Sunday, July 25, 2021

 Lea Ancestry

Many people in Caswell County, North Carolina, and surrounding areas have Lea ancestors. And, in "The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina," Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) (hereinafter "Caswell Heritage Book") are ten articles directly relating to the Lea family, with many references to Lea in other articles.

I want to caution you about relying upon these articles without doing further research. While this obviously can be said for all articles written by laymen in publications such as a county heritage book, it is especially critical for the Lea family.

The following factors are the basis for this warning:

1. The Lea family came to North Carolina from Virginia (particularly King & Queen County). Many of the core records from that county were lost or destroyed.

2. The given names William, James, and John were used repeatedly and confusingly.

3. Much misinformation has been published about the Lea family, esepcially these books:

(a) "Amite County Missisippi 1699-1890," Albert E. Casey

(b) "Finding Your Forefathers in America," Archibald F. Bennett

(c) "How I'm Kin to Whom: The Leas," Martha Lea Grdner and Richard T. Gardner

(d) "Lea Family," Frances Powell Otken. 1952.

Note that several articles in the Caswell Heritage Book rely heavily upon Amite County Mississippi 1699-1890, Albert E. Casey, and even cite it as an "excellent authority."

An example of the mischief caused by Albert E. Casey is his unfounded assumption that all persons with the surname Leigh, Lee, and Lea are related -- that the names essentially are the same. This was a crucial error.

The proliferation of online Lea family "genealogies" has compounded the problem.

Good luck.

The above problems with respect to Lea ancestry were documented by Ben L. Rose in Report of Research on the Lea Family in Virginia & North Carolina Before 1800, Ben L. Rose (1984/1986).

An example of the mischief caused by Albert E. Casey is his unfounded assumption that all persons with the surname Leigh, Lee, and Lea are related -- that the names essentially are the same. This was a crucial error. Here are Ben Rose's observations:

"Until one understands clearly the radical nature of the assumption on which Casey operated in his research of Virginia records and in reporting his research and how far Casey departed in this matter from accepted practice by genealogists, one will not realize how misleading Casey's work can be. Casey is not saying that there were occasionally inadvertent misspellings of the name Lea and Leigh in early Virginia records; he would readily admit that. But Casey is saying that when he finds on a Quit Rent Roll the name of "Leigh", he is permitted to use it as "Lea" in constructing a genealogy of the Lea family. Any beginner in genealogical work knows that one cannot do such things, but that is exactly what Casey does again and again. He felt that he was at liberty to take any reference to "Leigh" in Virginia records before 1800 and use it as "Lea" in constructing his genealogy of the Lea family.

. . . .

Before we can accept Casey's assumption that in early records of Virginia the names of Lea and Leigh were used interchangeably by clerks and even by members of the same family, we shall have to have some clear evidence to support it, and to date I have found none.

We conclude therefore that much of Albert E. Casey's data on the Lea and Leigh families in Virginia is untrustworthy and should not be used without checking each item in a primary or at least a secondary source."

In her omnibus work on the Graves family published in 1977, Louise Graves made so many serious errors with respected to the related Lea family that she felt compelled to publish at her own expense an addendum in 1981. She contacted Dr. Casey, who admitted that some of his conclusions were incorrect. Her book is Graves: Twelve Generations, Some Descendants and Kin, Louise Graves (1977). However, her own conclusions in 1981 remain at odds with those drawn by Ben L. Rose in 1984, especially with respect to whether the brother of William Lea (of South Hico) was James (Country Line) Lea or James Lea (of Kilgores Branch).

I realize that all this can be very confusing. However, the purpose of this message is not to unravel the ancestry of the Lea family of Virginia and North Carolina. It is to alert those researching the Lea family to the problems they will face.

Of course I am revisiting all the Lea entries in the Caswell County Family Tree database to make them as reliable as possible and to note troublesome areas. And, I am drafting a Caswell County Lea Family article to be posted to the Caswell County Historical Association Website that will set forth all my findings (including the most glaring errors in the Caswell Heritage Book.

I also want to warn those who are attempting to gain admission to herditary societies (such as the Jamestowne Society) on the basis of a connection between a known Lea ancestor and one William Leigh who is listed as a Jamestowne Society qualifying ancestor. You will find in print and online connections made between various Lea families and this William Leigh. However, I have seen no compelling primary proof. It appears that those wanting to make this connection (to gain admission to organizations such as the Jamestowne Society) have proliferated this misinformation based upon wishful thinking. Proceed with caution.

If you have information that could help Lea family researchers please share it here.

I believe this issue is sufficiently important to be posted to other message boards; so you might receive this message more than once, depending upon the message boards to which you subscribe.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

The Great Dinner in Caswell County, NC: 1839

 The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina),  2 October 1839, Wednesday, Page 2

The Great Dinner in Caswell [From the Milton Spectator.] [Editor's Note: This apparently was a Democratic Party political meeting.]

"Agreeably to arrangements previously made, a very large assemblage (estimated at seven hundred) of the people of Caswell, including a few from all the adjoining counties, met on Thursday last at the house of Mr. Zeri Gwyn,* a gentleman noted for his hospitality and kindness, in the vicinity of Yanceyville, and partook of a sumptuous and splendid dinner, prepared for the occasion, and served up in a style that drew applause from every one; the company separated about sundown, highly delighted with their  entertainment, nothing having occurred to mar the good feeling and social intercourse with each other.

"The front gate of the beautiful and spacious lawn, shaded by lofty and spreading forest trees, was thrown open about nine o'clock A.M. when the company began to assemble. At about one o'clock P.M. dinner was announced, and the invited guests and strangers in attendance were politely conducted to the centre wing of the table by Major James Kerr, and Dr. James E. Williamson, Marshals of the day; and although 250 plates were provided, not one-half of the company could be accommodated with a seat at the first table, but waited patiently and without murmuring, until they could be accommodated.

"Upon the removal of the cloth, the table was bountifully supplied with choice wines and good liquors. General Barzillai Graves was requested to preside, and took his seat at the middle of the main table, fronting the centre wing, at which were again seated the invited guests and strangers. Dabney Rainy, Esq., General Thomas W. Graves, Major Wm. D. Bethell, Major Wm. A. Lea, and Dr. John B. McMullen, having been appointed, resumed their proper seats and officiated as Vice Presidents, when the following sentiments were given in regular order, and responded to by the immense crowd with an unusual degree of cheerfulness, making the air ring with loud huzzas."


*Zera/Zeri Gwyn (1778-1840)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Life Magazine 1941 Yanceyville Article Correspondence


Dear Sandy:

Thank you so much for researching our request and getting back to me. However, the Caswell County Historical Association is a non-profit organization operating in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina. $500 to them might as well be $1 million.

Although the CCHA is over fifty years old, it did not have a website until this summer when I (from Florida) built one for them.

Is there any way Life Magazine could see fit to waive the fee? We would give full attribution and be very grateful.

We also could place a link to any site that you wish in an effort to generate more business for you.

That link would go at:

Otherwise, we will just quote a short part of the article under the fair-use rule, still of course citing the source and giving full attribution.

Thanks and best personal regards.


Richmond Stanfield Frederick, Jr.

PS I have not been successful in finding anyone who claims any copyright in the Walter Sanders photographs.

PPS I now have two copies of the December 8, 1941 issue, with one in mint condition. It was a very collectible issue because of the date and the fact that Douglass MacArthur was on the cover. The issue obviously went to press before the events of December 7, 1941.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Hyco Lake Power Plant Area History

"Colonial Commerce Once Thrived Through Area Where Power Plant And Its Lake Will Be Built"

The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 13 April 1963

Roxboro, N.C. -- A region in Person and Caswell counties, favored by commerce in this nation's early history, is again emerging as one of prominence.

Hyco River, which wends its way through the two counties to the Dan, is the scene of one of the locale's biggest economic moments, construction by Carolina Power & Light Company of a huge steam-electric generating plant and 3,750-acre cooling lake. The project eventually will cost some $325,000,000 and add 3,800,000 horsepower to the state's power supply.

The proposed plant will be situated northwest of the little community of Ceffo in Person County, an area referred to in the early days as the "Big Woods." The dam will be to the northeast, near historic McGhee's Mill where waters of the Hyco ground corn and wheat long before the Civil War.

Water will rise behind the earth-filled dam to form a lake 10 miles long. It will be used to cool condensers at the coal-fired plant, the first unit of which will go into service in 1966.

In Colonial days, McGee's Mill (formerly spelled McGehee's) was a way station on a stage line that angled northeast to Virginia and westward through Semora to Hillsboro and beyond.

The remains of the old McGehee home, built about 1765, stand overlooking this route. Across the road, in a tangle of briars, is the family graveyard, resting place for pioneer Mumford McGehee, his wife Sarah, their daughter, Elizabeth and her husband, Revolutionary War Captain Robert Moore.

A few miles west of the McGehee homestead, at Semora, stands perhaps the only log post office in North Carolina. Mrs. Caroline McAden Winstead has been postmaster since 1942.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Thomas Brothers Oil and Gas, Inc.

Thomas Brothers Oil and Gas, Inc.

Thomas Brothers Oil and Propane 100 Year Celebration is set for Saturday, June 19, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at it’s location at the intersection of Main Street, Yanceyville and Rt. 158. The Open House will feature free BBQ and a raffle. All are invited.

History of Thomas Brothers Oil and Gas, Inc.


Walter Lea Thomas, Jr. (1900-1966) started the business in 1921 in the Town of Milton. A small general store was provided by his father and his brother Edmund Dixon Thomas (1902-1973) was given several farms in Caswell County.

His business was incorporated as Caswell Oil and Gas Company with his father, Walter Lea Thomas, Sr. (1895-1929) as a stockholder.

His first petroleum supplier was Esso, and he got his fuel by train delivered to two 8,000-gallon tanks on a rail siding near the Milton train depot (close to the Dan River).

The Esso deal was short-lived, and he moved to Texaco as a supplier. The two fuels he sold were kerosene and gasoline.

Kerosene was the best-selling product as sawmills were his largest customers, and they used kerosene to run their tractors and stationary engines. Gasoline was used to start these engines and as they warmed up, the kerosene tank was turned on for normal operation. Gasoline sales increased as more automobiles and trucks came with improved roads.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Short Sugar's BBQ Restaurant (Reidsville, NC)

Short Sugar's BBQ Restaurant
Reidsville, NC

Their first location was a few yards north of where they've been for most of their existence. The first place was a former service station on S. Scales Street at Northup Street. I remember going there soon after they opened in 1949 with my parents and eating inside the car. It had limited parking for curb service, so it wasn't long before they built their present facility with a faux chimney at the south corner of the building with an addition later on which put the chimney more in the middle of the present building. The real chimney is on the northside of the building. That "chimney" used to house a phone booth.

No visit to Reidsville is complete without a meal at Short Sugar's. I have yet to taste barbecue in Florida that comes close to Short Sugar's and have often thought if they opened a place in Jacksonville that they would do well.

Source: Thomas Gunn Facebook Post 25 June 2021


Along with his brothers Clyde Overby and Eldridge Overby, John (Johnny) Overby founded Short Sugar's BBQ Restaurant in Reidsville, North Carolina.

Legend has it that Eldridge Overby, who was on the short side, got his nickname in the late 1940s when his girlfriend, hearing her favorite song playing on a jukebox shouted, "I want to dance with my short sugar." From that day on, Eldridge Overby was known as "Short Sugar."

He and his brothers, Johnny and Clyde, went on to build Overby Brothers Drive-In. But just two days before the opening, Eldridge was killed in a car wreck. Johnny and Clyde decided to name the place after their departed brother, and Short Sugar's Drive-In was born.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Semora Mystery Graves: "Roots" Connection?

"Three Open Graves Remain Mystery"
The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia), 31 March 1982

Danville (AP) -- On a cool winter night, two coon hunters and their dogs topped a hill in the woods at Semora, N.C., a few miles south of Danville, and stumbled onto three open graves. A fine mist was falling.

Although he has hunted those woods for five or six years, Charles Lawson of rural Providence, N.C., had never run across the old graveyard before that eerie night. [Click image to see a larger version.]

Flat stones with no inscriptions, no names, no dates, mark about a dozen graves on the wooded hill.

Three of the graves had been exhumed to a depth of four or five feet. The open graves were nearly six feet long and two feet wide.

Two nights later, the moon was shining when Lawson showed the open pits to Det. Keith McKinney of the Caswell County, N.C., Sheriff's Department.

"It was an eerie feeling," McKinney said.

The defective took photographs but had been unable to find any record of the graves or any information that might explain their exhumation.

Who was buried there?

Why were they disinterred?

What did these unknown culprits find that would cause them to dig for so long and so deep?