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Black - Cleveland/Rutherford/Old Tryon


The Black surname has been present in the western piedmont/foothills/upstate section of the Carolinas since the days of Colonial America.

In 1765, Peter Duncan, a Mecklenburg schoolmaster, sold 560 acres on Duncan Creek, off Hwy 226 in present-day Cleveland County NC, to Mecklenburg farmer Thomas Black, possibly a son of Robert Black. This land, located just north of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, was at various times considered part of Old Tryon County, then Rutherford County, and finally Cleveland County. (Source: "Rutherford County 1979: A People's Bicentennial History;" Library Press, Inc., Rutherfordton NC, 1980)

At this same time, in the 1760s, Robert Black and other members of this line of Blacks were also purchasing land just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line in the area between what become the Kings Mountain battleground state park and the small present-day town of Smyrna. That land at various times was considered part of Old Craven County, Camden District, and finally York County, SC.

With the creation of Rutherford and Lincoln counties in NC about 1779, families with the Black surname were residing in the Second Regiment/Morgan District (eastern portion) of Old Rutherford County. By the early 1800s, the family resided in the Mt. Moriah community, near present-day Casar ("Upper Cleveland County"). From the 1780s to the 1840s this area where the Blacks lived and farmed was very near the boundary line of the old Rutherford and old Lincoln counties, from which Cleveland County was formed in 1841.


Here is a brief listing of one line of the Blacks who have inhabited the western Carolinas for more than 250 years.

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, "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, Lexie, Columbus, Joseph, Jamie, Chauncy, Katie, Bassie.

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), Rebecca, Solomon, Eliza J., Rachel A., Dulcena, William C., Samuel, Thomas, Susan Julia, and Martha H. (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.)

At this point, the paper trail documentation for the family lineage essentially ends; reasoned deduction follows.

5. - Moses Black - b. abt. 1777; d. abt. 1849. 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. She has tentatively been identified by one researcher as the granddaughter of John and Dorothy Condrey of Chesterfield VA (possibly of Irish or Manx descent). It appears that Patience's birth was likely sometime after 1780 in NC.

Moses Black appears in the 1810, 1820 and 1830 Rutherford County Census but is not listed in Rutherford or adjacent counties in 1800 or 1840. 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), possibly one other daughter and one other son of unknown name.

The date and place of death/burial as well as date of marriage for Moses and Patience are unknown. However, Moses apparently died sometime between 1848 and 1851. He 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 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. - Robert Black - b. abt. 1726, probably in Delaware; d. October 1788 in York County S.C. Personal yDNA testing and the work of genealogical researchers suggest that Moses was a son of Robert Black and Magy Cravens, b. abt. 1732 in Delaware. Magy was the second wife of Robert.

There were numerous Blacks who received land patents, made land purchases, or appeared on tax lists in the Old Tryon-Old Rutherford region between 1765 and 1785. These landowners and taxpayers are probably relatives of the James/Moses/Robert Black line. Other Blacks who owned land or appeared on tax lists in the region at the approximate time of Moses' birth included George, Hugh, Josiah, Robert, Patrick, James, John, Thomas, and Joseph Black. The latter five appear to be sons of Robert from his first marriage; the name of his first spouse remains unknown.

Robert Black and most of his brothers and adult sons (with the apparent exceptions of brother Gavin Black and son Patrick Black) signed an oath of neutrality at the time of the American Revolution. In general, this family did not take up arms in the Patriot cause.

7. - Matthew Black - b. abt. 1695, possibly in Ulster Province, Ireland; d. abt. 1756 in Rockingham County, Virginia. Matthew's wife was Elizabeth, maiden name unknown. They apparently had sons Patrick, Gavin, Robert, Matthew, Joseph, and Thomas, as well as a daughter, Janet.

Some genealogy researchers, including Wes Patterson (, suggest that Blacks, Pattersons, Harrisons, Cravens, Ponders and other associated families traveled together, intermarried, and migrated from an English colony at Sussex County, Delaware (1720s and 1730s) to the Augusta County/Rockingham County area of the Virginia colony (1740s and 1750s) and down into the Old Tryon/Old Craven counties of the Carolinas (by the 1760s). Robert Black's son, John, is known to have known to have continued the migration as he left the Carolinas and moved to the Kentucky frontier (probably about 1785 to 1790).

Another genealogy researcher, Keith Dull of Ashland University in Ohio, who has done considerable work 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 1720, would seem to suggest that Matthew Black may be the original immigrant to the American colonies for this line. Since both Matthew and his son Robert have been characterized in some sources as "Presbyterian planters," one could also reasonably conclude the family roots for this line of Blacks most probably trace back to the Ulster region of Ireland and the Plantation Settlement of the 1600s. Matthew Black and his descendants, along with thousands of others who left northern 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 simply characterized themselves as "Irish."

Surnames, such as Black, apparently did not come into being until about the tenth century. Further back into the mists of time (thousands rather than mere hundreds of years ago), my personal DNA testing suggests the bloodline of this family possibly came out of the Celts, prevalent in central and western Europe, who supposedly co-mingled with Scandinavians before migrating into the lands we today know as Ireland and Britain.

However, James G. Leyburn, in "The Scotch-Irish: A Social History" (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1962), notes that the background of the Ulster settlers was likely even more 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.”

Surname Origins

The Black surname, in fact, does not have a single country of origin, being a common name in several countries. 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. However, 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, primarily confined to the Northern Ireland counties in Ireland, and virtually non-existent in Wales. According to one source, here in the States, it ranks 139th on a list of the most common surnames.

The Black surname in Ireland has generally been clustered in the nine counties of Ulster with a smattering of households with 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 area.

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, many of the Blacks of Scotland actually 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 to 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 very early 1600s. Some of these Blacks lived in Northern Ireland for a couple of generations before becoming part of the massive Ulster/Scots-Irish migration to America between 1720-1780.

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, Congaree, and Catawba River systems.

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Public family tree on, member directory listing Thom_Black

Updated August 2017

The Ireland version of the Black family crest depicts the lion of courage with the stars of virtue, learning, and piety.