The Black surname has been present in the piedmont and foothills of North Carolina as well as in the upstate of South Carolina since the days of Colonial America.
My own ancestors most likely migrated from the British Isles to the American colonies prior to 1730, initially arriving in the Pennsylvania-Delaware region. They traveled down the Great Wagon Road filtering through the Shenandoah Valley and were in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area by 1750. Uprooting once again, they resettled in the Carolinas in the emerging Charlotte, North Carolina region by 1765.
While some of those ancestors chose to remain in the Carolinas after the American Revolution, at least one branch of this particular line of the Black family appears to have migrated from Carolina into south-central Kentucky (Pulaski and Casey counties) in the late 1780s. Another branch relocated to eastern Tennessee (Cocke County) sometime after 1820. Still other members of my Black family line from Carolina were said to have gone to the northern Arkansas territory (Boone and Carroll counties) at the border with Missouri in the early 1800s.
As early as the mid-1760s, settlers named Black lived on homesteads in what is modern day eastern Rutherford County and upper Cleveland County, North Carolina, as well as in modern day York County in the upstate region of South Carolina. The 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 both 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 at the mouth of Duncans Creek, north of Polkville in present-day Cleveland County NC.
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 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 had previously purchased land on the south side of Indian Creek (north of present day Cherryville NC) in 1762.
Also by 1765, as noted in J. Houston Harrison's "Settlers by the Long Grey Trail," Robert Black and his wife Majey Cravens had left Harrisonburg, Virginia, selling a 230-acre tract along Blacks Run of Cooks Creek to Martin Archenbright. Robert and Majey headed southward and purchased a 200 acre tract of land via a Mecklenburg County, North Carolina deed. The land was on Clarks Fork of Bullocks Creek. The acreage subsequently was deemed to actually be in York County, South Carolina following the resolution of a state boundary dispute and is situated at the South Carolina state park for the Revolutionary battle of Kings Mountain.
With the 1779 creation of Rutherford and Lincoln counties (carved out of old Tryon County) families with the Black surname were residing in the Morgan District-Golden Valley-Moriah area near the First Broad River at its intersection with the present-day Rutherford-Cleveland county boundary in North Carolina. This area was considered to be in eastern Rutherford County until 1841 when Cleveland County was formed out of old Rutherford and old Lincoln counties. At that point, the Moriah community became part of Cleveland County's Township 11.
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 (1926-2015) on 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 in the Swainsville-Sandy Run area of Cleveland County, but lived as an adult in Gaston County where he was a textile worker. Libby was a "Rosie the Riveter" type in WWII at the Hercules Motor Corp. in Canton, Ohio where they produced engines for jeeps, landing craft, etc. Libby was a descendant of the Calhoun and Brooks families of the western Carolinas.
2. - Columbus Marion Black - b. April 8, 1888, "Head of the Rivers" (Somey Creek at First Broad River) in Golden Valley, 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 (1893-1990) 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 (1861-1937) 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 (possibly a nickname for "Bascom"), and Vernie Estelle. Regarding Beckie, her great grandmother was Sarah Black who married fellow Pennsylvanian Aron Deviney and then relocated to Rutherford County NC. Deviney was a Patriot lieutenant and was eventually captured by Col. Patrick Ferguson. Sarah reportedly appeared before Ferguson successfully pleading for Aron's life in return for a promise that Aron would no longer take up arms against the crown.
4. - James Black - b. Nov. 18, 1812 in old Rutherford County NC; d. July 2, 1897 in Cleveland County NC. He, too, is buried at Mt. Moriah Methodist along with his wife, Jemima Ledford (1818-1901). They were married about 1840 and apparently farmed and lived in the Moriah area for much of their lives (though they were listed in the adjacent Knob Creek Township of Cleveland County NC for a time as well). 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, and 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. Kyzer's 1886 map of Cleveland County property owners places "J. Black" at upper First Broad River in the Moriah Community on the Cleveland-Rutherford county line.
5. - Moses Black - b. abt. 1777 in old Tryon County NC; d. abt. 1850 in Rutherford County NC. 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 (1785-1836) whose family was from the Chesterfield VA area. After the death of Patience, Moses remarried to Nancy Grigg, widow of Joseph Willis, in 1838, purchasing land on Mountain Creek just north of James and Rachel Black; however, Moses and Nancy had no children of their own. After the death of Moses, and prior to the Civil War, Nancy moved to Bond County, Illinois, to be with family. She died there in 1867.
Moses and his first wife, 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 Elizabeth (m. John Randall Willis), Mary Polly (m. John Henry London), and John C Black (m. Eliza Wallace). According to the Census data, there were two other daughters, both of whom were born between 1816-1820. Their identities remain unconfirmed.
The exact date and place of death/burial as well as date of marriage for Moses and Patience are unknown though I personally suspect both Moses and Patience lie in unmarked graves at Mt. Harmony Methodist. Moses died sometime between 1848 and 1851, most probably in 1850. Moses is listed as a witness for the creation of a will on September 4, 1848 for Daniel Sisk, who had been a neighbor to both Moses and James Black. 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)
Moses is listed as head of household in the Rutherford County census for 1810, 1820, and 1830. (An analysis of the age categories for the three census reports suggest Moses was born no earlier than 1775 and no later than 1780.) He is also listed under the command of Capt. Abraham Irvine in a Rutherford militia unit for the War of 1812. While Moses remained in North Carolina, it appears that all his siblings moved to the Arkansas territory by the early 1800s.
6.- James Black - b. 1755, Harrisonburg, VA; d. Sept. 27, 1827, Moriah Community, old Rutherford County NC (present-day Cleveland County, NC). James is buried, along with his wife Rachel Booth (1758-1844), at Mt. Harmony Methodist Church off Hwy 226 just north of present-day Polkville NC, and very near Duncans Creek. A 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. In 1791, Thomas and Prudence Stockton conveyed the land specifically for creation of a Methodist Episcopal church to a group of men including James Black and the church's first pastor, Jesse Richardson.
Dates for Rachel do not appear on the badly deteriorated tombstone at Mt. Harmony but it does indicate she lived 86 years. I personally recorded the tombstone information for James and Rachel during one my early visits to Mt. Harmony, which is just minutes from my current home. Bill Floyd, who surveyed and transcribed tombstones in western North Carolina long before the existence of "Find a Grave," also recorded the same information I have noted for James and Rachel: "In Memory of James Black, aged 72, died Sept. 27, 1827, also his wife, Rachel, aged 86."
Some genealogists contend that Rachel's maiden name was Booth, others that her name was Julian prior to marriage to James Black. That is based in part upon some 1906 Cleveland County court depositions in which three of Rachel's granddaughters indicated her maiden name was Booth and that she had been born in Pennsylvania. One of the granddaughters, in those 1906 depositions, stated that Rachel had been married to a Julian prior to marrying James Black. However, the other two granddaughters did not corroborate that statement. (I personally believe the granddaughter, herself elderly at the time and some 130 years after the fact, confused Rachel Booth with another ancestor. Martha Denton who first married a Julian [George], then married a Black [probably Joseph, a Loyalist]. Martha and George's presumed grandson, Samuel Denton Julian, married Nancy Mary Condrey, younger sister of Patience Condrey, the wife of Moses Black. Moses Black and Samuel Denton Julian would have been brothers-in-law. Samuel's mother was Rachel Alexander who married Jacob Julian. Samuel also had an aunt, Rachel Julian, who married Samuel Moss. So, while there were several women named "Rachel Julian" it appears none of them were the same person as Rachel Booth. I suspect the lone elderly granddaughter who said Rachel Booth Black was previously married to a Julian was merely confusing sets of ancestors at the time of the depositions.)
Based upon the court depositions and the presumed birth of her first son, Moses, circa 1777, we can surmise that Rachel Booth was born about 1758 in Pennsylvania and died 86 years later in about 1844 in Cleveland County, NC. The 1840 Rutherford County Census index, compiled by Paul Sarrett for use in the US GenWeb Archives, notes that "R. Black," presumably Rachel Booth Black, was living adjacent to her sons William Black and J.R. (Jesse Richardson) Black in 1840. One year later, 1841, the portion of Rutherford County where Rachel's land was located was deemed part of the newly created Cleveland County, North Carolina.
Another deponent in those same court proceedings avowed this same Rachel Booth Black, just prior to the Battle of Kings Mountain, had ridden a horse from Kings Mountain to the Whitesides Settlement in the Golden Valley/Morgan District of old Rutherford County to provide intelligence to some of the patriot militia as to the exact whereabouts of Col. Ferguson and his men. (The Whitesides Settlement would be about six miles from where Rachel and James would eventually live for most of their lives on that tract of land along the upper First Broad River where today's boundaries for Rutherford and Cleveland counties meet.)
James and Rachel appear to have had sons named Moses, Laban, William S. (possibly named after Rachel's father), and Jesse Richardson Black. They also had one daughter, Lydia. Lydia married Jacob Willis and named one son Jacob Cravens Willis, apparently in honor of Lydia's grandmother, Majey Cravens.
While official primary source documentation is somewhat lacking, 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 and Patience's son and daughter, James and Rachel, that would strongly suggest this James and Rachel were the parents of Moses Black.
At this point, the traditional genealogical trail for the family lineage essentially ends; reasoned speculation follows regarding the next generations which I have labeled in my Ancestry.com tree as "hypothesis" and "actively researching." The inclusion of these additional generations is based in part upon shared-collaborative family trees, personal research, the research of other family historians, as well as personal autosomal and yDNA test results.
7. - Robert Black - b. abt. 1731, probably in Pennsylvania; d. 1788 in York County SC. Was married to Majey Cravens (1733-1810). The aforementioned "Settlers by the Long Grey Trail" makes several references to Robert and Majey and specifically notes they departed Harrisonburg VA for Mecklenburg NC in 1764. Robert's sons presumably included Matthew, Robert, John, and James; there apparently was also a daughter, Mary. Some researchers indicate Robert was Presbyterian and was buried at one of the Presbyterian churches in York County, SC, though a formal gravesite has not been identified.
Robert and Majey originally settled along Clarks Fork of Bullock Creek based upon a 1765 Mecklenburg County NC deed. Following resolution of a state boundary dispute between the Carolinas, the land was deemed to be in the old Camden District and still later in York County SC.
Robert and his son, Robert Jr., also appear to have engaged in some land purchases/land speculation in what was to become Cleveland County NC. At least some of those purchases were made from Col. Frederick Hambright who also served as assessor of the estate for Majey during the the 1788 probate proceedings for Robert Black. (Hambright, one of the heroes of the Battle of Kings Mountain, had a son, John Hardin Hambright, who married Nancy Black, daughter of Gavin Black, who was Robert Black's brother; Gavin's son, also named Gavin Black, married Sarah Hambright, one of Col. Hambright's daughters.)
Robert's brother, yet another Matthew Black, married Margaret Ponder. Some of Margaret's family were apparently Loyalists during the American Revolution. Matthew and Margaret's descendants migrated to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee with some ultimately residing in Cocke County TN.
Robert's eldest son, also a Matthew Black, was born in Virginia and died in York County SC where he owned property near Robert.
Robert's middle sons, Robert (b. 1751 in VA; d. 1895 in KY; married Sarah Lattimore) and John (b. 1753 in VA; d. 1830 KY; married first to Lydia Patterson then to Jain Newell), are the individuals who left Carolina and moved to Kentucky sometime before 1790. Their descendants today are spread out from Florida to Idaho. (John Black and Lydia Patterson had a son, Moses Black b. 1781 in York County SC; d. 1864 in Pulaski County KY. That Moses was a first cousin to the Moses Black b. 1777; d. 1850 whose parents were James Black and Rachel Booth.)
Robert, one of the middle sons, is on the DAR Patriot Index for public service: pay voucher 2357, dated Sep. 18, 1783, in the North Carolina Archives. It grants 11 pounds six shillings to Robert for supplies furnished in the Revolutionary War when he was residing in the Morgan District of Rutherford County.
Robert's youngest son, James (b. 1755 in VA; d. 1827 in NC; married Rachel Booth) chose to remain in Carolina and lived most of his adult life along the First Broad River in old Rutherford County NC. This James Black, and at least six consecutive generations that followed, remained within about 25 miles of the Kings Mountain battlefield and the family's original Clarks Fork-Bullock Creek acreage.
(In regards to the American Revolution, Robert, as well as his sons John and James, signed an oath of neutrality in October of 1775 as noted in a 1901 edition of the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical magazine which included an article on "Papers of the First Council of Safety." Patriot Capt. Ezekiel Polk reported that Robert Black, Joseph Black, William Wilson, Daniel Ponder, Nathaniel Harrison, John Black, Jacob Gardner, and James Black, all of whom lived in the vicinity of Kings Mountain, "Came before me and voluntarily made oath that they will not, [unless compelled in self defense] lift arms against the Americans in their present contest with Great Britain nor do any thing by word or action which they shall know to be against the American Cause." Being neutral was not the same as being a loyalist. In fact, Robert M. Calhoon, in a piece for "A Companion to the American Revolution," published by James Wiley & Sons, 2008, estimates that only 40 to 45 percent of the colonists were actually Patriots; only 15 to 20 percent were Loyalists; the remaining colonists - between 35 and 45 percent - were neutral, keeping a low profile, merely wanting to raise families and work their farms or ply their trades without being drawn into bloody political squabbles.)
8. - Mathew Black - b. 1714, in Midlothian, Scotland); d. aft. 1767 in Augusta (later Rockingham) County, Virginia. Mathew's wife was Elizabeth or Mary, maiden name unknown (1715-1760). They had sons named Gavin, Robert, Matthew, Joseph, and Thomas, as well as a daughter, Janet.
There appear to be numerous references to Mathew and Robert during their time around Harrisonburg in publications such as Lyman Chalkley's "Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia," J. Houston Harrison's "Settlers by the Long Grey Trail," and Larry Hoefling's "Chasing the Frontier: Scots-Irish in Early America."
FamilySearch.org and ScotlandsPeople both indicate that Mathew Black was the son of Robert Black and Margaret Kerr. (Note the spelling of "Mathew" with a single "t.") The FamilySearch collaborative family tree for my line also indicates this Mathew Black to be the father of the Robert Black who married Majey Cravens.
A reference to Mathew Black in Chalkley's "Chronicles" lists him in the 1763 probate records for Robert Cravens. Cravens was the father of Majey Cravens who married Robert Black, presumed son of this Mathew Black. Apparently Mathew Black died sometime after 1767 in Virginia. Robert and Majey migrated to the Carolinas about 1765. There apparently are no records indicating Mathew moved with them, hence the supposition that Mathew died in Virginia.
9. - Robert Black - b. abt. 1679, Inveresk, Midlothian, Scotland; d. abt. 1756, probably Pennsylvania colony. Robert's wife was Margaret Kerr, b. abt. 1680 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland.
The addition of the Robert Black b. 1679 in Inveresk, Scotland to my tree is based upon FamilySearch.org and its shared-collaborative tree system. The tree IDs for me and my father (Amos Thomas Black) are LYVJ-4KQ and LR2R-DJP. The collaborative tree, with its multiple contributors, has a couple of known discrepancies with my own tree but is currently the best available theoretical extension of my paternal branch. Based upon that tree, it may be surmised that Robert Black of Inveresk, and his son Mathew, were among the lowland Scots who migrated to the Delaware River/southeastern Pennsylvania region of the American colonies sometime in the mid-1720s. Robert of Inveresk and, presumably, his wife Margaret, remained in the upper colonies until their deaths whereas Robert and Margaret's son Mathew initiated the family's southern migration into Virginia no later than the 1740s. It is possible that Mathew and his father Robert both briefly lived in the north of Ireland, around the Antrim-Londonderry border, but due to the strife and uncertainties, opted to soon leave the plantation settlements, relocating to America.
10. - John Black - b. abt. 1635, d. abt. 1700, lived his entire life in Inveresk, Scotland. John married another Inveresk native, Janet Swintoun, b. abt. 1639, d. abt. 1700. Per ScotlandsPeople, John and Janet had daughters named Marion and Janet, and sons named James, John, William, Alexander, Richard, and Robert.
It should be noted that several genealogists/family historians suggest alternative speculations regarding the line of this family:
- Some researchers suggest the line instead runs through Matthew Black, b. 1695 possibly in County Antrim; d. abt. 1756 in Augusta County VA, who may be the original immigrant and the father of the Robert Black who married Majey Cravens. This Matthew (note the double "t" spelling), according to several researchers, had children Robert, Gavin, Matthew, Janet, Joseph, and Thomas, but was presumed to also have a first son named Patrick, supposedly born in Ireland before 1720. Matthew's wife was Elizabeth, maiden name unknown. Matthew's father is also unknown. The implications are that the family may have resided in the north of Ireland, in the Antrim/Londonderry area for two or three generations before migrating to the American colonies.
- Some family historians suggest the Matthew Black who married Margaret Ponder to be the father of my direct line ancestor James Black who was born in 1755 in Virginia. However, Matthew and Margaret were not married, and did not begin having children, until after 1762. Others contend Matthew, son of Robert and Majey Black, to be the father of my James, but that Matthew would have been too young to be a father in 1755.
- Another alternative ancestor was proffered by J. Houston Harrison in his tome "Settlers by the Long Grey Trail." On pg. 262 he notes Robert Black and his wife Majey Cravens were moving to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Harrison then speculates on the origins of Majey's/Maggie's husband: "Several Blacks were early in Augusta. Rev. William Black, a Presbyterian minister, on 22nd May, 1747, appeared before the court and took the prescribed oaths. He lived in Pennsylvania, and in 1758 was a member of Donegal Presbytery (Waddell, p. 62.) Maggie's husband likely came in from this direction also. His father was probably Robert Black, Sr." (Harrison, who was quite familiar with both Mathew and Robert Black, apparently did not believe Mathew to be the father of Robert.)
- While not offering information on a particular potential ancestor, Dr. Rob Spencer's scaledinnovation.com "Tracking Back" website has a tool pointing towards a specific area of Scotland as the origins for my line of Blacks. Factors/data used by Spencer's surname mapping tool suggest Argyll-Bute and Haddington as probable locales for my patrilineal ancestors in Scotland.
- Within the Family Tree DNA sphere, there is a small contingent who insist that my paternal lineage is totally Irish and not Scottish at all. One of my closest FTDNA matches insists that the Blacks were "native Irish, always Irish, have never been in Scotland." One volunteer project administrator with FTDNA essentially concurred with that assessment. However, that assertion is based upon a very small sampling of only about a half-dozen test takers.
Immigration to Carolina
Immigrants to America generally arrived in the Carolinas by one of four primary migration routes: (1) English initially ventured out of Virginia and settled in the Albemarle and Pamlico sections spreading into the Coastal Plain of the North Carolina colony. (2) Germans and Scots-Irish arrived at Philadelphia, traveling down the Great Wagon Road through the Appalachian Valley, often settling for a time in the Virginia colony before moving on into the Piedmont and Foothills of the Carolinas; (3) Highland Scots arrived at Wilmington and moved up the Cape Fear River to present-day Fayetteville NC; and (4) 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.
Thousands who left the British Isles for the American colonies, including Carolina, would be characterized here in the states by the moniker "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 actual background of the settlers from Ulster was not simple at all but 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.”
Surnames are a rather modern contrivance within human history. Much of the world did not adopt generalized use of surnames until the late Medieval period. Their evolution and development has varied widely on the continents depending upon many factors such as regional culture and customs.
The Black surname does not have a single country of origin. Many Blacks, however, do trace their origins to Britain where Black is relatively common as a surname. According to 2010 Census data, here in the States the Black surname ranked 177th on a list of the most common surnames in America.
- In Scotland, the Black surname - sometimes noted in early Scottish records as "Blak" - is often associated as a sept of clans Lamont, MacGregor, and MacLean as noted by Dr. George Fraser Black, former director of the New York Public Library, in his tome "Surnames of Scotland." Clan Lamont in particular claims descent from the O'Neill dynasty in the part of old Ulster province that included much of today's counties of Tyrone, Londonderry, and Antrim.
However, many Scots with the Black surname were lowland Scots. Dr. Black especially noted that the Black surname became common around St. Andrews in the 1500s and was quite common in the Edinburgh region in the 1600s. Lowland Scots were not typically associated with clans but were heavily involved with the Plantation settlements in the north of Ireland, particularly in County Antrim.
The Black surname remains among the 50 most common surnames in Scotland. Census and other sources from the early 1800s indicate while the surname was distributed across the country it was most concentrated in a swath from Argyll-Bute to Ayr, Lanark, and the Lothians including Haddington.
- In England, some suggest the Black surname was present in the Lincolnshire region of east central England before spreading elsewhere within Britain including northward into Northumberland and the border country with Scotland. Apparently the name "Black" was sometimes pronounced as "Blake" in Middle English.
- In Ireland, the Black surname has generally been clustered in the northern half of Ireland, especially in the nine counties of old Ulster, but with a smattering of households bearing the Black surname scattered across the rest of the island. Pender's census/Petty's survey 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 Black surname (occasionally spelled as "Blacke" in some of these early records) primarily in counties Antrim, Down, and Londonderry with somewhat smaller concentrations in Tyrone, Armagh, and Donegal. Today, one of the primary centers of the Black surname in the north of Ireland continues to be the Belfast region (Antrim and Down). Another is the Coleraine area (Londonderry).
Edward MacLysaght, former Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland, authored "The Surnames of Ireland." He indicated the Black surname was primarily Scottish with connections to the clan sept of Lamont-MacGregor-MacLean, descendants of which, MacLysaght noted, were "very numerous in Ulster." However, he also noted that Black was sometimes a "translation or synonym" of Duff and Kilduff or other variants of those Irish surnames. The author cited demographic data such as censuses dating back to 1659 in indicating that "Black" had been a fairly common surname in Counties Antrim and Londonderry.
Michael Green, on his website www.irishsurnames.com, notes that the Black name 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'." It has, therefore, been suggested that Black, in its native Irish origins, is an Anglicization of Duffy which in turn is a derivative of the more ancient Gaelic family names of Dubhthaigh/O'Dubtaig (the original pronunciation of these names sounds somewhat like "doove hee" or the more modern surname "Duffy").
Personal DNA and Ethnicity
In regards to my personal overall ethnicity, I am, as some of the Wikitree apparel describe it, an "American mutt." Leyburn, above, in his discussion of the Scots, Irish and English colonials in America, notes just how complex and varied their background was. A considerable portion of my personal DNA does appear to be English and Scottish. However, as Scottish historian Alistair Moffat has noted, there are no "real" or "indigenous" Scots, they were all immigrants from somewhere else. Obviously, the same would be true for my "English" Anglo Saxon ancestors, too.
The yDNA, which is handed down only within the male line from father to son, involves markers known as short tandem repeats (STRs or as they are sometimes referred to "stirs" or "strings") as well as specific mutations that occur within a male line known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs or "snips"). Testing for STRs and SNPs can, therefore, identify a male's specific biological "haplogroup" and its branches/subclades.
My ancient yDNA paternal ancestors were part of the large R1b haplogroup branch of the human family tree. Theoretically, after emerging from Africa, those ancient ancestors migrated out of the steppes of Eurasia, Anatolia and the Caspian Sea region into western Europe and ultimately into the British Isles. Some of my "downstream" SNPs include:
R-M269 - Associated with R1b1a2 haplogroup, the most common in Europe and sometimes referred to as Western Atlantic Modal Haplogroup. Emerged by the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago.
R-P312 - Linked to Beaker Folk/Culture which arose circa 5,000 BC in central Europe, eventually predominating in Britain.
R-L21 - According to FTDNA project administrator Dr. Joe Flood, L21 emerged about 2,500 BC and is common among those claiming Celtic ancestry. Celt subsets include the Gaels, who heavily influenced Scotland-Ireland-Wales, and the Pretani or Celtic Britons who were predominate in England prior to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. R-DF13 and Z39589 are deemed to be smaller subclades of L21.
R-DF41 - Richard Stevens and Christopher McCown, co-administrators with FTDNA projects, suggest DF41 likely originated in the Bronze Age around Devon, England. DF41 is also later associated with the Dumonii/Damnonii tribes circa 400 AD. Per Rob Spencer's "Tracking Back" website, an averaging estimate tool, one of the DF41 Iron Age focal points appears to be around Northumberland and the England-Scotland border.
A-98, A-100, and Z9204 are more recent subclades under DF41. They have been found in only a very small group of test subjects and appear confined to the British Isles.
Family Tree DNA's Big Y 700 testing determined my yDNA haplogroup to be R-BY3103. The Full Genomes Corporation and YFull analysis label my confirmed haplogroup with the designation of R-FGC40253.
- My overall autosomal DNA (that's the 22 non-sex chromosomes inherited from both father and mother as well as grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.) is decidedly "British" in nature. Ancestry.com's autosomal DNA ethnicity estimates for me are: 42 percent England and northwestern Europe; 41 percent Scotland; 14 percent Ireland; and 3 percent Wales.
- By comparison, my FTDNA Family Finder autosomal ethnicity estimates are also very "British" in nature: 77 percent Great Britain (the corresponding FTDNA map indicates this includes England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales); 18 percent Central Europe (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Czechia, and Switzerland); 4 percent Ireland; and 1 percent traces of East European (Magyars/Hungarians).
- My brother's FTDNA Family Finder autosomal ethnicity estimates were: 91 percent Great Britain (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales); 5 percent Ireland; 2 percent central Europe; and 2 percent Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and northeast Scotland.) It should be noted that siblings' estimates may vary considerably due to the autosomal DNA process referred to as "recombination" regarding the percentage of DNA acquired from specific parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.
- MyHeritage's autosomal testing estimated 61.2 percent Irish, Scottish, and Welsh; 27.5 percent English; 6.5 percent Scandinavian; 4.8 percent East European.
- Living DNA's ethnicity estimate for me by country was 66 percent England (with the largest concentration in the Somerset-Dorset region); 19 percent Scotland and Northern Ireland; 8 percent Ireland; and 7 percent Germanic Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Denmark). Living DNA also indicated my maternal mitochondrial DNA was of the H1a1 haplogroup which apparently originated in North Africa prior to migrating into central and western Europe.
(Scottish genealogist, Dr. Bruce Durie, formerly with universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh, notes the more expensive yDNA testing "at a macro level, can indicate ancestral links ... but remember, your Y chromosome is a tiny part of your genetic inheritance – about 1/1000th – and your overall genetic admixture might be very different." Druie provided an example: "Imagine if a Spaniard was shipwrecked in the Orkneys 500 years ago, stayed and got married, and all the subsequent generations intermarried with other 'native' Orcadians down to yourself – how much 'Spanish' is actually left in you? Not much. But your Y-test will scream ‘SPANISH!’ at you. It’s useful, but it’s not everything." By comparison, Dr. Durie indicates the less expensive autosomal testing results provide "a summary of your genetic history ... a useful way of summarising all your ancestral lines – your ‘ancestral barcode’, if you like.")
My paternal family surnames are Black (prior to migration to the American colonies most probably from the lowlands of Scotland) and Ledford (southern England). My primary maternal surnames are Brooks (southern England) and Calhoun (Donegal and Tyrone in old Ulster and prior to that as "Colquhoun" in the Loch Lomond area of Scotland). Other surnames found among my great or great-great grandparents include Stewart, McFarland, Philbeck, Herren, Moore, Sawyer, Waters, Walker, Mooney and Welch. That's a mixture of English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, and German surnames.
The surname website "named.publicprofiler.org" indicates the Black surname in the United Kingdom has been concentrated along a line from Londonderry to Belfast in the north of Ireland through Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberbeen in Scotland's central belt.
The Britain and Ireland SNP and Surname Mapper created by Dr. Rob Spencer (http://scaledinnovation.com/gg/biMapper.html) suggests the Black surname was concentrated in the central belt of Scotland. The county prevalence census data for the surname Black notes Argyll-Bute-Ayr, and the Lothians-Haddington predominate as likely regions. (Note: Midlothian and Haddingtonshire are two historical names used to label the Lothian-Inveresk area noted in the discussion above regarding the FamilySearch.org collaborative tree for my supposed paternal line).
Per Spencer's work, some of the surnames having geographic/genetic similarity to Black include Kerr, Stewart, Wallace, McFarland, Hamilton, Wilson, Graham, Park, and McAlister - several of which appear within my personal family tree.
Dr. Tyrone Bowes of Dublin, a biotechnologist consulting in the area of genetic genealogy and owner of the Irish Origenes and Scottish Origenes websites, utilizes a theory of identifying an individual's "genetic homeland" relying upon historical geographic clustering of the surnames of one's autosomal DNA matches. Although I did not complete the full comprehensive autosomal/yDNA analysis process, Dr. Bowes did graciously advise me that he thought my line of the Black surname most likely originated in Scotland.
DISCLAIMER: Autosomal DNA matches are currently deemed valid and reliable only up to about the fifth or sixth generation. I generally ignore autosomal DNA matches of less than 20 shared centimograms. The more expensive yDNA testing does help with "deep" ancestry/human origins research but the very limited number of yDNA test subjects and limited number of resulting matches - frequently involving only a very, very distant common ancestor - is disappointingly less helpful to a typical family historian. Genetic genealogy is still a fledgling science. Also, primary source documentation is often lacking after a certain point in time, especially for commoners. Hence my attempt to clearly label the latter portion of my personal family tree as speculation.
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.
Thomas Black - email@example.com - updated April 2021
The graphic at the top of the page is courtesy of Rob Spencer PhD, MIT alum, a volunteer project co-administrator with FTDNA, and developer of the Tracking Back - Scaled Innovation website. Per the website tools, my yDNA haplogroup of R-BY3103 was limited exclusively to the Black surname which was more or less confined to Scotland and the north of Ireland. The graphic depicts the historical prevalence of the surname Black by county in the British Isles.
Links of Interest
NC Online Genealogy
Library of Congress Local History
State Library Genealogy Research
International Society of Genetic Genealogy
Tracking Back - Britain-Ireland Surnames-SNP Mapper
North of Ireland Family History Society
PDF - Phylogenealogy of R-L21
Irish Times-Grenham, Black surname
Named - UK Surname Distribution
MyHeritage limited Black-Carolina tree
Scots-Irish in the Southern States
Select Surnames - Black
We Relate - Old Augusta County