Indigenous Southerners rarely feel the kinship with the Pilgrims of
Plymouth Rock that they do with the Jamestown colonists. There is
something that seems so remote about New England, its settlers, and its
cold winters that most Southerners are content to ascribe to geography
this historical lack of interest. The other excuse is in some ways
prejudice: the typical Southerner feels that his ancestry has very
little to do with the Northern “cradle of civilization.” Few of us
aware of our “Carpetbagger” roots readily boast of descent from the
early generations of Puritans who settled the North. But nearly anyone
in the South with Quaker connections will find, with some research, that
he or she is a descendant of any of scores of northern Quakers who
drifted southward - first to Philadelphia, then Maryland and Virginia,
and finally to the Piedmont area of North Carolina, where they were well
entrenched by the 1770s. The point is that most Southerners have
“Yankee” ancestry, like it or not; they may simply be unaware of it.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of my family one
might ask) one of my father’s lines can be easily traced to William
Warren, Peter Brown, and trusty John Billington - whose exploits can be
counted on to raise an eyebrow or two during family gatherings. Thus I
can claim some partnership with those prestigious Mayflower
descendants who can - aided and abetted by vital records that were kept,
court-houses that exist, and the Aspinwall collection at NEHGS (among
other sources) - pinpoint ancestors with relative ease.
to surprise some Tennessee relatives whom I always thought a bit smug
about their Southern heritage, I wondered if I should ever be able to
prove their descent from some Northern Puritans, thus demonstrating that
everybody’s background contains widely distributed genealogical
elements. I had almost despaired of doing so until I stumbled in Salt
Lake City upon a microfilmed manuscript, compiled in 1823 by Dr.
Rossiter Cotton of Plymouth, Mass., which was said to be presently at
the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah .
In the seventh
grade I had responded to a “My Most Famous American” history assignment
by writing a controversial biography of my
great-great-great-grand-mother, Mary G. (Williams) Bright, born in
Currituck Co., N.C., in 1815. To the horror of my family, I repeated
(complete with documentation) every yarn I had ever heard spun about
this woman, and somehow was chosen to present this concoction before the
local DAR chapter. (I did not win their award for “most interesting
paper.”) However, Mary Williams has always been something of a family
legend - a ghost treated by my older relatives with great affection -
and even at an early age I began to collect what information I could
find about her. Mary Williams was born to a well-to-do family in
Currituck and was married at 15 to an adventurer who took her money and
went to New Orleans where he died of cholera. Thereafter she moved with
some of her second cousins to Hinds Co., Mississippi, and by the
outbreak of the Civil War to Haywood Co. Tennessee, where she died in
Being only 13 or 14 at the time, I was quite limited in the
research I might do. No one knew anything of Mary’s parents, and even
less about her forebears. Only much later, as an adult (after years of
beleaguering some very patient clerks with long-distance request for
deeds and wills) did I discover her to be the great--granddaughter of
Thomas Sawyer of Pasquotank, who died in 1765, and his wife Margaret ,
about whom nothing seemed to be known after the probate of her husband’s
will . Thomas was a sea captain, as were his father Caleb and
grandfather Thomas; his will includes the bequest of several ships to
his sons. I did not realize how extensive his travels were, or how
typical it would be for coastal Southerners to have connections in the
North or abroad, until I came upon the microfilm (“Extracts from the
Cotton Manuscripts”) mentioned above. Subsequent visits to the
Massachusetts Historical Society, the Plymouth [Mass.] Historical
Society, and the Savannah Historical Society have failed to uncover
anything faintly resembling the full “Cotton Manuscripts.” It would be
interesting to know the whereabouts of the full compilation.
(Cotton) Sawyer, b. Plymouth, Mass. 23 January 1730, was the daughter
of Rev. Josiah Cotton (1680-1756), Register of Deeds for Plymouth Colony
, and his wife Hannah Sturtevant (1687-1756), the daughter of John
Sturtevant (b. 1658) and his wife Hannah (Winslow) Crowe (1644-1684).
Margaret marred Thomas Sawyer at Plymouth 14 September 1749. One can
only imagine what kind of nerve it took for a minister’s daughter to
take up with a Southern sea-trader, leave what she probably considered
to be “civilization,” and embark upon a journey to a part of the world
that for most New Englanders only dimly existed. In his will  Rev.
Cotton added a codicil, date 14 March 1750, which touchingly bespeaks
the distance that Margaret would put between herself and her family.
“Inasmuch as my Daughter Margarett is gon to No. Carolina, where I
suppose she may be well Provided for as to Temporall Enjoyments, I do
upon a full consideration of that affair from first to last, utterly
retract, Revoke and Disanull That part of my aforewritten Will wherein I
have made her an Equall Legatee with her Sisters and do allow her what
she had had; and if She come again to thi[s] Country a Living or
dwelling in my House if she see cause, and Twenty shillings in money and
her part of the Books in full of what She is to receive of my Estate;
and my said will in every thing else to stand good....Only if she hath
any Children at my decease I give to them (or it) Sixty pounds Old
It is difficult to say whether the old minister approved
of this union, but connections between the families were scrupulously
maintained until at least the third generation, judging from the
manuscript extracts that I have seen. A deed written two years later by
Josiah  Cotton and his wife in order to distribute the
property of John Sturtevant mentions Margaret Sawyer as a full legatee
Hannah (Sturtevant) Cotton’s grandfather Josiah Winslow,
brother of Edward Winslow the Mayflower passenger, provides the
necessary link for an “almost-Mayflower ” connection. Below
is a chart of the Plymouth descent of Mary G. Williams, with whom I
began my discussion:
Mary G. Williams, 1815-1906: Samuel G.
Williams & (1) Elizabeth ___; Thomas Pool Williams &
Elizabeth Sawyer; Thomas Sawyer & Margaret Cotton; Rev. Josiah
Cotton & Hannah Sturtevant; John Cotton, Jr. & Joanna Rossiter,
John Sturtevant & Hannah (Winslow) Crow; Rev. John Cotton &
Sarah (Hawkridge) Story, Dr. Bryan Rossiter & Elizabeth Alsop,
Samuel Sturtevant & Anne ___, Josiah Winslow & Margaret Bourne;
Roland Cotton & Mary Hurlbert, Anthony Hawkredd & Isabel Dowse,
Dr. Edward Rossiter & ___ Combe, Rev. John Alsop & ___, Edward
Winslow & Magdalen Olyver, Thomas Bourne & Elizabeth ___.
and Margaret (Cotton) Sawyer had the following children, b. in
Pasquotank Co., NC.: 1-3. Three children who d. as infants; 4. Caleb
Sawyer, b. 6 October 1756, d. in Hispaniola 1777; 5. Lucy
Sawyer, b. 8 September 1757, m. 9 July 1774 William Scarborough; 6.
Thomas Sawyer [Jr.], b. 28 January 1760, d. 1784 at sea near
Cape Lookout; 7. Elizabeth Sawyer, b. 31 October 1762, m. ca.
1780 Thomas Pool Williams; 8. Margaret Sawyer, b. 19 December
1764, m. (1) 3 March 1785 Abner Lamb, (2) 20 April 1795 Gen. Peter
Dauge. Mrs. Margaret (Cotton) Sawyer m. (2) ca. 1770 John Sawyer and
had by him a daughter, Sophia Sawyer , born in Pasquotank Co.
13 August 1771, who m. prob. Pasquotank Co. 15 August 1790 Joseph Scott
. Margaret (Cotton) (Sawyer) Sawyer d. Camden Co., N.C. (set off from
Pasquotank) 23 November 1789. All the children except Lucy (Sawyer)
Scarborough remained in eastern North Carolina, as did their
descendants for four generations. Lucy’s progeny migrated widely.
the discovery of the microfilmed manuscript extracts in Salt Lake City,
I happened upon an entry in the National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography for William Scarborough, Jr., son of William and Lucy
(Sawyer) Scarborough. The Scarboroughs settled in Barnwell Co., South
Carolina, from which area their children scattered. William
Scarborough, Jr. moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he made a fortune as
the builder and owner of the first steamship (the sidewheeler Savannah
) to sail the Atlantic, in 1819 . Other notable descendants were
Charlotte de Bernier (Scarborough) Taylor, a well-known author and
entomologist of the middle nineteenth century ; Preston Saylor,
better known as “K.O. Duggan,” a crazed Georgia prizefighter who
murdered his brother in the 1930s ; and Dr. Julian Edward Wood, a
Civil War hero his second year at VMI, and one of the founders of Pi
Kappa Alpha National Fraternity .
The other, less well-known
descendants of Thomas and Margaret (Cotton) Sawyer have scattered over
Mississippi, western Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, the English Midlands,
Brazil, Australia, and even Africa. Fortunately they have left a
documented trail, so tracing them is relatively easy. As this example
shows, many Southerners can, with a bit of research, find roots and
interesting relatives in unexpected parts of the country. And many
Yankee families figure in the ancestry of Mississippi belles, gentlemen
planters, Confederate soldiers, and molders of the New South.
1. “Copies of Family Bibles, in possession of the Georgia
Historical Society, Savannah, Chatham Co., Georgia,” film #203240
(hereafter “Cotton Manuscripts”), Family History Library, Salt Lake
City.2. Will (Pasquotank Co., NC. Will Book “HIK,” pp.270-73 of
Thomas Sawyer, dated 21 May, proved 31 July 1765.3. LaVerne C.
Cooley, The Rev. John Cotton of Boston and a Cotton Genealogy of His
Descendants (1945), pp. 30-31.4. Rev. Josiah Cotton d.
Plymouth 19 August 1756; his will, dated 14 March 1750, was proved 6
October 1750 (Plymouth Co. Docket #5075).5. Plymouth Co.,
Mass., Deed Book 44, P. 225, dated 19 August 1752, recorded last Tuesday
in September, 1756.6. See Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth
Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1697 (1986), pp. 375-76, for
a thorough treatment of his life and family.7. Cotton
Manuscripts, p. 1.8. Ibid.9. Dictionary of
American Biography, vol. 16 (1935), p. 410; National
Cyclopaedia of American Biography , vol. 2 (1899), pp. 237-38.
According to the latter source, which includes a portrait of Scarborough
and a picture of his ship, some suspected that the steamer was intended
for Napoleon’s escape from St. Helena.10. Ibid ., p. 164
(William Scarborough, Jr. & Julia Bernard; William Scarborough &
Lucy Sawyer).11. See Medora Field Perkerson, “Murder at Ghost
Castle,” in White Columns in Georgia (1952), pp. 205-12, for
the gothic tale of this branch of the family (Preston Saylor: ___ Saylor
& Adelaide Baltzelle; James Peter Baltzelle and Julia Bernard
Barnsley; Godfrey Barnsley & Julia Henrietta Scarborough, William
Scarborough, Jr. & Julia Bernard, as above [#10]).12. See Dr.
Jerome V. Reel, Jr., The Oak, A History of Pi Kappa Alpha
(1980), p. 142, for a biography of J.E. Wood, a great-great-grandson of
Thomas and Margaret (Cotton Sawyer (Julian Edward Wood: William Edward
Wood & Sophia Dauge Trotman; Ezekiel Trotman & Emelia Sawyer
Dauge; Gen. Peter Dauge & Mrs. Margaret (Sawyer) Lamb; Thomas Sawyer
& Margaret Cotton.
John Anderson Brayton, a native of
Dyersburg, Tenn., is professional concert pianist and former Latin
teacher whose genealogical interests include the English origins of
colonial immigrants, both northern and southern. Interested readers may
write him at 920 Holland Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101.