John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Shaggy Dog Chronicles
Chapter 1, Part 3 - To And From the Meherrin


The Gulf Stream sweeps northward along the coasts of the Carolinas and encounters the outflow and silt burden of the rivers flowing eastward out of the mountains and Piedmont Plateau.

It is my contention that the antagonistic confluence of these waters has been largely responsible for the laying down of the "Outer Banks," sandy barrier islands enclosing shallow sounds, one of which -- The Currituck -- embraces Roanoke Island, the site of "The Lost Colony" of which we've spoken.

This is far from an uncommon configuration of non-rocky oceanic shorelines the world over, but those along the North Carolina coast are unique because the barrier islands are far offshore in places and enclose an imposing system of sounds, which are massively contiguous.

Vis-à-vis, these sundry geologic features all seem cause and effect of one another.

Whatever the cause, the shallow and shifting shoal waters off the North Carolina coast are the major reason why the colony -- by-and-large -- did not attract immigrants directly from Europe.

Rather eastern North Carolina was settled by overflow from Virginia  and South Carolina where more navigable on-shore waters prevailed.

This includes the trekking of the Bridger/Bridgers family from Isle of Wight County in their trickling through the eastern Carolina provinces. 

The coastal lowlands, estuaries and bays of Virginia are termed "The Tidewater."

The similar region in North Carolina is called "The Coastal Plain," whereas in South Carolina the same is known as "The Low Country." 

This all comprises a single geologic entity.

The northern-most river feeding into the Chesapeake Bay is the beautiful Susquehanna, arising in New York and running obliquely through Pennsylvania. 

In the most recent "Ice Age," ending roughly 10,000 years ago, the river per se ran well down the seaboard and entered the Atlantic in the vicinity of present-day Norfolk, Virginia.

However, when the glaciers melted the sea level rose, this flooded the estuary of the Susquehanna to become the Chesapeake Bay. 

The small flotilla, which brought the Jamestown settlers from Bristol and across the Atlantic made first landfall at the southern promontory of the Bay, as, has been outlined. 

It's likely, that using the bayou-like waterway, William Bridger worked his way south into Bertie County, North Carolina, about three-quarters of a century after his grandparents staked their claim on "The Tidewater Hearth."

William and Elizabeth Godwin (?) Bridger:  With an uncharted continent around them it is unlikely that boundaries meant much to the early settlers of America.

Stock companies, operating within royal colonies, had been the way of colonial government in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

However, these vast lands offered ready reward to those to whom the Crown felt indebted, and so it was from 1630-1670 a proprietary system was set-up.

In 1639 seven "Lord Proprietors" were given grant under Charles I to own and control the land immediately south of the Chesapeake; and so it was that "Carolema" came into being, eventually becoming Carolina, and even later being split into two colonies, north and south.

In short order, Virginia farmers were relocating to the south.  The "Comberford Map" was laid out and published in 1657 and it showed "Batts House" as a plantation on the mouth of Salmon Creek where it entered the Roanoke River and hence the Albemarle Sound.

Albemarle Sound is the northernmost of the continuum of wide shallow bodies of inland waters encompassed by "The Outer Banks."

Here was the plantation homestead of Nathaniel Batts, and he is generally credited with being the first permanent settler in what would someday be the state of North Carolina.

Earlier, before proprietary government, George Durant had placed in the record a grant from King Kilocammon of the Yeopin Indians, which would make him the first Caucasian landholder in the area, but it seems unlikely that he ever lived on this tract.

Suffice it that in the 1650's where Joseph Bridger moved into the colony around Jamestown Plantation, folks who had come earlier were even then moving out.

His grandson, William, so moved his family three score years later. 

William Bridger was said to have been born in Isle of Wight County in 1658, and there married a woman named Elizabeth in 1799, she being of uncertain surname.

Penciled in one record is the hint that her family name was "Godwin," but this is unverified elsewhere.

There was a Quaker family of that name in 17th century Isle of Wight County with a daughter named Elizabeth, but no evidence that she was married to William Bridger.

Genealogy, it must be remembered, deals mainly in patronymic data, so that the tracing of maternal lines often gets short shift. 

When we consider that four grand-parental lines feed into each generation, though we may accrue what seems a plethora of family information, much more is being elided.

It can be seen how genealogy becomes virtually an unending search, always leaving something new to be uncovered.

As we move forward through time this will be less true and, in fact, much of these Chronicles will deal with the four main tributaries, which feed into our generation. 

Suffice it that William and Elizabeth Bridger and most of the children of their household were the last of our line born in "The Tidewater," and that they died as "Bridgers" in North Carolina.

They had several children before they departed Virginia, and their second son -- who would be later known as Benjamin Bridgers, Sr. -- is the progeny of our prime interest, but first tangential points of interest.

A deed registered in 1713 shows that William purchased 600 acres of land along the north bank of the Meherrin River in Bertie County, North Carolina from Matthew Russian.

An interesting thing about these documents is that the first was signed "William Bridger" and the second "William Bridgers."

No note comes down clarifying whether the added "s" was an unintentional flourish or whether he purposely decided to change his name. 

In any event, though those in our line have since elected to adhere to the altered spelling.  There are those in collateral families who have gone in other ways -- again other tales which bear telling.

As mentioned earlier my paradigm for family connections is of tributaries feeding into a main stream rather than a tree with ever diverging branches.

However, this approach overlooks the natural laws of demography and allows historical coincidences to slip by.

Those with but a smidgen of background in the natural sciences could just as easily see this as a study in physics.

To me, the laws of thermodynamics seem as applicable to a conglomeration of people as to systems of ions, atoms and galaxies -- we're all in the same hierarchy of being. 

With folks, as with particles, entropy inevitably sets in and converts settlers to wanderers.

The principle has ever been true -- from the Celts to the Bridgers -- and just as surely this is what happened to our relations in Bertie and Edgecombe Counties in North Carolina centuries back.

The second son of William and Elizabeth Bridgers was William Jr. who married a woman named Sarah Dew.

Here the records become unclear and contradictory with repetitious first names in succeeding generations becoming jumbled.

Anyway, William and Sarah Bridgers Jr. had a son or grandson named Drury, who in the early 1790's when he was 38 years old was afflicted with wanderlust, folded his tent without bothering to dispose of any land -- had he any -- and stole away through the mountains to the west to eventually land in Kentucky.

An interesting coincidence here is that Daniel Boone, the legendary hunter and pioneer had left North Carolina in 1775 with a group of kin people and neighbors and first opened Kentucky to settlement. 

An interesting family fact is that Drury changed the spelling of his name to "Bridges," and that is the spelling, which has come down with our distant cousins in the Cumberland. 

It's sort of like Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson is alleged to have said later:  "I have little use for a fellow who only knows how to spell a word one way."

The same must hold for names.

However, the trek of Drury Bridges was the exception rather than the rule.

In general, the flow of folk, as with the flow of water, follows the path of least resistance.

In the early days of the infilling of this continent by which migration movement was mostly north-to-south, toward open country and restricted by the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains to the west.

This has established a path, which still holds for transportation though technology has largely made this practice moot. 

In older times wagon trains -- and even oxen-drawn sledges -- continued southward until they reached the terminal foothills, and then fanned out to the south, west and north, which established Atlanta as a communication hub and distribution center.

Similarly when the railroads expanded in the mid-19th century they followed the same pattern, as did later the highways and then the air lanes, though an airplane can fly across the mountains as easily as the prairie.

Just so moved the Bridgers in North Carolina as the map of counties at the end of this chapter so sows.

But the exact sequence, route and people involved I have not been able to determine.

A significant planting of those of our name remained in the region of the Meherrin, are yet there today, this area having provided another "hearth" from whence the family spread.

When I was practicing pediatrics in the central Piedmont of North Carolina in the middle of this century, I medically cared for the children of a highway engineer whose work carried him around the state. 

He once told me that the Registrar of Deeds in Northampton County -- a fellow with whom he dealt from time-to-time securing rights-of-way for rods -- not only shared my surname, but that we bore a striking resemblance to one another.

I wrote to the gentleman, Wilson Bridgers, trying to learn which, if any, of his collateral kinsmen of an earlier day had settled elsewhere.

He answered with a cursory note that he knew little of the Bridgers who had left the region and nothing of any who had gone to Robeson County, the birthplace of my father.

I was learning that most people are much more knowledgeable of their "roots" than of their "wings," and I'm no exception.

From another source I did learn that the third son of William and Elizabeth Bridgers -- to later be known as Benjamin Bridgers, Sr. -- moved southward to Nash County and there established a permanent homestead and reared his family.

Benjamin (Sr.) and Sarah Bryand Bridgers:  As a scholar once noted, to him the main role of patriarch Isaac in the Bible was to provide a connection between Abraham and Jacob.

This seems an analogous situation for Benjamin Bridgers, Sr. -- we know little about what he did, though like other biographies in which we come up short, we assume he led an intriguing life in those hazardous days when the country was new and the frontier was still hard by the Atlantic.

He had been born in Isle of Wight County, Virginia in 1708 and was a young child when his family moved to North Carolina in 1713. 

He married Sarah Bryand in 1724 -- having apparently been born in Bertie County in 1708 -- and we know nothing more of her background.

The couple homesteaded slightly further south in Nash County, of which the main town is Rocky Mount.

In my formative years Rocky Mount was the largest of the dozen or so moderate-sized "tobacco towns" in eastern North Carolina -- of which my hometown, Greenville, was another - and, in addition, had major shops and sidings for The Atlantic Coastal Railway.

However, for those of my generation it had most renown as the home of the annual "June German," a massive formal dance featuring a nationally known "Big Band," and held in a tobacco warehouse, which accommodated thousands of young people from at least half of the state.

The town sits astride the Nash-Edgecombe County line and is near Tarboro, another site in the latter county favored by the Bridgers, descendants of Benjamin and Sarah Bryand Bridgers.

My father knew of the Bridgers in Tarboro, noted that their name was spelled as was ours, and wondered if there might be family ties.

He simply knew very little of his family history back beyond his great-grandfather, Sampson Bridgers of Robeson County.

Tarboro is the county seat of Edgecombe County, is twenty or so miles northwest of Greenville, and roughly halfway between my hometown and Jackson, the main community of Northampton County, the North Carolina "hearth" of the family.

When George Washington made his travels by coach through the thirteen original states he spent a night in Greenville as did he in many small villages.

He referred to our town as " a muddy little town on the Tar," but classed Tarboro as a most pleasant spot.

In our day, the Bridgers family of Tarboro owned a small "connector" railway, and was prominent and affluent in the context of a small agrarian community.

A scion of this family was Henry Clark Bridgers, Jr., a few years my senior, a naval academy graduate and a naval aviator.

When I was likewise in the naval air service during World War II I ran into many who knew him, and I met him once but was with him such a few minutes that there was scant chance for discussing possible family connections.

There would have been little to discuss for that was before I had learned of "The Tidewater Hearth."

Capt. Bridgers served a full naval career with distinction, and upon retirement, placed his papers in the archives in the library of East Carolina University in Greenville.

I read a small book he wrote about his family's railroad and in it he recorded a similar family history as so far covered here.

We are obviously of collateral lineage and share remote forebears.

It's obvious this lineage is becoming increasingly difficult to follow in narrative form and will become more so.

From Rev. Lawrence Bridger of Gloucester, England to myself embraces twelve generations and those are arranged in list diagram at the end of this chapter.

I've run into evidence of other clans of Bridgers scattered through eastern North Carolina who must have, at some point, shared our lineage.

In the 1970's I was on the Board of Trustees of East Carolina University, and one of the privileges, which attended that position, was a seat in the "honored visitors" section at the football stadium

At each game one was attending, a roster and seating plan for all so handled was provided, and, on one such occasion, I found another "Bridgers" named and that he was from nearby Goldsboro, the county seat of Wayne County, two shires to the southwest of Pitt County where Greenville and E. C. U. were located. 

Goldsboro is another of the many small agrarian centers around which the ethnography of eastern N. C. is organized -- there are no sizeable cities per se.

Anyway, at half time I looked up this Bridgers person from Goldsboro -- I had never heard of any of our name in that community.

He was obviously of my generation -- I was surprised to see he resembled my father.

To my disappointment he was a somewhat taciturn fellow, seemed little interested in the coincidence of our surnames or in comparing observations on antecedents.

I did learn he was in the construction business -- I surmised that either he had done business with the university, was a school benefactor or being groomed as such, or perhaps all of the above.

My father had never known of him, nor have I seen or heard of him since.

In the quarter of a century in which I practiced medicine in High Point, in the central Piedmont, I drove back and forth to Greenville dozens of times.

Always noticeable was a crossroads in Wilson County, just outside the town of the same name, and again, a neighboring community to my hometown.

As a matter of fact, during my formative years, there was an on-going debate as to whether Greenville or Wilson was the world's largest bright-leaf tobacco market.

Today, for much of the country, this would probably seem more an opprobrium than a point of pride -- thanks to the anti-smoking campaign of Dr. C. Everett Koop, former surgeon-general for the country and an old friend and mentor from my days at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Anyway, at an intersection of secondary rural highways, sporting a single wooden service-station type structure there was the name "BRIDGERS" on it's front car-port in large, black, capital letters.

On a couple of occasions I stopped for queries, but found the building locked, though not apparently abandoned. 

On highway maps it is still designated an entity, and my N. C. Gazetteer indicates it was once an incorporated community, though it has since ceased to exist as such.

Again, my father knew nothing of the possible proprietors bearing our name of what seemed likely an automobile filling station and country store.

Those named Jones or Smith are probably pressed to wonder why I would pursue someone simply because they share a surname, but again, it's a matter of rarity.

Another circumstance comes to mind and concerns a family named "Bridger," the only such with that particular name of whom I've heard in North Carolina. 

They are well-known merchants and professional folk from Bladenboro, county seat of Bladen County, which abuts Robeson to the east. 

I've never met or personally known any of them, but I've seldom run into folk with a connection to Wake Forest University who don't ask me about them, frequently thinking they're speaking of a family with my name and to whom I'm related.

From the tale we've woven here maybe, indeed, they are.

Evidently several successive generations have gone to school, been fostered by Wake Forest and, in turn, have provided succor for their alma mater.

This could be considered an entirely extraneous aside, for there seems no immediate connection between "Bridgers" in Robeson and "Bridger" in Bladen.

For those who don't know, Wake Forest University is the main institute of higher learning sponsored by the Baptists of North Carolina, though far from the only such.

I suspect the Bridger clan of Bladen -- though they may have changed their name back to its original form -- is more likely to have separately come to North Carolina from "The Tidewater Hearth."

I've never felt compelled to trace this down as they obviously don't contribute to our particular geneal stream.

So, geographically and historically, we have come to another crux, and, in a way, come a circle.

This seems an apt time to "back pedal" and then go ahead to the "State of Robeson" as the path can best be traced.

________   _   ________

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