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  • Notable Kin - Carter, Helms, and Presley: A Foray into the Piedmont 'Non-Plantation South'

    John Anderson Brayton

    Published Date : December 1991
    In a previous “Notable Kin” column on the descendants and kinsmen of Pocahontas (NEXUS 3(1986)74-76), Gary Boyd Roberts divided Southern ancestry and colonial southern families into Tidewater planters and migratory pioneers.  The latter group, ancestral to Presidents Truman, LB. Johnson and Carter, and to many figures of the “New South,” included Pennsylvania Germans of the Shenandoah Valley and western North Carolina, the Scots and Scots-Irish of the Carolinas and Tennessee especially, and the often English, sometimes Tidewater-derived lesser planters and small farmers of Southside Virginia, central North Carolina, and “up-country” South Carolina  The first two of these latter groups (Germans, Scots and Scots-Irish), together with eighteenth-century Welsh immigrants form the genealogical basis of early Appalachia.  The third group, mostly of the Piedmont - the rolling hills between coastal Albemarle and the Smoky Mountains also moved to Georgia, Alabama, the Mississippi Delta and beyond.  Germans, Scots-Irish, and English farmers often intermarried, however, especially near Moravian and Quaker settlements in the central North Carolina Piedmont, and in the Sandhills and Waxhaws area around present-day Charlotte.

    Between the Civil War and World War I, when New England genealogists and town historians were treating much of their own colonial population, scholars in the impoverished South, where records had always been less voluminous and scattered, concentrated on the Tidewater planters of the Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina coast.  By the mid-1950s or so, when the major Virginia historical journals no longer published genealogical articles, probably the bulk of the plantation aristocracy had been covered.  The Shenandoah Valley, Piedmont, and “backcountry,” however, remained mostly unexplored.  But in the last several decades an enormous quantity of source material on the “non-plantation South,” plus some “typical” genealogies, have been published, and many kinships can now be traced among descendants of southern migratory pioneers.

    The set of kinships I wish to explore stems from Anson and Union Counties, just south of Charlotte. Anson, formed in 1750, covered most of the western part of the state; Union was formed from it in 1842.  Most Union County families derive from colonial settlers of Anson County, and like residents of almost all rural areas before the Industrial Revolution, married local (even the most venturesome chose mates largely from nearby Mecklenburg County).

    Former president James Earl Carter, Jr. (b. 1924) is a son of James Earl Carter (1894-1953) and Bessie Lillian Gordy (1898-1983), grandson of James Jackson Gordy (1853-1948) and Mary Ida Nicholson (1871-1951), great-grandson of James Thomas Gordy (1828-1889) and Harriet Emily Helms (1836-1884), and great-great-grand son of Pamly Uriah Helms (ca. 1791-1848) and Elizabeth Fisher (ca. 1792-post 1883). P.U. Helms, born probably in Mecklenburg Co., NC., was the son of George Helms, Jr. (ca. 1758-1837/8) and Sarah Pressley (ca. l756-prob. ante 1837) and the grandson of George Helms (ca. 1720/5-post 1800) and Mary Margaret Falkenborough (b. ca. 1735) and of Thomas Pressley (d. 1808) and Sarah ___ (G.B. Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, preliminary ed. rev. [1989], pp. 88-90).  A work I found at the Union Co. Public Library in Monroe, NC., Edwin C. Dunn, comp., Some Genealogical Notes on the Preslar/Presley Family of Anson Co., NC. (1985, hereafter Presley), indicates that the above Thomas Pressley was born at St. Stephen’s Parish, Cecil Co., Maryland 27 August 1730, and died in Mecklenburg Co., NC. in 1808 (Will Book 2:124).  Thomas’s father, a German immigrant to New York City in 1709, moved to Cecil Co., Md. by the middle 1720s, was in Brunswick and Lunenburg Cos., Virginia, in the 1740s, and settled in Bladen and Anson Cos., N .C. by 1751.  New data on Thomas’s parents and grandparents, forebears #s 21 2-13 and #424-25 of former president Carter, can be outlined as follow.

    212. Andreas/Andrew Preslar, b. Germany ca. 1701; d. Anson Co., NC. after 1759 (Presley, pp. 2-4); m. New York City 21 April 1723
    213. Anne (Antje) Wells, b. Staten Island, NY.
    424. Valentine Presler, b. Germany ca. 1669; d. prob. Cecil Co., Md., after 1732, a 1709 Palatine immigrant to N.Y. (ibid.); m. ca. 1695
    425. Anna Christian Framse, b. Germany ca. 1674

    Using this Preslar/Pressley material, plus Gerald C. Helms and Jo Ann Stevenson, Tilman, George and Jonathan Helms, Brothers, 1720-1881, History and Genealogy of the Helms Family (1984) (hereafter Helms), I was able to trace myriad connections between the former president and U.S. Senator Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr., a Union County native, both of whose parents, both of whose grand fathers, four of whose great-grandparents, six of whose great-great-grandparents, and eight of whose great-great-great-grand parents bore the surname Helms.  The senator’s patrilineal great-great-great-great- [205] grandfather, moreover, married a Pressley (this couple are ancestors of the senator in two other ways as well.  Since former president Carter is also a kinsman of Senator Samuel (Augustus) Nunn (Jr.) of Georgia (see Dorris and Alexander Nunn, Nunns of the South [1974], passim), kinship to Senator Helms may not be surprising.  But Mr. Dunn’s Preslar/Pressley work also covers the almost certain descent from the Palatine immigrant Andreas/Andrew Preslar and Anne (Antje) Wells to singer and rock idol Elvis Aron Presley (1935-1977).  Thus just as this column earlier reported kinships among presidents, tycoons, New England literary giants, and Hollywood figures. it now reports the highly probable cousinhood of Jimmy Carter, Jesse Helms, and Elvis Presley.

    As reported in the National Enquirer of 27 Sept. 1977, plus Richard Canton Fulcher, The Presley Saga (1978), Albert Goldman, Elvis (1981), and Earl Greenwood and Kathleen Tracy, The Boy Who Would Be King (1991) the immediate Presley descent of the singer is as follows: Elvis Aron Presley (1935-1977) of East Tupelo), Miss. and Memphis, m. 1967 Priscilla Ann Beaulieu (b. 1945); Vernon Elvis Presley (1916-1979) & Gladys Love Smith (1912-1958), also of East Tupelo and Memphis; Jessie D. McClowell Presley (1896-1973) of Itawamba Co., Miss. and Louisville, Kentucky, & Minnie Mae Hood (1888-1980); Rosella Presley (1862-1924, unmarried, the mother of ten children, of Itawamba Co.); Dunnan Presley, Jr. (1827-1900) of Madisonville, Tennessee, Itawamba Co. Miss., and Barry Co., Missouri, & Martha Jane Wesson; Dunnan Presley (ca. 1780-1850) of Lancaster Co., S.C., Madisonville (and later Polk Co.), Tenn., and Georgia, & ___, a first wife. Before Dunnan, the Enquirer team and Fulcher differ somewhat, the former claiming that his father was revolutionary soldier Andrew Presley (III) (1754-post 1855) of Anson Co., NC., Lancaster Co., S.C., and Hawkins Co., Tenn., and the latter suggesting that Dunnan’s father was John Presley (1740-post 1833), Andrew’s brother. Fulcher also) suggests an intervening Dunnan Presley, b. ca. 1800-10, as the son of Dunnan, b. ca. 1780, and father of Dunnan, Jr., b. 1827. in either case, the father of these brothers is identified by Mr. Dunn as Andreas/ Andrew Preslar, Jr. (1732-ante 1790), son of the above Andreas/ Andrew Preslar and Anne Wells (Presley, pp. 1-6, 43). Assuming only two Dunnans, and accepting Mr. Dunn’s placement of brothers Andrew (III) and John, Elvis Presley becomes a sixth cousin once removed of former president Carter and a seventh cousin twice over, and seventh cousin once removed, of Senator Helms.

    Of these three figures only Senator Helms is a Piedmont native with fully local ancestry - Carter ancestor P.U. Helms and Dunnan Presley were both in Georgia by the late 1830s.  As in most areas where a limited number of families have resided for two centuries or more, numerous marriages between cousins are almost inevitable.  Probably the best format for outlining Senator Helms’ three Presley and numerous Helms descendants is the following ancestor table covering numbers 1-31 (through great-great grand parents) with extensions, within numbers 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, and 24 and in the usual style of this column, to ancestors of former president Carter mentioned above.

    1.    Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr., b. Union Co., NC., 18 Oct. 1921 (Helms, 230); m. 31 Oct. 1942 Dorothy Jane Coble
    2.    Jesse Alexander Helms, Sr., b. Union Co. 19 June 1893 d. there 11 Feb. 1974 (Helms, 195); m. there 24 Dec. 1912
    3.    Ethel Mae Helms, b. Union Co. 17 Aug. 1896; d. there 24 Nov. 1966 (Helms, 152)
    4.    Joseph Clayton Helms, b. Union Co. May 1861; d. there Oct. 1918 (Helms, 142)
    5.    Sarah Ellen Moser, b. Union Co. 17 Feb. 1869; d. there 26 July 1949 (Union Co. Deaths, 35:153)
    6.    Samuel Wilson Helms, b. Union Co. 20 Dec. 1874; 4. there 13 Sept. 1954 (Helms, 61); m. there 15 Nov. 1893. (Union Co. Marriage Book 5:56)
    7.    Mary Louretta Haigler, b. Union Co. 13 June 1878; d, there 19 May 1908 (Helms, 61)
    8.    Hilliard J. Helms, b. Anson Co., NC. 1816; d. Union Co. 1877 (Helms, 54)
    9.    Isobel Helms, b. Anson Co. 10 May 1821; d. Union Co. 1873 (Helms, 54)
    10.  Alexander Moser, b. Union Co. 1847; 4. there 21 Aug 1921 (Union Co. Deaths, 6:294)
    11.  Martha Helms, b. Union Co. 17 Feb. 1851 d. there 27 Oct. 1932 (Helms, 60; Union Co. Deaths, 17:150)
    12.  Archibald Helms, b. Anson Co. 1 May 1827; dl. Union Co. 20 Aug. 1905 (Helms, 21); m. (2)
    13.  Martha Hinson, b. Anson Co. 8 Aug. 1833; d. Union Co. 18 Dec. 1905 (Helms, 21) (William Ashley Hinson, Hinson and Related Families [1986], hereafter Hinson,, 156)
    14.  George W. Haigler, b. Union Co. ca. 1856; m. there 9 Nov. 1873
    15.  Mary Jane Williams, b. Union Co. ca. 1849
    16.  Jesse Helms, b. Anson Co. 1794; d. there after 1833 (Helms, 19) (John4 Helms, Jr. & Lavinia3 Helms; John3 Whitehead Helms & Susannah Pressley, Jonathan2 Helms [bro. of Tilman2 & George2 their par. are as yet unknown] & Elizabeth Smith; Tilman2 Helms [bro. of Jonathan2 & George2] & Rachel Craig, Thomas Pressley & Sarah ___)
    17.  Elizabeth ___
    18.  Tilman Helms, b. Anson Co. 1792; d. Union Co. 29 July 1876 (Helms, 15) (Isaac3 Helms & Nancy Laney; George2 Helms & Mary Margaret Falkenborough)
    19.  Sarah L. Helms, b. Anson Co. 1802; d. Union Co. 3 Dec. 1878 (Helms, 15, 19) (John4 Helms & Lavinia3 Helms, as above, #16)
    20.  Simon Moser, b. Anson Co. ca. 1826; m. Union Co. ca. 1845 (Union Co. 1850 Census, 62)
    21.  Sabra Helms, b. Anson Co. ca. 1829, prob. not 1823, (Helms, 54) (prob. Jesse5 Helms & Elizabeth ___; John4 Helms & Lavinia3 Helms, as above, #16)
    22.  William Helms, b. Anson Co. 15 Feb. 1818; d. Union Co. 16 Feb. 1900 (Helms, 21) (William4 Helms & Sarah Hargett, #s 24, 25, below); m. ca. 1840
    23.  Becky Hinson, b. Anson Co. 24 Apr. 1816; d. Union Co. 22 Nov. 1895, sister of Isaiah Hinson, #26 below (Hinson, 156)


    24.  William Helms, b. Anson Co. 1782 (William3 Helms & Rebecca Broom; Tilman Helms & Rachel Craig, as above, #16) (Helms, 9); m. (1)
    25.  Sarah Hargett
    26.  Isaiah Hinson, b. 26 Aug. 1813; d. May 1872; m. 1832 (brother of Becky Hinson, #23 above) (Hinson, 156.)
    27.  Polly Medlin
    28.  John Haigler, b. Anson Co. ca. 1792 (Union Co. 1860 Census, family #417)
    29.  Elizabeth ___, b. ca. 1822
    30.  John D. Williams, b. ca. 1828 (Union Co. 1850 Census, family #1168)
    31.  Nancy J. ___, b. ca. 1833

    Thus if Sarah Helms (#21 above) is correctly placed, Senator Helms has nine Helms descents and three Presley lines; he is thus almost certainly related to Elvis Presley in three different ways, and to former President Carter at least a dozen times over.  Like Nantucket Quakers and Tidewater planters, who also intermarry intricately at home but migrate south and west, so too Piedmont farmers produce surprising, multi-related descendants.

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