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Early Barretts

by Ralph Clark

The Barrett name may be of French origin, and might have come to England with the Norman conquest in 1066. The name spread to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century. It's not known from which island came the immigrant forefather of the Barretts who settled in western North Carolina, but many early inhabitants of the frontier were of Irish background, having fled or been expelled after wars with England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

A number of Barrett families had sizable plantations in Virginia. The land usually passed to the eldest son. The second son was frequently educated in medicine or for the ministry; the younger sons may have moved toward the new western settlements to make their fortune.

Two men named Barrett were of legal age in Buncombe County, NC, before 1800. Published dates indicate that John Barrett was about 24 years older than William. Some researchers have stated flatly that William was a son of John, but no documentation has been cited. John left all of his property to his son David. William seems to have waited until his third son to name one John.

Nevertheless, the background of John Barrett provides the only clue to the origin of William. John Barrett's application for pension says that he was living in Henry County, Virginia, during the Revolutionary War.

There were a number of men named Barrett who appeared at one time or another along the path followed by John, William, and the younger John Barrett from Henry County, Virginia, through Buncombe County, North Carolina, to Clay and Breathitt and Laurel Counties in Kentucky. The first of each line may have been a brother, or cousin, of John Barrett, or they may have been unrelated, for their names do not appear among the descendants of any of the others.

A Barrett Chronology

1750s in Virginia

The area that later became Henry County began this decade as a part of Lunenberg County and Cumberland Parish. In May of 1752 it was broken off into Halifax County and Antrim Parish, which may have been the birthplace of John, Miles, and Ward Barrett, who were born somewhere in Virginia in this period. The French and Indian war began in 1754 - their father may have been a soldier or militiaman.

1760s in Virginia

Francis and Shadrack Barrett were born as the French and Indian War came to an end in 1763. Their father, if a soldier, may have been granted land. In June of 1767, Halifax County and Antrim Parish were further divided into Pittsylvania County and Camden Parish.

1770s in Virginia

William Barrett was born around 1776, as the Revolution began. In December 1776 Henry County and Patrick Parish (renamed as Henry Parish in 1894) were formed.

1780s in Virginia

The Revolutionary War came to the western frontier at the start of the decade. On March 11, 1781, Colonel Abram Penn, commanding the militia of Henry County, ordered Major Waller to "march the militia under your command from this county to Hilsborough, North Carolina, or to any post where General Stevens may be with the men under his command, observing to avoid a surprise by the enemy, by the best route to be found." That order, with a list of all militia ordered to the assistance of General Greene, appears in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII No.2. Among those in Captain Elephaz Shelton's Company were Francis Barrat, John Barrat, and Shadrack Barrett. Several later rolls of voters and jurors in Henry County list Francis and Shadrack together, separated by many others from John Barrett and Eliphaz Shelton together.

1790s in Virginia

No further record of any of these Barretts has been found in Henry County in the 1790s. There is an interesting will recorded in Pittsylvania County in 1791 [Note 1] in which John Barrott left all of his estate, real and personal, to his wife Elizabeth, except one shilling sterling to his son John. At his wife's death, it was willed that she should give the estate to whom she pleased. The dispossessed heir seems more likely to have been the John Barrott who appears in later records of Pittsylvania County, into the 1830s, than John of Henry County who went to North Carolina.

1800 in North Carolina

The 1790 and 1800 censuses of Virginia were among the records lost when the British burned Washington in the War of 1812. Western North Carolina seems to have been missed in the 1790 census of that state. The first record of any of these Barretts after the 1780s is John Barrett's 1798 deed in Buncombe County. The 1800 census of North Carolina lists the following names in Buncombe County, unfortunately prepared in more or less alphabetical order (all B---- surnames are together) :

        Name of Head                 Males                     Females
        of Household       0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+  0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+
        ---------------    -------------------------  -------------------------
        James Barret        4    0     0     1         0    1     0     1
        William Barrett     1    0     1                          1
        John Barret         0    1     1     0    1    0    1     0     0    1

The court records of Buncombe County list James Barrett as a juror for a trial in October, 1802. No other mention of James Barrett has been found; he may not have been a Virginian. On the other hand, his full name might have been James Ward Barrett.

1810 in North Carolina

The 1810 census showed more of the Virginians had moved into Buncombe County. This census was written in the order it was taken, so some significance may be attached to names appearing on the same page, but many pages might separate residents just across the creek or over the hill.

   Page Name of Head                 Males                     Females
   No.  of Household       0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+  0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+
   ---  ----------------   -------------------------  -------------------------
   255  Miles Barrot        2    2     0     0    1    2    2     0     1    1
   271  William Barrot      2    1     0     1    0    3    0     0     1    0
   282  Ward Barrot         3    3     0     1    0    1    0     0     1    0
   282  John Barrot         2    0     0     0    1    0    0     0     0    1
   282  Isom Barrot         0    0     1     0    0    1    0     1     0    0

The War of 1812 seems to have bypassed the Barretts of Western North Carolina. This could well be an accident of age; the above census shows almost noone in the prime military age group. Some members of the Arrowood family from the same area were enlisted in the army.

1820 in North Carolina and the West

After the War of 1812, America continued expanding to the West. Some of the clan moved out of North Carolina to nearby states. The enumerators of the 1820 census in Buncombe County found only two Barretts, both on page 96 :

     Name of Head                 Males                        Females        
     of Household    0-9 10-15 16-18 16-25 26-44 45+  0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+
     --------------  -------------------------------  -------------------------
     David Barett     2    0     0     0     1    0    3    2     0     1    0
     William Barett   0    1     0     2     1    0    2    1     2     1    0

John Barrett escaped the census entirely. Miles and Ward had gone to Warren County, Tennessee, where both appear on page 18 :

     Name of Head                 Males                        Females        
     of Household    0-9 10-15 16-18 16-25 26-44 45+  0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+
     --------------  -------------------------------  -------------------------
     Miles Barrett    1    0     0     0     1    0    1    0     1     0    0
     Ward Barrett     2    3     0     1     0    1    2    1     0     1    0

Isom, or Isham, Barrett had settled in Clay County, Kentucky, where he would be joined thirty years later by William and John Barrett. There was another family of Barretts already living in Clay County, who had come from Tennessee with their father, David Barrett, around 1800, when the area was still a part of Madison County.

      Name of Head                Males                        Females        
  Pg. of Household   0-9 10-15 16-18 16-25 26-44 45+  0-9 10-15 16-25 26-44 45+
      -------------  -------------------------------  -------------------------
  112 Jesse Barret    0    0     0     0     1    (1 free colored female 14-25)
  117 Murrel Barret   0    0     1     0     0    0    1    0     1     0    0
  121 Isom Barret     1    1     0     0     1    0    4    0     1     0    0


  1. Thomas P. Hughes and Jewel B. Sandefer, comp., Pittsylvania County, Virginia Abstracts of Wills 1768-1800 (Memphis, TN: the author, n.d.)