First Settlers in the Clemmons Area

by Ann Ellis Sheek
written for the Courier, June 19, 1975

Until 1752 this southwest portion of the county was part of Anson County and the only known people here were migrating bands of Indians who camped along the Yadkin River. Yadkin, an Indian word, means big trees. There were probably hunters and trappers, but no actual settlers according to the Moravian Diaries.

Indian artifacts discovered along the Yadkin River have been identified by the late Dr. Douglas Rights, father of the Rev. Burton Rights, present pastor (1975) of Clemmons Moravian Church.

Dr. Rights was considered an authority on local Indians and their artifacts. In 1954 a man named Paul Miller was dredging sand near the old Bailey's Ferry southwest of Clemmons, and uncovered what has once been an Indian kitchen. Dr. Rights was called in and when he was interviewed at the time of the discovery, he explained that the pottery was typical of the Siouan (Sioux) Indians who lived along the upper Yadkin and camped in the spring along the river to hunt and fish and then moved back to the mountains in the winter.

Plowed fields along the Yadkin River still yield the artifact seeker with rewards of fragments of Indian pottery, clay pipes, arrowheads, and possibly axe heads. The Anthropology Department of Wake Forest University is currently (1975) studying the artifacts of these first people along the Yadkin.

Dr. Rights left an extensive number of artifacts to the Moravians and these are on display in the Wachovia Museum at Old Salem.

However, the Moravians did not settle in the area of Clemmons. They began settling on Nov. 17, 1753 in an abandoned cabin of Hans Wagoner which would become the village site of Bethabara.

The boundary between Wachovia and the land destined to become Clemmons was Muddy Creek, which is located just east of the village of Clemmons.

By 1753 the area of Clemmons fell in a newly formed county of Rowan. Rowan County was divided in 1771 and the northernmost part of the county became Surry County, but the Clemmons section remained in Rowan until 1849 when Forsyth County was formed. All old records pertaining to the area before 1849 are located either in Salisbury's old Court House or in the Raleigh Archives.

The old Moravian records report that John and Mary Douthit and their family came to the area about 1750 and later bought part of the Wachovia tract of land near Muddy Creek and the eastern boundaries of Clemmons, after the Moravians bought the tract in 1753. Douthit did not register his deed until 1761 and will be covered later in this article.

William Johnson

Considering the boundaries of present Clemmons, with the Yadkin River on the west and Muddy Creek on the east, William Johnson was Clemmons first settler.

On May 24, 1757, Johnson, a 25-year old emigrant from Wales, purchased 640 acres or about a square mile of land on the eastern bank of the Yadkin River southwest of Bethabara in Rowan County.

Johnson bought the land from William Linville, a land agent in the Carolina colony for Lord Granville who was one of the Lords Proprietors of England. The deed states that Johnson bought the land, "for five shillings lawful money of Great Britian in hand and a yearly rent of one peppercorn payment at the Feast of St. Michael, the Archangel." He secured ownership by the payment of 80 pounds of Lawful Virginia money.

The Johnson land started 1358.6 feet south of the present highway 158 bridge where the present Tanglewood Park is located. This corner and the northwest portion of the property, including the fertile river bottom and the homesite, remained in the Johnson family for 164 years until 1921.

The Johnson Family has been researched in great detail through the years by one of the descendants and a local historian, William J. Hall, formerly of Clemmons and presently (1975) of Zephar Hill, Florida. Hall was the son of Clemmons Moravian Church's first pastor, the Rev. James James Hall and grew up in Clemmons. in 1935 Hall interviewed the two oldest residents of Clemmons, Eli Mullican and James Jarvis and secured much historical data on the area and the Johnsons.

In 1952 Hall wrote a letter to John C. Whitaker, who had just been appointed Chairman of the Park Commission. Whitaker had written to Hall requesting information on the historical background of Tanglewood land. The following data on the Johnson property was taken from a copy of the latter Hall sent to Whitaker.

William Johnson built a log fort on his land to protect his family during the Indian uprising of 1758 and 1759. This fort stood a few hundred years south to southwest of the present Tanglewood Manor House. The small stream below the Manor House was called Johnson's Creek for more than 100 years.

Hall related in the letter a one-time conversation years ago with the great great grandson of Johnson, Charles Griffith, in which Griffith told him a tree fell across the old fort runins about the time of the War Between the States, and that his father, Zadock Griffith salvaged a few huge logs from the structure and used these as a meat cutting table when he butchered hogs or beeves (beef).

This old Johnson fort has been recognized as historical fact and a marker in the park in front of the Manor House designates the site.

Hall wrote that the Johnson land became divided among the heirs of William Johnson until a grandson, James Johnson, began to buy back from the heirs of his older brothers and sisters as much of the original property as he could.

James built the central portion of the antebellum Manor House and gave this as a wedding gift to his daughter and only child, Emily and her husband Zadock Griffith. Since she was born in 1828 and her oldest son Charles was grown in 1865, she was probably married between 1846 and 1848 and this would be the approximate date the house was built.

When James Johnson died in 1866, he left almost the entire square mile of land to Emily and Zadock Griffith. Emily's four children later inherited the land from their mother's estate.

Her son Tom retained the homeplace and the northwest portion until he sold it to William Neal Reynolds in 1921.

On the highest point of the Johnson property is the old burial ground. Hall wrote that this burial ground had about 50 stones and about 50 unmarked graves. He noted that some of the graves had been left outside the cemetery fence which was later built by Reynolds.

It was in this cemetery in 1935 that William Johnson's tombstone of native soapstone was found lying face down.

Family researchers and authorities claim this is the oldest known relic made by civilized man yet to be found in southwest Forsyth County.

Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church, located in the cemetery of Tanglewood Park, is on original Johnson property, but was not built until 1809.

The descendants of William Johnson meet every August in the park and the summer of 1974 marked their 21st annual family reunion.

Evan Ellis

The second recorded resident of the area was Evan Ellis, also from Wales. He recorded his land deed for 651 acres on January 19, 1758 in Salisbury. His property was just east of, and adjoining the Johnson land. Tradition has it that the two men came from the same area of Wales and probably came to the area at the same time, but Ellis did not register his deed until a year after Johnson.

Ellis kept his land until just before the Revolutionary War and then sold it to a man named Eccles. Then the Ellis family moved near Mocksville and bought land there.

Ellis's will, written in 1796 and recorded at Salisbury, lists his children as John, Evan Jr., William, Issac and Elizabeth.

In the historic Joppa Graveyard at Mocksville, the gravestones for Evan and his wife Sarah can be found, not too far from that of Squire Boone, the father of Daniel Boone. Evan's stone reads 1726-1795.

Several of Ellis's grandsons left Rowan County in the 1830's for the territory which became Indiana. Member of this Ellis family are presently living in that state.

John Douthit and Christopher Elrod

In 1761 John Douthit became the third registered landowner in the area when he registered 880 acres of land located between Muddy Creek and the Ellis property. The center portion of Clemmons village stands on the western end of the original Douthit tract.

A portion of Douthit's land lay on the Moravian-owned tract (bought in 1753) and he bought this from the Moravians. This would indicate that the Douthits were "land squatters" until they bought the land three years after they came to the area.

The old Moravian diaries, edited by Dr. Adelaide Fries, give interesting information on Douthit. They record that John and Mary Douthit arrived in the area from Monocacy, Maryland in 1750.

Perhaps the delay in registering their land deed until 1761 was understandable with the condition existing during this period of history. Indian uprisings, no actual roads and a distance of approximately 50 miles through hostile and unknown territory would be sufficient reasons for a family man to hesitate to make such a treacherous journey to Salisbury to record his land.

Douthit was born in 1709 in Colerain, Ireland and when he was 15 years old he came to American with is parents and they lived in Monocacy, Maryland. He was a weaver by trade and worked in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. In 1738 he married Mary Scott, also of Monocacy

. Although a Presbyterian by faith, Douthit evidently got along well with his Moravian neighbors, and he and his wife often attended the English services in Bethabara. They invited the Moravian Brethren to hold English-speaking services in their home, the first such service being held on April 4, 1763.

Beginning in 1775, Douthit and a neighbor Christopher Elrod Sr., began organizing Hope Moravian Church, which was completed in 1780. These two families joined this congregation.

Moravian records on Christopher Elrod state he was born in 1726 in Pennsylvania but later moved to Monocacy, Maryland where he married Aaltje Soell. They moved to Rowan County along the Yadkin River in 1751. They first joined Friedberg Moravian Church in 1753 and later joined Hope.

Diaries of the Brethren tell that the Douthit and Elrod families sought protection in the fort as Bethabara during the Indian Wars. Evidently the Johnson fort was not yet in existence, because if it had been it would have been closer for these people to seek refuge there instead of going to Bethabara.

The old Hope Moravian Church was located at the end of the present-day Faw Road behind the present site of the Old Curiosity Shop on Highway 158, just east of Muddy Creek. The remains of the old cemetery still exist although the old soapstone markers' inscriptions are unreadable.

It was in this cemetery that the Douthits were buried, John in 1784 and Mary in 1794. They were the parents of 12 children, some of whom married into our area pioneering families such as Riddle, Howard, Markland, Jones and Elrod. Many of the Douthits descendants still live in the Clemmons and Davie County areas.

Christopher Elrod, Sr. died in 1785 and was also buried in Hope cemetery. Three of his four sons (Christopher Jr., Robert and John) migrated to Indiana and today many descendants of these three men live in that state. The fourth son Adam and several daughters remained in Clemmons. The daughters married early settlers names Thomas Butner, Joseph W. Boner, George and Roger McKnight.

George McKnight

George McKnight, an industrious Scot-Irish emigrant, became the next recorded resident in this section when he purchased 611 acres of land and registered it August 27, 1762.

Although visited by the Moravian Brethren from Salem, McKnight and his son Alexander were instrumental in establishing Methodism in Clemmons. His home was available as a preaching place for any demonination that requested it to hold religious services. Evidently the most requests came from the Methodists and by 1790 Clemmons was the enter of Methodism in western North Carolina. Methodist Church history documents this McKnight's congregation as having been organized in 1780. The first annual Methodist Conference was held in Clemmons in 1789 at McKnight's Meeting House.

This Meeting House was located just west of the village on Clemmons on the knoll to the right of the roadside park at the intersection of Lasater Lake Road and Highway 158.

Methodists from as far away as Kentucky travelled by horseback and on foot to attend this historic conference and later ones which were also held at McKnight's.

An old camp meeting ground was here on McKnight's property in the Moravian records, the Brethren wrote about these camp meetings and appeared concerned that the Moravian young people were much attracted to these gatherings.

Since all the neighboring people probably came for miles around to camp and attend these meetings, evidently these meetings were among the main social activities of that time in the history of Clemmons.

Other Area Settlers

In 1781 Lewis Mullican led a band of settlers from Frederick, Maryland into Rowan County. They arrived in Salem on October 23 and were given shelter for a few days in the homes of the Moravians there.

These travellers were seeking land in the Granville tract and they wee directed by the Brethren to available land located south of Wachovia along Muddy Creek.

James Jarvis chose as his homesite the area where the Southern Railroad tracts cross Muddy Creek. The Peak family stopped about one-half mile from the creek and built their cabin on land along what is now Cooper Road.

The rest of the new comers, Zedoc Jarvis, the Shellhorners (Shellhorns) and the Mullicans all settled along Muddy Creek within a mile of each other. In 1788 Stephen Ellis of Mecklenberg County, Virginia received a land grant of about 400 acres along Muddy Creek just south of Clemmons.

Until 1800, the area remained sparsely populated. Then in that year, a man named Peter Clemmons arrived on the scene. From that year, the course of history in the area took an upward swing towards development. Peter Clemmons, who was to become the namesake of Clemmons village, and his descendants will be the subject of the next article in the series.

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