 1, the Hills were in Rockingham County as early as 1759 when Thomas was born.

To my knowledge, there is no public record in existence which specifically lists the children of William and Hannah Hill. It is documented that they had at least four sons: Thomas (1759-1849), James (1761-1833), John, and Jacob.5 There is also evidence that Joab Hill (1775-1841) was a younger son of William and Hannah6 although some researchers believe he was the son of Jacob.

Furthermore, Abner Hill (1788-aft 1861), a son of Thomas, mentions his Aunt Polly Hill Gibbons, his father's youngest sister. This implies that Thomas had other sisters. The 1790 census for Surry Co., NC, where the family lived at that time, implies there may have been ten children - 6 boys and 4 girls.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1776, Thomas was 16 years old. He entered military service as a private in June 1776. In his first 3-month tour he was sent to quell trouble with Indians on the Tennessee River. Five years later, in 1781, he served another 3-month tour on an assignment to prevent the British from crossing the Dan River. At about this time, one of the last major battles of the Revolution was unfolding nearby at Guilford Court House, but apparently Thomas did not participate directly in this battle. Finally, he was sent once again to East Tennessee to serve his final tour to protect an area in Hawkins County from Indians.7

A neighbor of the Hill families in Rockingham County was Winkfield Shropshire. I have found no information on when Winkfield came to North Carolina. We do know that on October 22, 1782, he was deeded 100 acres of land on the North Fork of Buffalo Island Creek.8 However, like the Hills, he had probably already lived there a number of years. His property adjoined the land owned by Gustavus Hill. He and his wife Jane (Jones) had a daughter named Catherine (1760-1854) and many other children. (See Shropshire Lineage) Jane and Catherine Shropshire were also members of the Matrimony Baptist Church.9 In July 1783, Thomas Hill, age 24, married Catherine Shropshire, age 23.

On March 10, 1788, William Hill sold his 382 acres on Buffalo Island Creek and then, on January 10, 1789, purchased 380 acres on the Fisher River in Surry County.10 At about this same time, Thomas purchased (or was granted) 100 acres of land near William's Fisher River property on the Tarrarat River.11 Thus, the Hill family left their home in Rockingham County and moved about 45 miles west into Surry County, NC.

Two or three years after moving to Surry County, William Hill died. He was about sixty years old. About that same time Thomas, age 32, and Catherine sold their land in Surry County and moved to Greene County, Georgia. Thomas was apparently named executor of his father's estate, for in November 1792, he deeded his father's 380 acres on the Fisher River to three of his brothers, John, James, and Jacob.12

When Thomas and Catherine moved to Georgia they had four children -- Elijah, James, Abner (b. 1788), and William. During the 13 years they lived in Georgia they had five more children -- Winkfield (b. 1792), Jane, Cynthia, Thomas, and Hannah. In 1804, when Thomas was 45, he and Catherine moved to Claiborne County, Tennessee, and there, in February 1805, joined the Big Spring Baptist Church, about four miles south of Tazewell.13

It is notable that when Thomas and Catherine joined the Big Spring Church in 1805, several people named Hill were already members. Considering the names of these people, it is almost certain that most or all of them were Thomas' family who, in 1795, had sold their land in Surry County and moved to East Tennessee.14,15 They were Hannah Hill, who was a charter member of the church (the church was founded in 1796), James, Nancy, John, Joab, Susannah, and Jean.

In August 1805, John and Susannah Hill, James Hill, and Thomas and Catherine Hill were "dismist by letter" from the church. It was apparently at this time that Thomas and Catherine moved one final time - to become among the earliest settlers of the Cherry Creek section of White County, Tennessee.16 At least one of Catherine's brothers, William Shropshire, also came to White County about that time.

In 1805, Abner Hill, the third son of Thomas and Catherine, was 17 years old. Abner became the first Christian Church preacher in White County17 and later moved to Texas. When he was 73 he wrote his autobiography18 which included this account of his childhood.

I was born in Rockingham County, N.C. on the 20th of August 1788. My father's name was Thomas Hill. He was the son of William Hill. I have heard my father say that he was of Welsh extraction. My mother's name was Catherine Shropshire, the daughter of Winkfield Shropshire of England. He lived to be very old -- I recon a hundred. He had 13 children by his first wife. She died. He lived a while with one of his married daughters. Living with her was a girl named Jane Jones who was of Virginia. My grandfather married Jane Jones, when she was only 15 years old. By her my grandfather had 13 children, making in all 26 children by his two wives. My mother, I think, was the seventh child by his last wife. I was my mother's third child. When I was old enough to go to school my grandfather was the teacher. He was then able to walk 6 miles on Sundays.

When I was too young to remember my father moved from North Carolina to Georgia. My mother's people, the Shropshires, moved to Georgia and my father went with them. Georgia was then a new country. My father sold his land in N.C. for horses and cattle and drove them through to Georgia. His horses and mares all except one little bay filly and all of his cattle died except one little heifer. This left us very poor. My father having only enough money to buy seventy acres of land. Elijah, James, William and I were born in N.C. Jane, Winkfield, Hannah, Thomas, and Cynthia came in close succession, so that father and mother were much of the opinion that it was good for me, as it qualified me to bear the adversities of life with patience. This was regular honest work and gave me a good constitution.

My father was a member of the Baptist Church and a firm believer in the Baptist doctrine. Mother was a faithful teacher, teaching me that there was a Heaven, a place of everlasting happiness, and a place of everlasting punishment where we would be sent when we died if we lived wicked lives. She taught us that if we lived good, God would take us to Heaven where we would be happy forever. She taught us that it was wicked to tell a lie, to steal, to get mad and fight, and to swear and to curse. Swearing we had learned from our uncle Shropshires, who used very profane language. I believed Mother. I understood that she was religious and thought she knew all about it. I was deterred from doing wrong from the belief that mother had taught us. I had never heard anyone pray. I was desirous of knowing how to pray but I was ashamed to ask mother to teach us how to pray.

We lived on the frontiers. There was some alarming reports of Indians. Mother was afraid of Indians and so were we.

 

On April 10, 1809, Thomas was granted 100 acres of land in White County, perhaps in recognition of his Revolutionary War service. In 1810, Thomasí son James married Eleanor Cummings. Between 1810 and 1815, James and Eleanor had four children. Then James joined the Tennessee volunteers recruited by Andrew Jackson and marched to fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans. James was killed in the battle. Soon after, Eleanor she had an illegitimate daughter by one Thomas Ripley. Because of the scandal, Thomas Hill went to court to obtain custody of his four grandchildren by his late son, James. He won the court case on April 15, 1822.19 On Dec. 21, 1824, Thomas was granted another 50 acres of land for the benefit of the heirs of James Hill.20

Eleanor then married Thomas Bryant Sparkman. It is interesting to note that Eleanor & Thomas Bryant Sparkman's first child, Lewis Sparkman was married and lived in White County for a time, before moving his family to Morgan Co., Alabama where his grandson, John J. Sparkman was born in 1899. John Sparkman became a U.S. Senator and in 1952 ran for Vice President on the ticket with Adlai Stevenson.

Winkfield Hill, the son of Thomas and Catherine, was 13 years old in 1805 when the family came to White County. He grew up in White County and on Dec. 8, 1824, at age 32, he was granted 50 acres of land.20 I have very little additional information about the life of Winkfield Hill. He married Martha (Patsy) Anderson21 and had eight children -- 3 boys and 5 girls. (I have no information on the ancestors of Patsy Anderson.) Based upon the 1840 census, Winkfield's elderly parents, Thomas and Catherine Hill, were living with him at that time.21 Thomas died in 1849, at age 89. Catherine died Feb. 14, 1854. She was 93. Winkfield died August 8, 1851 in White County. Patsy died about 1855.

To continue the history of this Hill family, return to the home page and review the record of Dr. William Walter Hill, grandson of Winkfield Hill and Patsy Anderson.

Return to Home Page

1 Early Families of the North Carolina Counties of Rockingham and Stokes with Revolutionary Service, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1977, p 48. This source gives a brief biography of Thomas Hill based upon Revolutionary War pension application records.

2 For the maiden name of Hannah, I am indebted to Henry Hill of Florissant, MO. for referring me to the following evidence contained in the autobiography of Abner Hill, the son of Thomas Hill: "They stayed out about a year and finally all came back and made acknowledgment, and joined the church, except an old Granduncle of mine, Thomas Bridges, my grandmother's brother."

3 N.C. Land Grant No. 298, Issued March 1, 1780. (382 acres to William Hill)

N.C. Land Grant No. 313, Issued March 1, 1780 (350 acres to William Hill)

Guilford County Deed Book 1, p. 518, Issued Dec. 16, 1778 (400 acres to Henry Scales)

Guilford County Deed Book 2, p. 70, Issued March 1, 1780 (200 acres to Gustavus Hill)

Guilford County Deed Book 2, p. 280, Issued March 29, 1783 (350 acres from William Hill to John Hill) I am greatly indebted to Jeff H. Bradley of Houston, TX for his excellent research on the ownership of property by various William Hills in the north-central part of North Carolina in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Mr. Bradley, a descendant of Rev. William Hill of Stokes County, has done much to straighten out a muddled record.

4 Early records of the Matrimony Baptist Church, Rockingham County, NC. I found these records in the archives at Rockingham County Community College, Wentworth, NC.

5 However, 1792 Surry Co. NC deeds involving the disposition of William Hill's property after his death clearly state that Thomas, John, James, and Jacob were his sons. (See footnote 12)

6 In his biographical sketch of the life of Joab Hill, J.J. Burnett, a Baptist historian, stated "A kinsman of Brother (Joab) Hill, who, writing at the age of 82, says: 'My grandfather, Thomas Hill, had a younger brother named Joab Hill, who lived in McMinn County, East Tennessee.'" (See Burnett, J.J., Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Ministers, Nashville, 1919, p 230-231). Furthermore, based on the evidence in footnote 14, it seems probable that Joab was a son of William and Hannah.

7 op.cit., Early Families of the North Carolina Counties ----

8 Guilford County, NC Deed Book 2, p. 383. Issued Oct. 22, 1782 (100 acres to Winkfield Shropshire)

9 op.cit., Early records of the Matrimony Baptist Church

10 Rockingham County, NC Deed Book E, p. 180 (William Hill sells 382 acres to William Mills) and Surry County, NC Deed Book D: 404-405 (James and Catherine Bryson sell 380 acres to William Hill).

11 No record has been found of Thomas' purchase of this land. However, his sale of the land was recorded on Oct. 2, 1792. Surry County, NC Deed Book F:348.

12 Surry County, NC Deed Book F:273-275.

 13 Early records of the Big Spring Baptist Church, Claiborne County, TN. This church, established in 1796 and still in existence today (1996), was built by Tidence Lane who was one of the earliest pioneer ministers in Tennessee and at one time was associated with the Sandy Creek Baptist Church. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Lane, married Joab Hill.

14 Surry County, NC Deed Book K:217 (John Hill sells 100 acres to Colby Creed - Dec. 1,1795). Surry County, NC Deed Book G:190 (Joab Hill sells 140 acres to Colby Creed - Oct. 1, 1796). These deeds raise some puzzling questions. From the descriptions of the land in the deeds, they are clearly the same property that William Hill left to his sons, John and Jacob. The first deed, dated Dec. 1, 1795, states that Colby Creed is already in possession of Jacob's land. The second deed, which describes Jacob's land, is signed by Joab Hill, not Jacob. Clearly, Joab was a member of the family. The deed, dated Oct. 1, 1796, also states that John Hill is deceased. There is no record of the sale of James' land, yet James, John, and Joab were all members of the Big Spring Church when Thomas joined them in 1805. It is known that the Joab Hill in Claiborne County, who became an early Tennessee preacher and served in the War of 1812, was born in 1775. (See Burnett, J.J., Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Ministers, Nashville, 1919.)

15 Abner Hill, in his autobiography, states that the Hills at Big Spring were their relatives.

16 Seals, History of White County, p.91.

17 ibid, p.___

18 The Autobiography of Abner Hill (Houston Library)

19 White County Court minutes, 1820-1823 p. 386

20 White County, TN Land Grants

21 op.cit., Early Families of the North Carolina Counties ----