NICHOLAS ISLER, A PALATINE ANCESTOR
In Roman days the chamberlains who waited upon the Emperor and the troops who guarded him became known as "The Palatines" because they were "of the palace."
By medieval times in the Holy Roman Empire these duties had evolved into those of a court official known as the "count palatine."
He, by then, had his own castle, and was in part responsible for hearing and acting on the complaints of he ruler's subjects, and oversaw some of the administrative functions of the royal household.
In more time, those who lived in the domain of the "count palatine" became known as the "Palatines" and their region "The Palatinate," this latter finally becoming a province in Bavaria.
In the turmoil following The Reformation many of the Palatines fled from Germany to Switzerland to escape religious persecution.
Some of these folk were given haven by Baron Christopher von Graffenried on his estate near Berne, and when, in turn the Baron clashed with the theocracy of his own country he elected, in the early 18th century, to flee to America with his followers.
Despite the navigational hazards of the North Carolina coast, in 1710 he brought his group to the junction of the Neuse and Trent Rivers and established a colony to be called New Bern.
This was the second colony in "Carolana," coming into being only several years after did Bath, the first town in the colony established by the British.
Like the English the settlers all volunteered to brave The New World, but, unlike the English, Baron von Graffenried carefully winnowed his people so that he had a balanced group encompassing the various craftsmen and artisans that would be needed to allow a community to stand alone.
This group consisted of both Swiss and Palatines, and yielded a stable settlement which prospered from its beginning.
The religious outlook of the colony was liberal and thereby these colonists freely intermarried with others in the eastern region of what would become North Carolina.
This was at a time when settlers, mostly of Anglo-Saxon origin, were trekking into North Carolina from "The Tidewater Hearth" of Virginia and "The Low Country" of South Carolina.
The prosperity and stability of New Bern was attractive, so in a few years the colony lost its founding national identity.
One of the early heads of the royal colony of North Carolina was Governor William Tyron who made New Bern the seat of his government and built a grand manor for his family during his tenure form 1767-70.
One wonders if the availability of skilled worker deriving from the colony's inception had not some role in this decision and undertaking.
Over time the manor house fell into disrepair. In the middle years of this century it was restored and is now a historic show place known as "Tyron's Palace."
At the outset of his venture one of the trained people Baron von Graffenried included in his group was a young Swiss named Nicholas Isler who served as secretary and business manager of the colony.
He brought with him two sons: Christian and Frederick.
Christian, born in 1694, was a young man of ability who had received a good education in Switzerland.
Within several years Nicholas had made his first claim to title for land in America.
Christian, following in his father's footsteps, was prudent in his investments and in time became one of the important landholders in Chowan County.
He married Elizabeth Coleman and they had a son, William Isler, who married Hester Williams -- the daughter of Colonel John Williams and his wife, Ferebee Pugh.
The daughter of William and Ferebee (Pugh) Isler was the younger Ferebee Isler who married John Sutton.
John and Ferebee (Isler) Sutton settled in the "Buckleberry" section of Lenoir County, this shire being next door to Pitt County.
Here is an example of the pairings and dissemination of the Swiss colonists among their Anglo-Saxon neighbors.
From our family's standpoint, here again came another general tributary fueling into today's mainstream -- and this brings us back to the Suttons.
I have a good friend, Gerard Langeler, who is among the few conversational companions I have found in these waning days since moving to Connecticut.
We grew to know one another through church membership, but were further drawn together by a mutual interest and involvement in writing.
Gerry is ahead of me in years and production -- with one book, The Dolphin Swimmer, to his credit and another manuscript underway about Boudicia, an early queen of the Iceni, a Celtic branch.
The Dolphin Swimmer is a winsome fictionalized account of the first English king, such an actual person being unknown, but such ascension evident from the dim history of those from the Low Countries coming to Britain.
Gerry became interested in this when he was in England tracing down his own family roots -- genealogy being another interest we share.
He is of Trisian ancestry and was raised in Holland.
In his more gainful days he was a very successful public relations entrepreneur in this area, which understandably led to a literary avocation in his retirement.
As can be supposed we find great pleasure in swapping yarns, this being a southern habit I miss with the same poignancy as do I hickory-cooked North Carolina barbecue.
All this comes to mind because Gerry told me that he was convinced most American Suttons came from the region of Sutton Hoo in East Anglia.
He also told me that the word "Sutton" means "south-town" and that Sutton Hoo means "South-town hill."
Sutton Hoo also has a grave-yard which is the resting place of many early Britons, and these places he found on his genealogical jaunts in England.
From my research it seems certain that the Sutton family in America did, indeed, come here from England, though I have two stories as from whence.
One account traces the New World family back to John Sutton who came from Attleborough, Norfolkshire on the ship Diligence in 1638 and settled in Hingham, Massachusetts.
The other sites George Sutton of Tenteron, Kent as having crossed the Atlantic in 1634 in the Hercules out of Sanwid, and settling in Scituate, Massachusetts.
Whether these crossings and these folk were related I know not.
It needs be remembered that both such immigrations go back to the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, happening within a few years of when the Pilgrims came to Plymouth.
It is my hunch -- and no more than that -- that George Sutton was the first Sutton ancestor here in our line.
In any event, the family first moved to Piscattaway, New Jersey and left progeny in that state.
There are so many branches from there that I'll make no effort to trace the various individuals and generations in New Jersey.
Suffice it that when the Tuscaroras were finally subdued in North Carolina in 1714 a steady increase in the population of the state began.
It was then that John Sutton, Sr. -- born in Piscattaway in 1718 of the union of Moses and Yarrick Sutton -- moved his family to the "Buckleberry Section" of Lenoir County, this shire a near neighbor of Pitt County.
This was in the vicinity of present-day LaGrange, which is the town my grandmother always spoke of as the birthplace of her father, Hugh Sutton.
This is unavoidably generalized, but trying to be more specific is of the same precision as pacing off a mile and taking it out five decimal places.
We need to settle for the probability that the Suttons came from East Anglia to the early Massachusetts Bay Colony, hence to New Jersey and finally to eastern North Carolina, all this in roughly the first century of the English intrusion into the New World.
Even my uncle, "Big Dave" Whichard, was uncertain as to who was his Sutton great-grandfather, though he did say that his grandfather, Hugh Sutton, had a brother in LaGrange named John.
Hugh -- or "Huey" as he was called by his contemporaries -- came to Greenville as a young widower, having just lost his first wife to illness.
He then married Elizabeth "Betty" Perkins, who was my generation's great-grandmother and who, like the Whichards, came from an old Pitt County family.
THE PERKINS CONNECTION:
From when and where David Perkins came to North Carolina is not a matter of exact record -- it seems evident that he was English considering his Anglo-Saxon surname and the origin of his colonial neighbors.
It is known that he set up his homestead in the Pactolus area along Grindle Creek and as had the Whichards, James, Jordans, Flemings -- some of the families with which the Perkins intermarried.
David Perkins first came to historic attention after "The Boston Tea Party."
Following this insurrection the British Parliament imposed what were termed the "Five Intolerable Acts" among which was the closing of the port of Boston to all shipping, leaving the colonists in Massachusetts in dire circumstances.
The other colonies came to the succor of New England. David Perkins took a lead in this relief work for Pitt County and the colony of North Carolina.
He gained local political status in 1777 as a Justice of the Peace.
A year later in 1778 -- after The Revolution had flared and a new commonwealth was gestating -- he was selected as one of a five-member commission to consider for North Carolina the first draft of the United States Constitution as proposed by the "The Constitutional Convention" in Philadelphia.
This was to provide a permanent system of governance to supercede the temporary "Articles of Confederation" which had held the independent colonies together following the surrender of the British at Yorktown.
The commission met in Hillsborough in 1778 and David Perkins was the lone member voting for approval. His fellows disapproving because the document did not provide the prerogatives of individual liberty which would later come with the passage of "The Bill of Rights" in the first session of Congress held under the new articles in 1782.
Later, in another shaggy dog vignette, the early tension between church and state will show the roles that James Madison -- "The Father of the Constitution" -- and Baptist Elder Leland played in bringing "The Bill of Rights" to flower.
It was of no thanks to our ancestor, David Perkins, that this opposition had the chance to work its way to Madison and Leland, but still he was one of many early Americans who helped nurture the flames of liberty which are still sweeping the human race.
David Perkins married a lady named Elizabeth whose surname is lost to us but whose given name has been carried down regularly into today's generations.
David and Elizabeth Perkins sired two sons: Churchill and James, the former being the next in our line.
Churchill started the first store in Pactolus in 1840.
In 1831 he was among the trustees of Jordan Plains Academy, this being where Amelius and Violetta Jordan first taught.
During his day, the Union -- which his father had worked to erect -- was coming unraveled over the slavery question. In 1861 Churchill Perkins joined a committee charged with equipping volunteers for the Army of the Confederacy from Pitt County.
In 1865 following the Civil War -- and the Proclamation of Amnesty by President Andrew Johnson -- he was among those appointed to help reorganize the government of North Carolina.
He and his wife -- again, name unknown -- had two sons: Lemuel and William.
From the sequence indicated by the all-but-indecipherable, weathered and eroded tombstones in The Cherry Hill Cemetery in Greenville it seems that Lemuel was our ancestor, and that "Betty" Tyson was his wife.
Our grandmother often referred to her Tyson kin.
Lemuel and Betty (Tyson) Perkins were apparently the parents of Elizabeth "Betty" Perkins who became the second wife of Hugh Sutton and another of my great-grandmothers.
The obituary of Hugh Sutton in The Daily Reflector in 1904 indicates that he made his living as a clerk in a general store.
Other than once having a small street named for him, his main claim to fame was having sired three daughters who married well.
The second daughter was Henrietta Williams Sutton who married David Jordan Whichard, this couple being my maternal grandparents.
The oldest daughter was named Betty Perkins Sutton for her mother and she married Professor William A. Ragsdale who was an educator and the first Superintendent of Schools for Pitt County.
The Ragsdale's had three sons: Hugh, Sherwood and Jennings; and two daughters: Hennie Sutton and Willie.
The third daughter of Hugh and Betty (Perkins) Sutton was Estelle, called both "Essie" and "Sis'telle."
"Sis'telle" married Henry Sheppard, also from an early Pitt County family, and they had three children: Hugh, Henry, Jr. -- also called "H" and who became a physician practicing in Baltimore -- and a daughter called "Cousin Lina" whose Christian name I can't remember, but probably was Caroline.
"Cousin Lina" likewise married well but was widowed early.
Her first husband, a Mr. Grant, left her well-fixed, but her second husband, a Mr. Elmore, was said to have absconded with her money after her death.
Henry Sheppard was known to the family as "Brother Henry," and like most others in any way related to David Jordan and Henrietta (Sutton) Whichard had his place too in the bosom of this family.
Both these sisters of Henrietta Sutton Whichard died young, and at various times and various combinations these nieces and nephews of "Aunt Hennie" lived in the Whichard home.
Hugh Sutton, our great-grandfather, died in 1904 and his widow, Betty Perkins Sutton, lived then with her daughter and son-in-law until her death three years later.
These are the sundry folk to whom our uncle, "Big Dave" -- David Julian Whichard -- was referring when he said: "Someone was always living with us when we were kids."
It is obvious that "Big Dave" felt somewhat ambivalent about this, not only because of the attention it usurped from him and his siblings, but because of the intrusion into his mother's management of their home.
He particularly resented his grandmother's presence, particularly her strictness.
He said that each night as the clock struck eight she would say: "All right, Hennie, its bedtime for the children -- it's going on nine o'clock!"
Although she died nigh a dozen years before I came along, Betty Perkins Sutton, one of my great-grandmothers, has a special place in my family thoughts.
She apparently brought with her to her daughter's home two attractive, slim, near-matched occasional chairs with curved backs.
In turn, some years later -- and some years ago -- my grandmother gave these to my wife, Edie.
We had them restored and they yet occupy a place of honor in our living room.
Claude Best, a furniture designer who became a good friend when we lived in High Point, once told me that these chairs were famous pieces, being called "Baltimore chairs" and now much prized as antiques.
We also have some well-worn and plain table-spoons, which came to us from my grandmother's household -- they bear the monogram "BPS" and apparently once belonged to this same great-grandmother.
"Big Dave" once told me those were "coin silverware."
It seems that during the Civil War many southern families had their silver tableware melted down into ingots and turned those over to the Confederate government for trade purposes or striking coinage.
After the war -- local silversmiths still being the rule -- many such families reversed this process and had silver tableware recast from the coins.
These things are certainly prized by us and will be passed on to our youngsters -- they will surely be family heirlooms, having come down from their great-great-grandmother.
Our own grandchildren as yet seem scarcely impressed when told these items come back form six generations in their families.
__________________ __ __________________
next chapterBack to Shaggy Dog index