Recently, I came across a deed of gift, recorded in Polk County, Georgia, which again brought to light the tragedy of the Civil War.
In this faded 1862 court record, a certain James Witcher (who was the son of John WItcher Jr. of Pittsylvania County, VA) deeded his grandchildren and grieving daughter-in-law a certain slave named Angelica, for the purpose of helping that household, since the children’s father had just been killed in action fighting the Yankee army.
The dead father, Dr. Hezekiah Witcher, was a local physician who had enlisted in the Confederate army as an assistant surgeon, only to die a few months into his tour of duty. It is to this man, Dr. Hezekiah Witcher—his memory—and his family that I dedicate this research.
In the very early 1800s, many Witcher families began the southward migration to Georgia; from both Virginia and North Carolina they came.
This article will document the migration of Hezekiah’s father, a certain James Witcher, whose wife was Gilley Edwards. This particular James Witcher was born in Virginia around 1790 and was the son of John Witcher Jr., who was the son of Major William Witcher of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
Some confusion does exist about where this particular James Witcher originally settled in Georgia. This is due to the fact that a close relative of his, another James Witcher, had also migrated to Georgia around the same time.
This second James Witcher was the son of Ephraim Witcher, and he was born on January 6, 1794, in Surry County, North Carolina. This particular James was married to his cousin Tempy Witcher. Coincidentally, Tempy was the sister of James Witcher whose wife was Gilley Edwards.
In other words, these two James Witchers were brother-in-laws to each other.
In an 1819 Pittsylvania County deed record, John Witcher of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, employed his son James (who had since moved to Madison County, Georgia) as attorney in order to pursue and recover a slave “lent” to his daughter Tempy.
Here is a transcript of the actual power of attorney given by John Witcher to his son James Witcher: Deed book 22, page 379, “Know all men, by these presents, that I John Witcher, Sr. [by then known as Sr. rather than Jr.] of Pittsylvania County, State of Virginia, have made, authorized, constituted and appointed, and by these presents, do appoint my son James Witcher, of County of Madison, and State of Georgia, my true and lawful attorney, to demand and receive of James Witcher (son of Ephraim) one negro girl named Anna, and other property, which I loaned my daughter Tempy, who hath intermarried with the said James Witcher, etc. In testimony, whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 27th day of July, 1819. John Witcher Sr.”
In light of the 1819 power of attorney, we can now know with a high level of confidence who the two different James Witchers were which are found in the 1820 federal census in Georgia.
As the power of attorney states, by 1819 at least one of the two James Witchers was living in Madison County, Georgia.
However, in the 1820 federal census, no James Witcher was found in Madison County, but two different James Witchers are found in Morgan County, Georgia.
The 1820 federal census records that both James Witchers lived in Captain Leonard’s District, Morgan County, Georgia. One of them is listed as having three slaves, while the other had only one.
The James Witcher who owned only one slave, I believe, had John Witcher’s slave named Anna. The 1820 census record listed six people; one black and five white people in that Witcher household. This was very probably the family of James and Tempy Witcher.
The other James Witcher census record listed nine people, six whites and three blacks. Subsequent records show that James Witcher (whose wife was Gilley Edwards) possessed slaves until the emancipation. Therefore, the family listed in this 1820 census record was probably the household of James and Gilley Witcher.
In 1830, the federal census lists two James Witchers living in separate, but neighboring counties.
That 1830 census for Newton County, Georgia, lists a James Witcher in a household containing eight whites and no blacks. I expect the disputed slave would have been returned to Tempy’s father by now. This is certainly the family of James and Tempy Witcher.
At the same time, in District 284 of Morgan County, Georgia, another 1830 census record lists a James Witcher household containing six whites and two blacks. This is probably the family of James and Gilley Witcher.
In the 1840 census, both James Witcher families disappear from Newton and Morgan Counties. However, they reappear in two other nearby Georgia counties, Paulding and Meriwether. By now, it becomes clearer as to who is who.
Both James Witchers are listed in the 1840 and 1850 census records, the 1850 census identifying the James Witcher in Meriwether County as the husband of “Gilla” Witcher. This James Witcher was born in Virginia about 1790. James and “Gilla” are listed with four youngsters: Benjamin Witcher, William Witcher, Elvina A. Witcher, and Harriet J. Witcher, all presumed to be children of James and Gilley.
James and Gilley did eventually move to what was to become Polk County, Georgia, formerly a part of Paulding County. In the 1860 Polk County census, they are then listed with only Harriet J. Witcher, age 22.
This James Witcher, who married Gilley Edwards, was not James, the brother of Captain John Witcher. Captain John eventually commanded a local militia in the Cedar Town area of Paulding County. Nor do I believe he was the Judge James Witcher (whose wife was Tempy Witcher) who apparently sat on the bench in Newton or Morgan County in 1825, and in Paulding County from at least 1832 through 1834.
James Witcher (whose wife was Gilley Edwards) was a warrior, riding with Captain John Witcher in the Creek Indian war, and fighting in Captain Carter’s Company of the Virginia Militia during the War of 1812. I have provided at the bottom of this page an image from the War Department, which lists Gilley Witcher as a widow, eligible for a pension because of her deceased husband’s military service in the Indian Wars and the War of 1812.
James Witcher (whose wife was Gilley Edwards) died in Paulding County, Georgia, on February 9, 1873. This record is found in the War of 1812 Widow's Pension Application file.
Paulding County has interesting estate records which are easily accessed through FamilySearch.org. Access the James Witcher’s probate records by going to the Polk County estate files. Click here to access that site.
One obscure son of James and Gilley Witcher was a certain Dr. Hezekiah Witcher.
In memoriam of this man and his sacrifice, I wish to share the following records which are currently archived in Georgia.
In Polk County, Georgia, within deed book C, on pages 272-273, a certain deed of gift is recorded.
On October 21st, 1862, James Witcher deeds a slave named Angelina, “Of dark complexion, aged about 14 years,” to grandsons Warren Akin Witcher and Hezekiah Witcher who were orphaned by the then recent death of their father.
Their mother is listed as Virginia A. Witcher, who, “Shall benefit of the services of said negro,”… until Hezekiah becomes twenty-one years of age, at which time there was to be a division made for both grandsons.
The deed record states that the purpose of the gift was to assist Virginia in the raising of the two orphaned boys.
This record was made almost three months after the death of their father, army surgeon Hezekiah Witcher, who died in the battlefield from wounds received in action on July 13th, 1862.
This Dr. Hezekiah Witcher had joined the 1st Regiment, Georgia Calvery, as an assistant surgeon, and was promoted to surgeon shortly before his death on the battlefield. Records show that he enlisted from Troup County, Georgia.
I will now provide a transcript of the letter an eager Hezekiah Witcher wrote as he was seeking to be immediately joined to a regiment. At the bottom of this webpage, I have included an image of the actual letter.
Cedartown Ga, Dec. 1st, 1861
James Deaver esq:
Dear Sir—I have written to Gov Brown, making application for a position as Surgeon, & have heard nothing from him in reference to the matter—I am quite anxious now to get such a position, in any Regiment composing Gen?? Caper’s Brigade, as Capt. W.T. Witcher will probably report to him, as he expects to go in Col Nunnerly’s Battalion, or Regiment, if extended to a Regiment. I would be much gratified to get a place in that Regiment, on his & many of my friends from this county, but I would gladly receive it—in any of the Regiments of that Brigade—and if you & your friends can aid me in securing the place, I will receive it—as a very great favor indeed—I feel that I can render good & efficient service, & will make every effort to render myself competent & faithful to the trust—Please try to work this thing for me & oblige yours
Very respectfully H. Witcher M.D. Try first for surgeon & then assistant surgeon Please as I am anxious to go—in haste H.W.
This request was granted, and sadly, Dr. Hezekiah Witcher was killed in action only a few months later, in July of 1862.
During happier times, Hezekiah Witcher, son of James Witcher of Meriwether County, Georgia, graduated from Medical College on the 4th day of March, 1851. Records indicate that the newly graduated Doctor set up shop in Georgia.
I have included a transcription from the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 7, in which the happy announcement of Hezekiah’s 1851 graduating class announcement is recorded:
Medical College of Georgia—The course of lectures in this institution was closed the last day of February, after a session of four months, during which there occurred not the slightest incident to mar the good feeling which prevailed between the Faculty and Students, nor to lessen the high esteem in which the class has ever been held by the community.
There were in attendance 159 gentlemen, of whom 127 were from Georgia, 13 from Alabama, 12 from South Carolina, 2 from Mississippi, 1 from Ohio, 1 from Tennessee, 1 from North Carolina, 1 from Kentucky, and 1 from Arkansas.
Fifty members of the class, having complied with all the requisitions of the college, were graduated on the 4th day of March. The Doctorate having been conferred by Ex-Governor Schley, a very appropriate, chaste, and credible address was delivered by Dr. C.T. Quintard, of Cobb County, and a Valedictory full of warm-hearted and touching sentiments by Dr. R.E.J. Thompson of Burke County.
The Following is a list of the graduates…
Twenty-four names down, Hezekiah Witcher of Meriwether County, Georgia, is listed as one of the proud graduates of this class.
For almost forty years, Dr. Hezekiah Witcher’s widowed wife, Virginia A. Witcher, died. Apparently she never remarried. But both were reunited on a late December evening, when Virginia passed away in Cartersville, Georgia.
Here is a transcription of an obituary in The Atlanta Constitution newspaper, dated, Tuesday, December 17, 1901, on page 4.
Mrs Virginia Witcher Dead
Was sister of Mrs John S. Prather of Atlanta.
Catersville, GA. Dec. 16—(Special) Mrs Virginia Witcher died suddenly at the home of her sister, Mrs Mary Akin, last night.
She was the widow of late Dr. Witcher, originally of Polk County, and who was killed while a soldier of the Confederacy. She was a sister of Mrs Mary Ann Akin, of this city, Mrs John S. Prather, of Atlanta, and Mrs Verdery Battey, for years a well known writer for the New York Press. Her remains will probably be buried at Cassville.
Several generations have come and gone, and the memories of this branch of our family have all but faded completely away, their joys and tragedies can only be contemplated from the few crumbling records which remain.
But we must not forget the pioneering sacrifices made by this brave family, a family who was unknowingly providing, in their own unique way, to the wonderful comforts we now enjoy in the great nation we call home. Wayne Witcher, a ggg-nephew of James and Gilley Witcher.
The James and Gilley Witcher Family
A Witcher Family Genealogy
I would love to hear from any descendant of this family branch.
Just email me at
wwawitcher @ windstream . net
or ask to be friended at our facebook page: Witcher Genealogy