This essay documents the identity and experiences of Ephraim Witcher and his wife Elizabeth (Betsey) Fips.
Ephraim Witcher was born no later than 1752. This date is arrived at through analysis of a nearly complete collection of early Pittsylvania County, Virginia tax records, as well as subsequent tax records from Surry County, North Carolina. Ephraim died in Surry County, shortly after he wrote his will, which was dated November 18, 1819.
Contrary to common belief, Ephraim Witcher, who married Betsey Fips, was not the son of William Witcher, Sr., of Pittsylvania County. For convenience, I have summarized data points concerning this position at the bottom of this essay. I think it’s quite possible William Witcher, Sr., was Ephraim’s first cousin, another point which this essay will develop, using colonial records.
I suspect Ephraim Witcher was a son of James Witcher, of Bedford County, Virginia (click here for details), and as a young man emigrated from Bedford County into Pittsylvania County around 1772 or early 1773. Furthermore, my research leads me to suspect Ephraim’s brothers were at least Daniel, James, and John Witcher, these three men also appearing in the very first Pittsylvania County records.
The wife of Ephraim Witcher was Elizabeth (Betsey) Fips. She was definitely a daughter of John Fips. It is certain that by November of 1778, Betsey Fips had married Ephraim Witcher, because a court record for November Court, 1778, indicates Ephraim Witcher was “intermarried with Betsey Fips,” The November, 1778, court record indicates she went by the name Betsey, but a subsequent January, 1779, court record indicates she also was called her formal name, Elizabeth. In this essay, I will refer to her as Betsey (Fips) Witcher. By using the Pittsylvania County deed of gift record and the Surry County census records, it can be estimated Betsey Fips was born around 1762. Images of the Pittsylvania County deed of gift records are at the bottom of this essay.
Betsey (Fips) Witcher died in Surry County, North Carolina, presumably in the year 1847. I’m basing that date off the Surry County estate records of Ephraim Witcher, in which a final liquidation of Ephraim Witcher’s estate was finally allowed by the court, almost twenty-eight years after Ephraim’s death.
Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher had at least thirteen children, but I suspect that number could have been as high as fourteen. Those children included four girls and ten boys. Many of those boys would become notable pioneers in Georgia, with the three of girls marrying into prominent pioneer families.
The earliest record I have located for Ephraim Witcher is a Pittsylvania County, Virginia tithable record, dated 1773. For that county, tax records for years 1767 and 1770 exist, in which years William, John, Daniel, and James Witcher are listed, but not Ephraim Witcher. During 1767 and 1770, if Ephraim Witcher was at least sixteen year old, he would have been listed in one of that county’s households.
I suspect Ephraim moved to Pittsylvania County around 1773 from his father’s household in Bedford County, Virginia, his father perhaps being a certain James Witcher, whom records indicate lived in that county in the mid-1700s. Click here to read more about the Witchers of Bedford County, Virginia.
As will be shown, the Ephraim Witcher found in the 1773 Pittsylvania County tax record was not the son William Witcher, Sr. It’s my opinion this Ephraim was not William Witcher’s brother. I suspect the two men were first cousins, with William Witcher being the son of a certain John Witcher, who also resided in Bedford County in the 1750-60s. Click here for more details about John Witcher, the supposed father of William Witcher. Click here to read more about Major William Witcher.
Evidence seems to indicate that James, Daniel, John and Ephraim Witcher were brothers. However, this opinion is conjectural, only based on a few circumstantial clues I have located.
On December 22, 1769, William Witcher was appointed to serve Pittsylvania County as a justice of the peace. This is the same William Witcher who would later fight in the Revolution as both a captain and a major in the Pittsylvania County militia. In the Virginian colonial court system, more that one justice served the needs of the people within a particular county. In Pittsylvania County, at least six justices were available at any given time to adjudicate county cases.
On several occasions James and Daniel Witcher appeared before Justice of the Peace William Witcher, and he adjudicated the lawsuits they were involved in.
For example, on September 23, 1771, Justice William Witcher signed off on a civil settlement between plaintiff John Carter and defendants Govin Dudley and James Witcher. Justice Witcher awarded a judgment.
In a separate case heard on April 3, 1776, Justice William Witcher adjudicated a case involving Daniel Witcher and George Phillip. In that case, Justice Witcher ruled in favor of the plaintiff, William Henson, thus resulting in George Phillip paying Henson “twenty pounds of current Virginia money.” I seriously doubt that the plaintiff—William Henson—would have tolerated a father-son judicial duo in that courtroom. Some would call that a “kangaroo court.”
Logically, one could assume that if Daniel and James Witcher were Judge William Witcher’s brothers, he would not have heard their cases. Most certainly he would’ve recused himself due to obvious conflicts of interest, allowing one of the other county justices to take the cases.
Another interesting fact is that two of Ephraim Witcher’s children (James and John) married two of William Witcher’s grandchildren (Tempy and Polly Witcher). These marriages would seem more logical, and socially acceptable, if they had married their second cousins.
Also, it should be pointed out that Ephraim, James, and Daniel Witcher migrated together (around 1782) to Montgomery County, Virginia, and John Witcher probably migrated with Ephraim for one year (1797) to Surry County, North Carolina.
However, by the late 1790s, James, Daniel, and John Witcher had settled down in Tennessee, while Ephraim was firmly established in North Carolina, where he developed a prosperous plantation on the banks of the Mitchell River. It’s of interest to note that the 1850, federal census of some Witcher households in Paulding County, Georgia indicate that Witcher children who were born in Tennessee were living with some of Ephraim and Betsey’s offspring. I believe these Tennessee-born children were orphans who were received into the homes of their Witcher aunts and uncles in Georgia.
From the years 1773 to 1781, Ephraim Witcher was continuously listed in the tax rolls for Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
In 1776, Ephraim was one of the Witchers who signed the “Ten Thousand Names” petition, which was circulated in Virginia as a result of the colonists desire to end England’s mandate that all people worship within the Church of England. This notable petition was another early form of colonial rebellion against King George.
When the Oath of Allegiance petition was circulated in 1777, Ephraim Witcher was one of those who signed it. A particular section of the petition was called “Witchers list,” because it was circulated by Captain William Witcher, who by that date was serving as a captain in the Pittsylvania County militia.
While I have not located any record which indicates Ephraim Witcher fought in the revolution, I would be shocked if he did not. For one thing, men who were able-bodied were required by law to rotate in and out of service within a county’s militia. As Ephraim was never granted an exemption from paying the tithe tax, I assume he was quite physically able to serve. Regrettably, in most cases, the only way to know who actually served in those county militias was notations within the records of individuals who would later receive pension payments for a soldier’s participation in that war. Still, because Ephraim Witcher signed the Oath of Allegiance and provided supplies to the war effort, he is recognized as a patriot by certain genealogical societies. For example, Ephraim’s, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) patriot number is A126991
By November 27, 1777, Ephraim Witcher had purchased his first tract of land in Pittsylvania County. The property was located on Reedys Creek; one of several tracts of land which Ephraim would eventually purchase on this creek. He purchased the property from David Polly, 302 acres for 15 pounds of, “current money of Virginia.” Interestingly, only a few years later (in 1781) half of that tract (160 acres) was sold to James Witcher for 10,000 pounds, only to be bought back by Ephraim in 1785 for 100 pounds. The outrageous price fluctuation was overt evidence of the hyperinflation plaguing the colonists during the days of the Revolutionary War.
In November of 1778, Ephraim was in Pittsylvania County court representing his newlywed wife in the matter of a certain slave, whom his wife contested was rightfully hers, but was in the possession of some unknown person.
The petition read: “On the motion of Ephraim Witcher who intermarried with Betsey Fips daughter of John Fips deceased to have a verbal gift of a negro proved accordingly to an act of assembly in that case made and provided, it appearing to the court that the heir at law of the said John Fips hath had legal notice of this motion and it also appearing to the court by the oath of Sylvanus Stokes that he saw the said John Fips in his lifetime take a negro girl by the name of Sall by the hand and put it in the hand of his said daughter Betsey then about six years of age, and called on him the said Sylvanus Stokes and sundry other persons to take notice that he gave the aforesaid negro to her forever, and for reasons appearing this motion is continued until the next court.”
A January, 1779, court entry reads: “The verbal gift of a Negro girl named Sall from John Fips deceased in his lifetime to his daughter Elisabeth Fips, was further proved by the oath of James Burton and ordered recorded.”
Betsey Fips was the daughter of John Fips, a man who died intestate in 1768, in Charlotte County, Virginia. Click here to read about Betsey Fips’ family and her father’s probated estate.
By combining the information found in the Pittsylvania County deed of gift hearing, the records of John Fips’ estate, and the 1840 federal census, we can arrive at a fairly accurate estimation of when Betsey (aka, Elizabeth) Fips was born and married.
The 1840 federal census for Surry County, North Carolina, identifies Elizabeth [Betsey] Witcher (who was certainly the “white female” listed in that households record) as a female, 70 to 79 years of age. Using this census record, one could determine Betsey was born no earlier than 1761. We also know that John Fips died in 1768, and the deed of gift court record indicates Betsey was around six years of age when she was given the slave by her father. So it appears the slave girl named Sall was given to Betsey in the year 1767 or 1768, perhaps just before her father died. Using these several clues, it’s reasonable to assume Betsey was born around 1762.
Since Betsey was married to Ephraim before the November, 1778, court hearing, we can then estimate that Betsey was around sixteen years of age when she married. I suspect she would have married Ephraim in 1778.
Colonial law specified minors must present to the court clerk parental or guardian consent before they marry. Since Betsey was under twenty-one years of age when she married Ephraim, one would expect to locate this letter of consent, which I have not. Early Pittsylvania County records are fairly complete, so either the guardian release has disappeared, or perhaps they were not married in Pittsylvania County.
I very much believe the contested slave in the 1778, Pittsylvania County court action was the same young, slave girl listed in the 1768 inventory of John Fips’ Charlotte County estate. I also suspect the slave was taken away from Betsey sometime after her father’s death. But once Betsey Fips married Ephraim, the influential Witcher family may have persuaded her to take legal action to recover what was felt to be rightfully hers.
Interestingly, the Pittsylvania County tax records for years 1779-1781 do not list a slave in the household of Ephraim Witcher. During the years 1782 to 1784, Ephraim Witcher had temporarily relocated to Montgomery County, Virginia. In that county’s 1782 tax records, Ephraim is taxed for one slave, no doubt the slave girl Sall. By 1785, Ephraim Witcher had relocated back to Pittsylvania County. That year’s Pittsylvania County tax record then resumes listing Ephraim Witcher, but this time as owner of a slave named “Sall.” It appears that by 1782 the slave had been recovered from whoever possessed her when the 1778 suit was filed.
While it may never be proven, I suspect Sall could have been known as Sally and was alive in November, 1842. In that year, Betsey (Fips) Witcher was being pressured though court orders to sell the estates numerous slaves. Ephraim had died many years earlier, and Betsey, “had become old and ill able to manage and control said slaves….” Though she was willing to sell her slaves, Betsey requested to keep five of them, one being a slave named Sally, whom I suspect may have been her life-long companion, Sall.
Other records indicate Ephraim Witcher lived on Reedys Creek, such as an estray record, dated May 18, 1780, which states Ephraim Witcher in Pittsylvania County, on Reedys Creek, had taken up, “one dark bay mane, about four feet six inches eight or nine years old….” William Witcher was the justice of peace who signed off on the estray record.
Other Ephraim Witcher real estate holdings
In 1780 more land was acquired by Ephraim Witcher on the branches of Reddys Creek. Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, approved the transfer of 400 acres of land for the price of “forty shillings sterling.”
No doubt in preparation for his move to neighboring Montgomery County, Virginia, in November of 1781, Ephraim Witcher, “of Pittsylvania County,” sold 160 acres of his land on Reddys Creek to James Witcher. Within a few months Ephraim would join John and Daniel Witcher in Montgomery County, and by mid-1782 all three individuals living on the banks of The New River. That year’s Montgomery County tax records indicate Ephraim Witcher was taxed for 400 acres of land. Also, the tax records for this year indicate Ephraim owned five horses and fourteen cattle. Of the three Witchers (Ephraim, Daniel, and John) living in Montgomery County in 1782, Ephraim appears to have been the wealthiest.
We know from a 1782 land patent received from the Commonwealth of Virginia, 230 acres of Ephraim’s Montgomery County land holdings were purchased for one pound, five shillings of sterling. The survey of that land was dated October 11, 1782, and the patent was registered September 16, 1784.
On August 14, 1783, “Ephraim Witcher of Montgomery County” sold to William Goad, 150 acres of land on Reddys Creek. This sale was witnessed by James and John Witcher.
On December 12, 1784, Ephraim sold his 230 acre tract in Montgomery County to William Spencer, Jr., for thirty pounds. This parcel of real estate on the New River is the same 230 acres Ephraim purchased from the Commonwealth of Virginia for one pound, five shillings of silver.
Ephraim Witcher moved back to Pittsylvania County in late 1784 or early 1785. This is evidenced by his reappearance in that year’s Pittsylvania County tax rolls, which then indicate his continual residency in the county until 1793.
Since in 1785 Ephraim Witcher had relocated his family back to Pittsylvania County, he repurchased his land on Reddys Creek from James Witcher. As mentioned earlier, in 1781 Ephraim sold this land to James Witcher for 10,000 pounds, then less than three years later, on September 15, 1785, Ephraim bought the land back for 100 pounds.
In 1790 Ephraim Witcher sold a piece of his Reddys Creek property to John Hammack. That sale was thirty acres for nine pounds of current Virginia money. Merlin, Milton, and William Young witnessed this sale. The Young family intermarried the family of Daniel Witcher, with both families (Daniel Witcher and the Youngs) migrating together to Tennessee by the late 1790s.
On April 15, 1791, sixty-eight acres of land was granted to Ephraim Witcher (assignee of David Ross) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This land was located “on the draughts of Reddys Creek.”
On April 13, 1793, Ephraim Witcher sells to Daniel Witcher, Jr., 260 acres of land on “Reddish Creek.” The details of this deed indicate this land was originally purchased by Ephraim from David Polley, and the land was “patented” in Ephraim’s name. From this information we see that “Reddish Creek” is a clerical error, with the creek’s accurate name being Reddys Creek.
It’s very important to note that this 1793 deed identifies Ephraim Witcher as “Ephraim Witcher, Sr.” As far as I know, this is the first instance of this title being applied to Ephraim Witcher (who was married to Betsey Fips), and of course this indicates that an Ephraim Witcher, Jr., was coming of age in the county. It was Ephraim Witcher, Jr., who was the son of William Witcher, Sr.
By 1793 preparations were being made by Ephraim Witcher, Sr., to move his household to North Carolina. This is evidenced by a deed dated May 15, 1793, in which “Ephraim Witcher, Sr.,” and his wife Elizabeth (Betsey), sell what appears to have been 500 acres to David Vance. The actual amount of land sold is blurred on the margin of the record and is therefore hard to read. However, it appears to have been a substantial amount of land, perhaps all of Ephraim’s land holdings in that county. Interestingly, we also know from this record’s dower release that Elizabeth (Fips) Witcher was apparently illiterate, as indicated by her having to mark the record with an X.
Another point relating to the 1793 sale to David Vance is the fact that Steven Potter is identified as a land owner, whose property then adjoined Ephraim’s. Steven Potter would eventually follow Ephraim Witcher’s household into North Carolina, and as a neighbor, would be a good friend of Ephraim’s and eventually serve as one of Ephraim’s estate executors. Many researchers believe that Steven Potter married a Phipps woman named Martha, who I believe was a very close relative of Ephraim Witcher’s wife.
Ephraim Witcher is found in Pittsylvania County tax records until 1793, at which time he disappears from those tax rolls.
One of Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher’s sons was James Witcher. A family Bible record (click here) indicates that James Witcher was born January 16, 1794. An 1850, Paulding County census record of James Witcher correlates his Bible record’s date of birth, but the 1850 census also indicates James Witcher was born in North Carolina. This therefore indicates that Ephraim and his wife Betsey had moved to North Carolina by January of 1794. I suspect they relocated to Surry County, North Carolina in the fall of 1793, shortly after the sale of their land on Reddys Creek.
On August 8, 1794, in Surry County, North Carolina, Ephraim Witcher purchased 95 acres of land from Benjamin Scott for 50 pounds. This land on the banks of the Mitchell River was the starting point of Ephraim’s new plantation. Ephraim and Betsey could not have known the region to which they had moved would one day be the story-line for the beloved Andy Griffith Show, which featured Mount Airy and the beautiful natural resources found in that location.
On February 19, 1795, Ephraim purchased land from Samuel Riggs. It was sixty acres on the Mitchell River, bought for 60 pounds.
About thirteen years later, Ephraim Witcher purchased more land on the Mitchell River from John Scott, who was then living in, “the county of Washington, and the state of Kentucky.” That purchase was for 50 pounds.
On June 13, 1810, Ephraim Witcher was granted 100 acres, land which then bordered Ephraim’s property. Steven Potter and Leonard Roy witnessed the transfer of that deed.
Ephraim’s Surry County plantation would eventually expand to 513 acres, and was generally located along the banks of the Mitchell River.
Surry County tax records
The first Surry County tax record in which I have located Ephraim Witcher is a document dated 1795. In this record, Ephraim is listed as owning 280 acres and is taxable for one poll.
I am not certain about the purpose or methodology of these early Surry County tax records. In some of the years, almost every household in that county listed only one white poll. However, when compared against federal census records for the same periods (1800-1820), it’s clear many of the county’s households contained more than one white male between the taxable age of sixteen and sixty years of age.
For example, in 1811, the Surry County tax list for Ephraim’s household indicates one white poll, but the 1810 federal census for that same household lists five white males of taxable age. If one only used the Surry County tax records for the year 1811, it would appear the Witcher household was small, when in fact the 1810 federal census indicates there were twenty-two people in that home, including slaves. Perhaps these particular county tax lists were meant to enumerate land within individual households, with only each head of household being counted, unless the head of the household was exempted.
In spite of the confusion, I chose to present the data within the Surry County tax records, as they do indicate how much land was owned by the Witchers. Also, the presence of a few of Ephraim’s sons is clearly seen, even though there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why and when the assessor chose to list them.
In 1796 Ephraim is listed as owning 285 acres, with one poll.
In 1797 Ephraim is listed as owning 285 acres, with two polls.
In 1798 Ephraim is listed as owning 280 acres, with three polls.
In 1799 Ephraim is listed as owning 200 acres, with three polls.
In 1800 Ephraim is listed as owning 200 acres, with four polls.
In 1801 Ephraim is listed as owning 200 acres with four polls.
In 1802 Ephraim is listed as owning 180 acres with six polls.
In 1804 Ephraim is listed as owning 185 acres with five polls (one white).
The year 1804 is when we first observe Ephraim’s son, John Witcher, listed in the Surry County tax records. John is listed as owning 100 acres, with one poll. This tax record indicates the list was taken in “Capt Witcher District.”
Based on pension records for widows of soldiers who served in the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, we know that John Witcher was a Captain in those conflicts under whom the soldiers served. I very strongly suspect this military district in Surry County was named after John Witcher, son of Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher. Also, beginning in 1806, the tax list for that year indicates John Witcher was a Gentleman and a justice of the peace for Surry County. Click here to see a copy of John’s signature on the 1806 tax record. John would have been around twenty-three years of age when he was commissioned as a county JP. Click here to read more about this unusual individual.
The 1804 Surry County tax list indicates a major reduction in the number of “white polls” in the household of Ephraim Witcher from previous years. I suspect the white and slave polls were being combined in the previous few years of tax records, those polls finally being separated in 1804. Thus for the first time in Ephraim’s household, four slaves are listed in 1804.
In 1806 Ephraim is listed as owning 185 acres, with one white and three slave polls. For this year John Witcher is listed as owning 100 acres, with one white poll. This is the first year we notice that John Witcher was signing tax records as a justice of the peace.
In 1807 Ephraim Witcher is listed as owning 185 acres, with one white and four slave polls. John Witcher, who again signs the tax list as “JP,” is listed as owning 100 acres, with one white poll.
The tax records for years 1808 through 1810 are missing
However, in 1811, Ephraim Witcher is listed as owning 430 acres, with four slave polls. John Witcher is listed as owning 200 acres, with one white poll.
Interestingly, from the year 1811 through 1819, Ephraim’s household was not listed for a white poll. It is a fact that elderly tax payers could and did obtain exemptions from paying poll tax. It is assumed these exemptions were granted around the age of sixty. If this were the case for Ephraim, this would indicate he was born around 1752.
The 1812 record indicates Ephraim Witcher owned 430 acres, and he was polled for four slaves. The enumerator for that year was Lewis Williams, and he made several notations on his list concerning discrepancies and questions about households in his district. One of those notations stated, “In Captain Witchers district it does not appear whether Ephraim Witcher Sen. should be marked with a poll or not, in the transcript it is put down as one poll.” When one examines the finalized 1812 tax document, the tally does not include a white poll in Ephraim Witcher, Sr.’s, household. This is the first year Ephraim is called “senior” in Surry Couny’s tax records.
The 1812 tax record indicates John Witcher still owned 200 acres and was responsible for one white poll. Also, on that document, John Witcher signed the bottom of the 1812 list as “John Witcher, JP.”
In the 1813 Surry County tax records, Ephraim Witcher, Sr., is listed as owning 188 acres. He is polled for five slaves.
Strangely, in 1813, for the first time, a certain Ephraim Witcher, Jr., appears in the tax records of Surry County. He is listed as owning 242 acres, with one white poll. By combining Ephraim Witcher, Sr.’s, 188 acres with Ephraim Witcher, Jr.’s, 242 acres, the sum equals 430 acres, which happens to be the total of Ephraim Witcher’s land holdings in the previous year of 1812. It appears Ephraim Witcher, Sr., had split his land with this younger Ephraim who, I will later point out, may well have been one of Ephraim and Betsey’s sons.
John Witcher is not found in the 1813 tax record, but in 1814 he is again listed as owning 200 acres, with one white poll.
In 1814 Ephraim Witcher, “Sr,” is again listed as owning 430 acres, and polled for five slaves.
Ephraim Witcher (junior or senior) is not found in the 1815, Surry County tax record, probably because that part of the record has been lost.
In 1815 John Witcher is again listed as owning 200 acres in Surry County. This record indicates that John had acquired a slave and was also responsible for one white poll.
The 1815 tax record lists James Witcher for the first time, and he was responsible for one poll. He was not listed as owning any land in Surry County. This James Witcher is almost certainly Ephraim’s son, who was born in 1794. After this one year appearance in Surry County’s tax records, James is not listed again. This is explained by the fact he had migrated to Georgia around 1815. Click here to read about this man’s life story.
In 1816 both Ephraim Witchers (junior and senior) are again listed as in 1813, except that Ephraim Witcher, Sr., is polled for four slaves. As before, John Witcher is listed as owning 200 acres, he being taxed for one white poll and one slave.
In 1818 Ephraim Witcher is the only Witcher listed in Surry County’s tax records. He had reverted to again owning all 430 acres. “Ephraim Witcher” is taxed for five slaves. John Witcher is not listed in this year’s tax record, as by this time he had migrated with his brother (James Witcher) to the Georgian frontier.
For the first time, the tax year of 1819 lists Ephraim’s son, Daniel Witcher, as responsible for one white poll. This record also indicates Ephraim Witcher had grown his land holdings to 513 acres and is listed as responsible for one white poll (who I assume to have been his son Taliaferro). He was taxed for five slaves. This is the last year Ephraim Witcher is counted in the tax records, as he died in 1819, leaving a sizable estate to his widow and children.
Ephraim Witcher’s will:
In the name of God Amen I Ephraim Witcher of the State of N Carolina and Surry County make ordain and constitute this my last will and testament 1 st I will that all debts due me be speedily collected and those I owe justly paid secondly to my beloved children Betsey Witcher Nancy Witcher and William Witcher I will that each of them have out of my Estate a good horse worth seventy five dollars and that Nancy and William have a good saddle and Bridle each. To my son Lacy Witcher I give the Land which lies south of Mitchell River known by Lacefields place supposed to be eighty three acres. And whereas my son Benjamin Witcher has a Negro boy in his hands that belongs to my Estate named Allen my will is that he keep him but he is to give six hundred dollars out of his part of my Estate when divided. The balance of my Estate both real and personal, I give to my beloved wife Betsey Witcher during her life or her Widowhood after her death or Marriage my will is that all my negros and there increase be placed in equal lots or parts according to the whole of my children and drawn for by them so as to make the division as equal as may be as to my land my will is that my Executors lay of in such lots or parts as they think best at the day of sale and give twelve months credit and the money equally divided among the whole of my children lastly I appoint my friends Stephen Potter and Lacy Witcher Executors to this my Last Will and Testament in Witness whereof I have set my hand and seal this 18 th day of November 1819.
After the death of Ephraim Witcher, this will was submitted to the Surry County court during the February session of 1820, by Benjamin Potter and Leonard Roy.
The estate of Ephraim Witcher was inventoried on the 3rd of March, 1820. This inventory lists a slave named “Sal,” who I presume to be the same individual given in 1767 to Betsey Fips by her father, with the ownership of Sall being then contested in the November, 1778, Pittsylvania County court hearing.
The personal property listed in the inventory of Ephraim’s estate was substantial. The estate consisted of much livestock, with thirteen slaves being identified. The land was not mentioned in this inventory. It’s interesting to note that one of the books inventoried in Ephraim’s household was “The Life of Fletcher,” which was a biography of a then famous Methodist evangelist. Ephraim also owned at least one hymn book and a family Bible. He seemed to be a man of faith. After Betsey Witcher died around 1847, the estate records then indicate the family Bible was sold to a man named John Riggs. How wonderful it would be if this family Bible has survived and could be located!
Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher’s children
Betsey (Fips) Witcher never remarried; therefore the estate’s property was not totally liquidated until after her death in 1847, almost twenty-eight years after her husband’s death. I estimate Betsey (Fips) Witcher was around 85 years old when she died. The records for Ephraim Witcher’s estate provide a treasure of information for family researchers. For more details, click here.
Using Ephraim Witcher’s estate papers, and census records, I was able to list the children of Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher, by name and estimated year of birth. However, once I established the order of birth for these children, it became apparent that Betsey birthed some of her children in her late thirties and early forties.
Initially I was very hesitant to accept that this woman gave birth to so many children, so late in her child-bearing years. In fact, I diligently worked to determine if perhaps Ephraim had married two women named Elizabeth. My extensive research into this possibility concluded this is almost certainly not the case.
For one thing, after carefully studying four decades of census records for Surry County, Ephraim’s household constantly counted a white woman whose age corresponded with the expected age of Betsey (Fips) Witcher. For example, in the 1840 census for Surry County, “Elizabeth Witcher” is listed as the head of that household, she almost certainly being the “free white female – 70 thru 79” years of age. This census indicates this female was born between 1761 and 1770. As previously noted, I calculate Betsey was born in 1762.
In the 1810s, 1830s and 1840s, at least three of Ephraim Witcher’s sons (Benjamin, William J, and Taliaferro) had official connections with different individuals within the Phipps family. Ephraim and Betsey’s son, Benjamin Witcher, is found in early Elbert County, Georgia records with Lewis Phipps. The baby of the family, William J Witcher, is known to have had a close relationship with a Phipps family unit who lived in Grayson County, Virginia. Also Taliaferro Witcher was very intimate with certain Phipps families who lived around him in Ashe County, North Carolina. I expect these different Phipps families were close relatives of Betsey (Fips) Witcher, and therefore Betsey’s children were in relationship with their Phipps, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Probably the most convincing evidence that Betsey (Fips) Witcher is mother of all of Ephraim’s children is an 1842, estate record. In the November term of 1842, the children of Ephraim Witcher petitioned the courts, stating, “Complaining respectfully….your above named petitioners….That your petitioner Elizabeth Witcher hath become old and ill able to manage and control said slaves….” This petition did result in the division of twenty-one slaves in April of 1843.
The term “old and ill able” is completely compatible with the 1840, Surry County census, which indicates a white woman, aged between 70 and 79, lived in the household. This old woman was no doubt Elizabeth [Betsey] Witcher, who was listed as the head of that household in 1840, as her husband was dead.
Betsey must have been some woman. To have had as many children as she did, several late in her child-bearing years, is quite a remarkable feat! Plus she remained unmarried for almost thirty years after her husband’s death and ran the plantation in such a way that it prospered and increased greatly in assets, but no doubt with the help of her many children and slaves. I expect Betsey (Fips) Witcher took after her mother Tabitha Fips, who records indicate also possessed great spunk in her later years, after the death of her husband, John Fips. Click here to read more about Betsey’s mother, Tabitha Fips.
William J Witcher was apparently the baby of the family. He was around eleven years old when his father died. He was born around 1808. His mother is estimated to have been around 44 to 45 years of age when she gave birth to William. Apparently, this son is the only child to stay in North Carolina, to help care for his mother. An estate document dated “Nov Term 1842” stated that all of Ephraim’s children were then “absent from the state.”
Nancy Ann Witcher was around twelve years old when her father died. Census records indicate she was born around 1807. I have wondered if William J and Nancy were twins. As far as I can tell, Nancy Witcher never married, and for a time lived with her sister and brother-in-law, who was Daniel Cochran Roberts. The 1850 census for Paulding County, Georgia indicates Nancy was raising four children, who the census record indicates were born in “Tennessee.” I suspect these children were the orphans of Lacy and Peggy Witcher, both of whom I presume to have died in Tennessee.
Elizabeth Witcher was around fourteen year old when Ephraim died. She was born around 1805. Elizabeth (no doubt named after her mother) was also known as Betsey in the 1819 will of Ephraim Witcher. She married Daniel Cockran Roberts, they both becoming prominent, founding members of Cedartown, Georgia. She and her younger sister, Nancy Witcher, were founding members of the First United Methodist Church in Cedartown, which was organized in 1850. According to records, the original church building was an old log cabin, which stood near the corner of what is now College Street and Wissahickon Avenue, where now stands the First Baptist Church.
Lacy Witcher was around nineteen years of age when Ephraim died. He was born in 1800, and his mother was around thirty-eight years of age. From his father’s estate, Lacy initially received 83 acres, at that time known as “Lacefields Place.” Later in his life, Lacy fell on hard times. He resorted to burning down a Tennessee state official’s barn, over a tiff regarding his estranged wife. That crime cost Lacy three years in the Tennessee state penitentiary. To read more about the life of Lacy Witcher and his secret scandal, click here.
The above four children are assumed to have been living in Ephraim’s household when he died. Therefore, presumably because they were dependant children, William J and his three siblings received an advance on their inheritance. Benjamin Witcher was only mentioned in his father’s will because he then possessed one of the estate’s slaves, and as such, Ephraim’s will specified how he wanted that matter resolved. When Ephraim died, Benjamin was apparently living in Georgia.
Next I will list the remaining “whole” of Ephraim’s children.
At this point, I have no way of knowing when Tabitha Witcher was born. I do expect she was born in the 1780s and was named after her maternal grandmother, Tabitha Fips. The only records I know to prove the existence of Tabitha are the estate papers of Ephraim Witcher. In a November Term, 1842, court record, a petition to force Ephraim’s widow to relinquish control of the plantation’s slaves was submitted to the court by the heirs. A sub-group of those petitioners was identified as, “heirs of children of Tabitha Haney who intermarried with Diskin Haney.” However, subsequent records (such as the April 26, 1843, division of slaves report) indicate that “Milton H Haynie” was the administrator of Tabitha Haynie’s estate. I presume by 1843, Diskin Haynie had also died, but children of Tabitha and Diskin were alive as of 1843.
While as of this writing I have not resolved who Tabitha (Witcher) Haynie’s children were, I do know she was married to Diskin Haynie, and she died sometime before 1842. Early Elbert County, Georgia records (around 1800) indicate the Haynie family was quite prominent in that county, and Diskin Haynie is repeatedly found in those early records, along with Ambrose Witcher, Benjamin Witcher (Tabitha’s brother), and Lewis Phips. It should be noted that on December 14, 1841, Milton H Haynie purchased from Benjamin Witcher of “Morgan County, Georgia,” all rights and interest in his father’s estate. This record is found in Surry County records, deed book 3, page 48.
Taliaferro Witcher was around twenty years of age when Ephraim died. He was born around 1799. Taliaferro, and his older siblings, were not named in Ephraim’s will. I suspect that by 1819 Taliaferro had left the Witcher plantation, perhaps having relocated to the Ashe County, North Carolina area. Early records indicate that Taliaferro settled on the banks the New River, and according to census records, in Ashe County he once resided as a neighbor to several Phipps families, whom I believe to be close family members of his mother, Betsey (Fips) Witcher. Taliaferro became a captain in the local militia, was a lawyer, and a North Carolina state legislator. Taliaferro Witcher apparently amassed wealth, for example, owning twenty-two slaves, according to an 1860 federal slave census. For more information about Taliaferro Witcher, click here.
Daniel H Witcher was around twenty-three years of age when his father died. Daniel was born around 1796. I do not know if Daniel ever married, however, I suspect he did not. Daniel resided in Paulding County, Georgia by 1840. The 1850 census for that county indicates Daniel Witcher was living on Asa Prior’s property, who was his brother-in-law, Asa having married Daniel’s sister, Sarah Witcher. Daniel Witcher was appointed postmaster of Paulding County and served in that capacity from 1844 though at least 1850.
James Witcher (my 3X great-grandfather) was twenty-five when his father died. His mother was around thirty-two years old when he was born on January 6, 1794, in Surry County, North Carolina. For more information about James and his wife Tempy Witcher, click here.
Benjamin Witcher was thirty-one years of age when his father died. He was born in 1788. Early in his life, Benjamin moved to Elbert County, Georgia, where in 1807 he married Francis S McElroy. A federal mortality schedule indicates Benjamin was a school teacher. For more information about Benjamin Witcher, click here.
Sarah Witcher was perhaps William J Witcher’s oldest sister. She was thirty-three years of age when her father died, she having been born October 1, 1786. She married Asa Prior, and the two of them, in the early 1830s, were charter members of the First Baptist Church of Cedartown, Georgia. Asa and Sarah Prior were the original owners of the beautiful land now known as Big Spring Park. That natural spring supplies water for the town of Cedartown and was a gathering place for the Cherokee Indians in 1838, which were then eventually joined with other Native Americans to be marched west to Oklahoma on what became known as the Trail of Tears. Click here to read more about Asa and Sarah (Witcher) Prior.
Captain John Witcher was around thirty-eight years of age when his father died. He was born September 19, 1781. John was a very interesting man. By 1804 (at 23 years of age) John was captain of the militia in Surry County, North Carolina, and by 1807 was a justice of the peace. This man migrated with his younger brother, James Witcher, to northern Georgia around the year 1815. To read more about Captain John Witcher and his exploits in Cedartown, Georgia, click here and here.
Last are three obscure sons of Ephraim and Betsy (Fips) Witcher. Their existence is largely based on circumstantial evidence, but the evidence is strong enough for me to list them as sons of Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher. Their names were Winston, Ambrose, and Ephraim Witcher, Jr.
Winston Witcher was perhaps forty-three years of age when his father died. He appears to have been born around 1778 and could have been the first child of the newly married Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher. I base his existence on several estate documents, in which one 1843 record indicates Winston received “lot 5” of the division of slaves and an 1847 record in which William J Witcher is identified as Winston Witcher’s guardian. The 1847 guardianship record seems to establish Winston Witcher as the 75 year old, “insane” male listed in the 1850, Surry County census, which was then living in William J Witcher’s household.
Ephraim Witcher, Jr.’s, age is unknown. However, from 1813 to 1816, the whole of Ephraim Witcher, Sr.’s, previous listing of Surry County land holdings was perfectly split between an Ephraim Sr. and Ephraim Jr. Then, by 1818, both listings of land were once again placed under one “Ephraim Witcher.”
By examining previous years of Surry County tax records, I am able to deduce that Ephraim Witcher, Jr. may have been born around 1792, though this date of birth is not clear at all. He could have been born earlier, though I doubt it.
I suspect Ephraim Witcher, Jr., is the “Ephraim Witcher” who was listed as a soldier in the War of 1812 and who served in the Wilkes County, North Carolina, ninth brigade. Wilkes County was formed from Surry County. The location of this Ephraim Witcher’s enlistment compels me to believe the Ephraim Witcher who fought in that brigade was either Ephraim Witcher, Sr., or Jr., both of whom were listed in the contemporaneous tax records of Surry County, North Carolina. I also recognize many of the names in the Wilkes County, ninth brigade’s roster, such as Potter, Snow, and Oglesby, those individuals being neighbors of Ephraim Witcher. But due to the age of Ephraim Witcher, Sr., (in 1812 he would have been around 60 years of age), I hesitate to believe that Ephraim Witcher, Sr., was the individual listed in the military rolls of the Wilkes County militia. I strongly suspect the Ephraim Witcher of the Wilkes County, Rifleman Brigade was an obscure son of Ephraim and Betsey (Fips) Witcher, who I also think may well have died as a result of that conflict, as after 1816, I have not found this man in any North Carolina record, whatsoever.
Ambrose Witcher is found in a court document dated “Nov Term 1842.” This record indicates the legatees of Ephraim’s estate were petitioning the courts to allow Ephraim’s widow to divide most of the estate’s slaves because, “Elizabeth Witcher hath become old and ill able to manage and control said slaves….” This document states the petitioners, “are the tenants in common in said slaves entitled to partitions agreeable to the provisions and bequests of said testators will, that there was another child, Ambrose Witcher, who died a single man without child.” This document assures us that Ephraim and Betsey had a son named Ambrose, who died childless. It appears Ambrose’s brother, John Witcher, named one of his sons Ambrose J (AJ) in honor of his dead brother.
I am certain Ephraim’s son Ambrose was living in Elbert County, Georgia, in 1805 and 1806, when records indicate Ambrose Witcher, Asa Prior, and Diskin Haynie bought items from several estate sales, including items from Hadden Prior’s estate. Diskin and Asa were both married to daughters of Ephraim and Betsey. Those daughters were Tabitha and Sarah Witcher. Also, Ephraim’s son Benjamin, who married Sarah McElroy, is found in Elbert County records with his brother Ambrose Witcher. In 1811, Benjamin Witcher bought land from Alexander Cunningham, and the transaction was witnessed by Ambrose Witcher. However, as the estate records noted, Ambrose Witcher had no living descendants as of 1842.
As we have seen, the records for Ephraim Witcher, Sr’s, life are very extensive.
Beginning with the 1772, Pittsylvania County, Virginia tithe record, and ending with the 1819, Surry County, North Carolina tax record, there is forty-seven years of nearly continuous tax data for one to examine. Careful scrutiny of these county tax records suggest Ephraim Witcher was born around 1752.
Because of the 1778, Pittsylvania County deed of gift record, we know for certain that Ephraim Witcher was married to Betsey Fips by November of 1778. We also know from that record that Betsey Fips was the daughter of John Fips.
Deed records reveal that by 1777, Ephraim Witcher was establishing his plantation on the banks of Reedys Creek in Pittsylvania County.
Deed and tax records also prove that in the years 1782-1784, Ephraim had briefly migrated to a neighboring county. There in Montgomery County, Virginia, he homesteaded on the banks of the New River with his apparent brothers, Daniel and James Witcher.
Deed and tax records reveal that by 1785, Ephraim Witcher had moved back to his property on Reedys Creek, which he then owned until early 1793, at which time he sold these land holdings.
Importantly, the deed of sale for the Reedys Creek property indicates that by 1793, Ephraim Witcher was called “Ephraim Witcher, Sr.” This Ephraim Witcher, Sr., was married to a woman named Elizabeth, as per the deed’s release of dower.
From 1794 Ephraim Witcher, Sr., disappears from Pittsylvania County tax records. However, in this year (in August of 1794), Surry County, North Carolina records indicate Ephraim had purchased the first of his properties on the Mitchell River.
As Ephraim Witcher was living in Surry County, that county’s 1795 tax records begin to list him as a resident, then owning 280 acres, with one white poll. Below this essay, I have provided an image of this important, 1795, original tax record.
Was Ephraim Witcher, of Surry County, Major William Witcher’s son?
As of this writing, many people continue to assume Ephraim Witcher, who left an estate in Surry County, North Carolina, and married Elizabeth “Phipps,” was the son of William Witcher, Sr., of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
There are good reasons for believing Ephraim Witcher, who married Betsey “Phipps,” was a son of William Witcher. For example, some old family letters say so, such as one written in 1906 by Civil War hero, Vincent Addison Witcher. In his letter to a family member, “V.A. Witcher” wrote that the Ephraim, who moved to “Surrey” County, North Carolina, was the son of William Witcher. Also for many years, the DAR genealogical society listed Ephraim Witcher, who married Betsey “Phipps,” as the son of Captain William Witcher. Therefore other early genealogical publications reprinted that notion in their publications.
However, both the DAR and SAR genealogical societies has since reversed their long held position that Ephraim Witcher of Surry County was the son of William Witcher, Sr. Both organizations now publish that William Witcher’s son, Ephraim, Jr., was married to Jensey Adams Rowden, not Betsey Phipps. In fact, one major purpose of this essay is to help alleviate the existing confusion over the identity of these two different Ephraim Witchers. With this in mind, I have listed some of the distinctions between these two individuals.
Firstly, as we have proven in a deed record, the Ephraim who moved to Surry County was by 1793 known as “Ephraim, Sr.” The Ephraim in William Witcher, Sr.’s, 1808 will (his son) was listed as Ephraim Witcher, Jr.
Also, in Pittsylvania County, beginning in the year 1796, Ephraim Witcher, Jr., begins to appear in that counties tax records. He was listed as a “white over 16 years old.” Based on the county’s fairly complete collection of annual tax records, one can therefore assume Ephraim Witcher, Jr., had come of age in 1796, giving him a date of birth around 1780. On the other hand, in this same year (1796), Ephraim Witcher, Sr., is listed as a resident of Surry County, those tax records indicating he owned 285 acres of land.
When William Witcher, Sr., died, he bequeathed six slaves to his son “Ephraim Witcher, jr.” That will was proved July, 1808. In 1807, the Ephraim Witcher listed in Pittsylvania County was taxed for three slaves. In 1809, this same Ephraim listed nine. The additional six slaves were the ones bequeathed to Ephraim by his father the previous year.
During the same period of time (1807-1811), Ephraim Witcher of Surry County listed a constant slave count of four. This further indicates he was not the Ephraim who received six slaves from William Witcher’s estate.
However, the most compelling evidence proving Ephraim Witcher of Surry County was not William Witcher’s son is found in a Pittsylvania County deed, dated December 4, 1812. This deed states, “Ephraim Witcher jun & Jency his wife of the county of Pittsylvania,” sells to John Smith a parcel of land on the north side of Pigg River…, “part of the tract of land willed to the said Ephraim Witcher jr by his deceased father William Witcher Senr….” This document is signed by the mark of, “Ephraim X Witcher, jr,” and his wife, “Jency X Witcher.”
This 1812, Pittsylvania County deed is quite significant in this discussion, because at the exact moment this sale occurred, Ephraim Witcher, Sr., and his wife Betsey (Fips) Witcher was farming on their Mitchell River plantation, far to the south in Surry County, North Carolina. In 1812 Ephraim Witcher, Sr., was taxed in “captain witcher district” for 430 acres and four slaves.
I’m sure the first Witchers who migrated out of Virginia had enormous respect for the venerable Major William Witcher. His unique and prominent efforts in colonial American politics and the Revolutionary War effort no doubt gave reason for those early pioneers to identify as one of his descendents. Therefore, once time had sufficiently eroded exact memories, stories and recollections became confused, and eventually William Witcher, Sr., was identified as practically every Witcher’s patriarch ancestor, when in fact he was not.
As I’ve shown in the body of this essay, my exhaustive research indicates Ephraim Witcher, of Surry County, North Carolina may well have descended from a certain James Witcher, of Bedford County, Virginia, though I’m far from certain of this. I’m more certain that William Witcher, Sr., was Ephraim Witcher, Sr.’s, first cousin. I do believe Daniel, John, and James Witcher (all of whom eventually settled in Tennessee) were Ephraim Witcher’s brothers. Migration patterns and family relationships between the Tennessee and Georgia Witchers seem to evidence this.
Though we may not yet know for certain who Ephraim Witcher of Surry County descended from, it’s without a doubt he lived a full life, having done his part in establishing our nation, while leaving behind a wonderful legacy in his offspring, from whom many of us descend.
Wayne Witcher, 4X great-grandson of Ephraim and Betsey scroll down to see images
Please feel free to contact me with comments or input. You may email me at
wwawitcher @ windstream. net,
facebook our site called witcher genealogy
A Witcher Family Genealogy