The Black surname has been present in the piedmont Carolinas since the days of Colonial America. In the case of my own line of Blacks, traditional genealogy coupled with genetic genealogy indicates the family left Ulster circa 1718 and initially arrived in the Pennsylvania-Delaware region of the colonies. The family migrated down the Great Wagon Road into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by the 1740s and 1750s remaining for a time at Harrisonburg, Virginia. During the 1760s, they uprooted again and resettled in the piedmont Carolinas. While some chose to remain in the Carolinas after the American Revolution, by about 1785 at least one branch of this particular line of the Black family also appears to have migrated into Kentucky. Still other Black family members were said to have gone to Arkansas in the early to mid-1800s.
As early as 1765, settlers named Black lived on homesteads in what is modern day eastern Rutherford County and upper Cleveland County, North Carolina. The same land originally was considered part of Anson County 1750-1762, Mecklenburg County 1762-1769, and Tryon County 1769-1779 (Mecklenburg and Tryon encompassed segments of North Carolina and South Carolina prior to the settlement of a state border dispute.)
In 1764, when the region was still part of Mecklenburg County, a Mecklenburg schoolmaster, Peter Duncan, was granted some 640 acres of land on both sides of First Broad River. Duncan's land was located at the mouth of a creek, known today as Duncans Creek, on Highway 226 north of Polkville in Cleveland County. On that same date, Issac Hinton was granted 200 acres along another nearby creek, known today as Hinton Creek.
According to "Rutherford County 1979: A People's Bicentennial History (Library Press Inc., Rutherfordton NC, 1980), Duncan sold his property in two tracts in 1765. The northern portion was sold to Richard Ward (Wards Creek). The southern portion of the land, on Duncans Creek (still Mecklenburg County at that time but subsequently considered to be in Old Tryon, then Old Rutherford, then Cleveland County), was sold to Thomas Black, a Mecklenburg farmer, who had the land re-surveyed and officially defined as a 563-acre tract which included the site where Wards Creek and Duncans Creek empty into the First Broad River. Thomas, by the way, also simultaneously owned land at Indian Creek near present day Cherryville and Lincolnton, NC.
With the creation of Rutherford and Lincoln counties about 1779, families with the Black surname were still found residing in the Duncans Creek area of Old Rutherford County. By the early 1800s, the family extended into the Moriah community, near present-day Casar and later into the Knob Creek community near present-day Belwood. From the 1790s to the 1840s the area where the Blacks lived and farmed was in old Rutherford County. Later, much of the land would be considered to be in Cleveland County which was formed in 1841 out of old Rutherford and old Lincoln counties.
Here is a brief listing of one line of the Blacks who have inhabited the western piedmont and foothills of the Carolinas since the colonial days of America:
1. - Amos Thomas Black - b. April 29, 1921, Shelby, N.C.; d. May 19, 1984, Gastonia, N.C. Married Libby Brooks, Dec. 23, 1950 in York, S.C. Amos was a WWII Army private who served as a motorcycle messenger with HQ Company, 12th Armored Division ("Hellcats"), in Europe. He grew up at Swainsville in Cleveland County, but lived as an adult in Gaston County where he was a textile worker. His wife, Libby, was a descendant of the Calhoun and Brooks families of the western North Carolina mountains. Both Amos and Lib are buried at Gaston Memorial Park in Gastonia. Children: Thomas and John.
2. - Columbus Marion Black - b. April 8, 1888, Golden Valley ("Head of the Rivers") in Rutherford County, N.C.; d. March 24, 1955, following a three-month illness, at the Gardner-Webb Clinic in Boiling Springs, N.C. "Lum," as he was called by his friends, was a farmer. He married Bertha Irene Ledford on Sept. 28, 1913. Both are buried at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, in Swainsville (west of Shelby NC). Children: D.C., Clingman, Alfie, Amos. (D.C. served in the Pacific Theatre during WWII with the U.S. Army; Sgt. Clingman R. Black, U.S. Army 27th Infantry Division, was killed in the battle for Saipan.)
3. - Thomas Marion Black - b. Oct. 15, 1859, Moriah Community of Upper Cleveland; d. Oct. 5, 1934. Married Rebecca (Beckie) Waters of the Moriah community abt. 1882. Tom's obituary was a front-page item in The Cleveland Star newspaper. The article stated, "Mr. Black was born and reared in Upper Cleveland County but had lived in Shelby for 34 years where he had a host of friends." At the time of his death he lived on Hamrick Street in Shelby and was a member of Missionary Methodist Church. He and Beckie were buried at Mt. Moriah Methodist near Casar NC. Children: John Hambright, Addis Alector, Columbus Marion, Joseph Thomas, Jamie Georganna, Katie, Bassie, Vernie Estelle.
4. - James Black - b. Nov. 18, 1812; d. July 2, 1897. He, too, is buried at Mt. Moriah Methodist along with his wife, Jemima Ledford. They were married about 1840 and apparently farmed and lived in the Knob Creek Township of Cleveland County NC for much of their adult lives. Children: John F. (CSA veteran, Company I, 48th N.C. Infantry; wounded at Fredericksburg and on parole list at Appomattox), Solomon Hambright, Rebecca Melvina, Eliza J., Rachel A., Elizabeth Dulcina, William Chauncy, Samuel, Thomas Marion, Martha Henrietta. (In the 1880 Census, James indicated his parents were born in North Carolina whereas Jemima indicated her father, Thomas Ledford, was born in NC but her mother, Rebecca Crowder, was born in VA.)
5. - Moses Black - b. abt. 1777; d. abt. 1850. Oral tradition and secondary sources identify James Black's father as Moses Black of Rutherford County NC. Those sources indicate the name of Moses' wife was Patience Condrey whose family was from the Chesterfield VA area. She was born sometime after 1780. Patience apparently died in the early 1830s. Moses Black appears as head of household in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 Census in Rutherford County.
Moses and Patience seem to have lived in the Duncans Creek area of old Rutherford County a short distance away from the First Broad River. The children of Moses and Patience included: James (m. Jemima Ledford), Rachel Jane (m. Joseph Parker), Rhoda (m. John Randall Willis), Mary Polly (m. John Henry London). According to the Census data, there were two other daughters, both of whom were born between 1816-1820, and one other son, born between 1805 and 1809. The identities of these three children remain unconfirmed.
The exact date and place of death/burial as well as date of marriage for Moses and Patience are unknown. However, Moses died about 1850. Moses is listed as a witness for the creation of a will on September 4, 1848 for Daniel Sisk. In an accompanying note to the will for Rutherford probate court during the spring of 1851 it was reported that "Moses Black is dead." (Source: Rutherford County NC Will Abstracts, 1779-1910; Grace Turner and Miles Philbeck, 1982. G929.375TUR)
6.- James Black - b. 1755, VA; d. Sept. 27, 1827, Moriah Community, Cleveland County, NC. James is buried, along with his wife Rachel, at Mt. Harmony Methodist Church off Hwy 226 just north of present-day Polkville NC, and very near Duncans Creek. A state historical marker for the church is posted on Hwy 226 at the turn onto a winding gravel road leading up to the church and graveyard.
Dates for Rachel do not appear on the badly deteriorated tombstone at Mt. Harmony but it does indicate she lived 86 years. Some sources indicate her maiden name may have been Booth.
While there is no documentation to officially make the connection there is considerable circumstantial evidence, i.e., the timeframe of James and Rachel's lives, their geographic proximity to where Moses and his son, also named James, lived as adults, and the naming of Moses Black's first son and daughter (James and Rachel), that would strongly suggest this James and Rachel were the parents of Moses Black.
James and Rachel's burial site at Mt. Harmony Methodist Church is adjacent to a number of family plots including such family names as Willis, Hunt, and Parker - names that appear again in marriages within the Black family, or as neighbors, in subsequent generations.
The cemetery, which dates back to the founding of this early Methodist congregation in 1791, includes a large section of unmarked graves. A monument on the site was dedicated to the saints who lie buried "in unmarked graves from this point north to the road and west to the property boundary" and who share in the heritage of Mt. Harmony.
The formal documentation trail ends with James. What follows is "reasoned speculation" and conjecture based upon secondary sources, yDNA testing, and current theory regarding the family's lineage. This conjecture is subject to change as new evidence develops.
7. - Robert Black - b. abt. 1720, probably in Pennsylvania; d. 1788 in York County SC. Robert and his wife, Majey Cravens, sold 200 acres on Blacks Run of Cooks Creek at Harrisonburg and moved to Clarks Fork of Bullocks Creek in 1765. At the time, the land was deeded out of Mecklenburg County NC; later, following settlement of a state boundary dispute, the land would be deemed to be in York County SC. Personal yDNA testing and the work of other genealogical hobbyists suggest that Moses and his likely father, James, are directly linked to Robert Black. A distant cousin, bearing the Black surname, with whom I share a definite yDNA link, traces his lineage to John Black, who was a son of this Robert and a brother to my James Black, b. 1755, the presumed father of my Moses Black. John left the Carolinas by the mid-1790s and migrated to Kentucky where he, and his brother Robert, became the patriarchs of another branch of the Black family.
8. Matthew Black - b. abt. 1695, probably in Ulster Province, Ireland; d. abt. 1756 in Augusta (later Rockingham) County, Virginia, reportedly was the father of Robert Black. Matthew's wife was Elizabeth, maiden name unknown. They had sons named Patrick, Gavin, Robert, Matthew, Joseph, and Thomas, as well as a daughter, Janet. Matthew, and his son Robert, appear on a militia list in the Harrisonburg Va area in 1755 during the French-Indian conflict; Robert subsequently migrated southward into the Carolinas after the death of Matthew.
(To date, no official paper documentation has been found to fully support either the suggestions of the yDNA evidence or the conclusions from the more traditional genealogical approach. So, there is currently no absolutely definitive, absolutely certain answer as to who might be the father and grandfather of James Black (b. 1755). Perhaps the science of DNA and the evolving genetic genealogy field will ultimately provide answers with more certitude sometime in the near future.)
Genealogy researcher Prof. Keith Dull of Ashland University in Ohio, who has done considerable work on early Pennsylvania settlement and on this line of Blacks over the years, noted that Matthew and Elizabeth Black's first child, Patrick, was probably born about 1717 in Ireland. Matthew and Elizabeth's other children were all presumably born in the American colonies. That, along with the fact that the first wave of Ulster migration to colonial America began about 1718, would seem to suggest that Matthew Black may be one of the original immigrants in that movement to the American colonies. Matthew Black and his descendants, along with thousands of others who left the north of Ireland for the American colonies would later be characterized by the moniker "Ulster Scots" or, here in the States, as "Scots-Irish." However, these settlers, in early records in America, often characterized themselves as simply "Scots" or "Irish."
James G. Leyburn, in "The Scotch-Irish: A Social History" (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1962), notes the background of the settlers from Ulster was likely quite complex:
"Lowlanders who left Scotland for Ireland between 1610 and 1690 were biologically compounded of many ancestral strains. While the Gaelic Highlanders of that time were (as they are probably still) overwhelmingly Celtic in ancestry, this was not true of the Lowlanders. Even if the theory of 'racial' inheritance of character were sound, the Lowlander had long since become a biological mixture, in which at least nine strains had met and mingled in different proportions. Three of the nine had been present in the Scotland of dim antiquity, before the Roman conquest: the aborigines of the Stone Ages, whoever they may have been; the Gaels, a Celtic people who overran the whole island of Britain from the continent around 500 B.C.; and the Britons, another Celtic folk of the same period, whose arrival pushed the Gaels northward into Scotland and westward into Wales."
"During the thousand years following the Roman occupation, four more elements were added to the Scottish mixture: the Roman itself--for, although Romans did not colonize the island, their soldiers can hardly have been celibate; the Teutonic Angles and Saxons, especially the former, who dominated the eastern Lowlands of Scotland for centuries; the Scots, a Celtic tribe which, by one of the ironies of history, invaded from Ireland the country that was eventually to bear their name (so that the Scotch-Irish were, in effect, returning to the home of some of their ancestors); and Norse adventurers and pirates, who raided and harassed the countryside and sometimes remained to settle. The two final and much smaller components of the mixture were Normans, who pushed north after they had dealt with England (many of them were actually invited by King David of Scotland to settle in his country), and Flemish traders, a small contingent who mostly remained in the towns of the eastern Lowlands. In addition to these, a tenth element, Englishmen--themselves quite as diverse in ancestry as the Scots, though with more of the Teutonic than the Celtic strains--constantly came across the Border to add to the mixture.”
The Black surname does not have a single country of origin. Schwartz, for instance, was a common German surname which was sometimes translated as Black when Germans settled in colonial America. Gowans/Goings and other variants of that name, which means "son of the blacksmith" whether it be Scots, Irish, or German in origin, sometimes evolved into Black as a surname. In Russia, Chernoff appears to be the equivalent to the Black surname.
Many Blacks do trace their origins to Ireland and Britain where Black is relatively common as a surname. In fact, Black is among the 50 most common surnames in Scotland. It is somewhat less common in England, more prevalent in Northern Ireland as opposed to the the Republic of Ireland, and is virtually non-existent as a surname in Wales. According to one source, here in the States, the Black surname ranks 139th on a list of the most common surnames.
Dr. George Fraser Black, former director of the New York Public Library and author of "Surnames of Scotland," said the Black surname was common in St. Andrews and Prestwick, Scotland, in the 15th and 16th centuries and was very common in the Edinburgh/Midlothian area in the 17th century.
Blak, Blac, and Blake were variations of the name common to the Lanark, Scotland area in the 14th century at the time when surnames were developing and becoming more common in popular usage. According to Dr. Black, some of the Blacks of Scotland originated within Clan Lamont (old Norse for "lawman"), suggesting possible ancestral origins prior to Scotland in Scandinavia or northern Europe.
Other sources indicate the Black surname was prominent in Lincolnshire, England, but that many of these Blacks migrated northward into Scotland and eventually lost their identity when significant numbers of the Lamont, MacGregor, and MacLean clans of the Scottish Highlands also changed their names to Black (or other colors such as White or Green) after the clan names were banned by the King and Parliament due in part to the ongoing fighting among the clans.
Many Blacks were not Scottish Highlanders or clan members. Some came from the Scottish lowlands and the border country between Scotland and England. Others were inhabitants of northern England (Northumbria/York), near the border with Scotland. A number of these Blacks were part of King James' Protestant settlement of Northern Ireland in the early 1600s. Some of these Blacks lived in Northern Ireland for a couple of generations before becoming part of the massive Ulster-Scots/Scots-Irish migration to America between 1718-1775.
The Black surname in Ireland has generally been clustered in the nine counties of old Ulster with a smattering of households bearing the Black surname scattered across the rest of the island. Pender's Census in 1659, Griffiths Valuations of 1847-1864, Matheson's Birth Index of 1890, and two heads of households surveys in the early 1900s, typically found the surname primarily in Antrim, Down, and Derry. Today, one of the primary centers of the Black surname in Ireland continues to be the Belfast region in Northern Ireland.
From about 900 to 1200 C.E. in Ireland, the Black family’s name may have been the family/clan name of “Dubhthaigh,” pronounced similar to “dove-hee”. In Old Irish, “Dubh” meant “black.” The family name “Dubhthaigh” or "O'Dubtaig" may have indicated one who was originally a descendant of a dark-haired or swarthy person. Perhaps about 1300 in Ireland, the family/clan-type names covering rather larger groups of individuals apparently began giving way to surnames which identified smaller more specific groups within what had been the larger family/clan-type names. An example of such surnames would be “Duffy,” pronounced similarly to the original pronunciation of “Dubhthaigh.” Still later, perhaps about 1500, the “Black” surname appears in Ireland. It may have developed as a surname in Ireland as part of the Anglicization process of “Dubhthaigh/O'Dubtaig/Duffy.”
Another indication that the Black surname in Ireland may be a result of Anglicization comes from "A Concise History of Ireland," P.W. Joyce, pg 94-95, Archeon Press 2012 (Kindle edition); first published by Longmans, Green, and Co. in 1903. In that text, Joyce notes that under Edward IV, the first king of the House of York, and the Irish Parliament, controlled by the king and his Anglo-Irish and English noblemen, "passed an act in 1465 that every Irishman dwelling in the Pale was to dress and shave like the English, and take an English surname from some town as Trim, Sutton, Cork; or of a color as Black, Brown; or of some calling, as Smith, Carpenter, etc. on pain of forfeiture of his goods."
Michael Green, on his website www.irishsurnames.com, notes that the Black name "is often of Scottish descent spreading to Ireland, England, and Wales in early times ... In Ireland the name is connected with the three Scottish clans of Lamont, MacGregor, MacLean and is very numerous in the Province of Ulster."
Green further states, "In Ireland Black is also sometimes used as a variant of the names Duff and Kilduff as, when these names are rendered in Gaelic they have the Gaelic word "dubh" within them, the translation of which is "black"."
Immigrants to America generally arrived in the Carolinas by one of three primary migration routes: (1) Germans and Scots-Irish arrived at Philadelphia, traveling down the Great Wagon Road through the Appalachian Valley, often settling for a time in Virginia before moving on into the Piedmont and Foothills of the Carolinas; (2) Highland Scots arrived at Wilmington and moved up the Cape Fear River to present-day Fayetteville NC; and (3) English, Scots and some Scots-Irish arrived at Charleston SC, migrating inland into central and upstate South Carolina and on into the Charlotte region of NC, following the fresh water supplies along the Ashley-Cooper, Santee, Congaree, Watertree, Broad, Saluda, and Catawba river systems.
Personal DNA Assessment
FTDNA yDNA testing results: haplograph R-BY3103 with a stream that includes the SNPs/clades R-DF41 (cluster 1013 in the northern half of Ireland), R-A98 (three clusters: Donegal, Ireland; Belfast, Ireland; Epworth-Lincolnshire, England), and more recently R-A100 and R-Z9204 (clusters around the cities of Belfast and Londonderry).
Personal results from the My Heritage website autosomal DNA analysis indicated my background to be 61.2 percent Irish, Scottish, Welsh; 27.5 percent English; 6.5 percent Scandinavian; 4.8 percent East European.
Ancestry.com's personal autosomal testing outcome for me indicated 43 percent Western Europe; 34 percent Ireland/Scotland/Wales; 8 percent Great Britain; 5 percent Scandinavian; and a trace from Finland.
FTDNA's Family Finder autosomal results were 67 percent western and central Europe; 18 percent Scandinavian; 14 percent British Isles; and 1 percent Finland. Additional Y-DNA testing (111 markers and "Big Y" matched me with a genetic cousin in Idaho (6th cousin) who was previously unknown to me. He bears the surname Black and had traced his ancestral tree back to John Black, presumed son of Robert Black. This particular John Black left Carolina about 1795 and established another branch of the Black family in Kentucky. My genetic cousin and I share 108 out of 111 y-DNA markers as well as sharing some unique SNPs. According to the testing vendor, FTDNA, we definitely share a common ancestor with a 95-percent likelihood that the most recent common ancestor we share would be, for me, within eight generations. As configured in the outlined lineage above, Robert Black would be my eighth generation in the family tree. (YFull analysis also concluded that my genetic cousin and I share a common ancestor approximately 275 years ago.)
Apparently my genetic cousin descends from Robert's son John and I, apparently, descend from Robert's son James. Thus, he and I share a set of 5th-great grandparents. Alternatively, it is less probable, but possible, that we might descend from another member of that same generation (i.e. one of Robert's presumed brothers: Patrick, Gavin, Matthew, Joseph, or Thomas).
In summary, my primary paternal lines and their inferred more recent geographic origins are: Black (Derry-Antrim-Down region in present-day Northern Ireland) and Ledford (English). My primary maternal lines are Brooks (probably Norman-English) and Calhoun (Donegal-Tyrone region of Ireland). With both Black and Calhoun, I seem to have strong ties back to the old Ulster province of Ireland; with Ledford and Brooks, I appear to have significant ties back to Britain as well.
I am a hobbyist, an amateur genealogist and family historian, who uses this endeavor primarily to honor those who have gone before us lest they be totally forgotten.
Thom Black, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Updated August 2018