One of the oldest communities in Lenoir County, NC, Bucklesberry Pocosin was formerly part of old Dobbs County during eighteenth century Colonial America. Largely unsettled swamp land prior to the Revolutionary War, the nutrient-rich soil of Bucklesberry today produces some of the finest crops in the Southeast. Located five miles south of the town of La Grange and nestled on the north side of the Neuse River, Bucklesberry was on the map long before La Grange. Not incorporated until 1860, La Grange was an outgrowth of Moseley Hall township, settled soon after the end of the Revolutionary War.
Among Bucklesberry’s earliest residents was John Sutton (ca. 1730 – bef. 1773). Several papers dated 1748 to before 1773 in the Clellan Sutton Collection of Bucklesberry documents either name John or can be attributed to him. This impressive album of more than 320 records is the largest of its kind that speaks to the ancestry and origins of the Sutton family from Bucklesberry. Significantly, the Sutton surname is not referenced in any other available pre-Revolutionary War document contemporary with the Clellan Sutton Collection that has to do with this geographic area, thereby affirming John as the first known Sutton there.
The late Martha Mewborn Marble (1944-2019), genealogist, historian, and Bucklesberry Sutton descendant, believed John was born about 1730 and died before 1773. His whereabouts prior to arrival in Bucklesberry has been a mystery for generations. Speculations have ranged from New Jersey to New York, and from Virginia to northeastern North Carolina. Circumstantial evidence, including a will, a deed, and a bride, however, strongly suggests that John migrated to Bucklesberry from Bertie County, NC by the mid-1700s.
Bertie County Will. Thomas Sutton, Sr. (1699-1750) and Elizabeth Luerton Sutton (1705-1750) of Bertie County had five known sons, one of whom was John. All five sons were named in his will, proved March 2, 1750. Oddly, each inherited 150 to 200 acres of land from their father, except John. Not totally excluded, John received one slave, Andrew, sixteen head of cattle, and house wares from his parents’ estate. Why John was not bequeathed land from his father is unknown. One theory is that Thomas, Sr. rational-ized that John did not need a share of land, since he already owned 100 acres of land which he had inherited years earlier from his Aunt Mary Jones, sister of his mother. However, this theory cannot reasonably be supported, because John’s brother, Thomas, Jr., who inherited land from his father, similarly received 180 acres of land from his Aunt’s estate. Further, she awarded all of her cattle to George, yet another brother of John. Like Thomas, Jr., George also inherited land from his father. Ms. Marble suggested a more likely, alternative theory. Perhaps Thomas, Sr. withheld a share of land to John because, at the time his will was being prepared, John had already moved out of Bertie County, or he had announced his intention to move away.
Bertie County Deed. A mere ten weeks after Thomas, Sr.’s will was proven, John sold the parcel of land he inherited from his Aunt Mary, according to a Bertie County deed filed May 17, 1750, possibly signaling his decision to relocate elsewhere. Research by Ms. Marble confirmed no mention of John Sutton by name in any other Bertie County public or court record after 1750, which would suggest his departure from there. Around this same time period, approximately 100 miles from Bertie County, John Sutton emerged in largely unsettled Dobbs County, specifically, Bucklesberry Pocosin, as referenced in the Clellan Sutton Collection. Probably not a coincidence, it is significant that the first Sutton named in the oldest documents in the Collection, dated around 1750, was John Sutton.
Bertie County Bride. One of John’s three proven sons, Benjamin, married Sarah Hardy from Bertie County. He was born in Bucklesberry, and the couple made their home there. Ms. Marble believes the union of these two, reared in geographically separate communities some 100 miles apart, is no chance occurrence. A 1780 letter included in the Clellan Sutton Collection addressed, “To Benj Sarah living [in] Dobbs,” and signed, “Your Loving Brother till death Wm Parrot Hardy,” proves Sarah was a sister of William, whose roots can be traced to Bertie County. Therefore, Sarah likely was born and reared in Bertie County as well. It is plausible, then, that Benjamin may have accompanied his father, John, on trips back to the homeland of Bertie County from time to time to visit relatives, giving him ample opportunity there to meet his bride.
Dr. Francis R. Hodges, professor of history (retired) from Florida Southern College and native of Lenoir County, also believes the Suttons of Dobbs County originated from Bertie County, lending support that John was the first to arrive in Bucklesberry. In a USGenWeb manuscript (no date), Dr. Hodges noted that the Suttons “had migrated from Bertie County to the Neuse valley before the American Revolution, and which by the end of the eighteenth century had already established many branches in Bucklesberry and the adjacent regions of Lenoir and Wayne.”
Despite the circumstantial and document evidence, John’s origin would not be known for certain, absent DNA proof. In 2015, in consultation with the international Sutton Project (www.familytreedna.com), Ms. Marble recom-mended a strategy to gather YDNA from male Sutton descendants of Bucklesberry of Lenoir County which could then be compared with that of male Sutton descendants from Bertie and Perquimans Counties, where proven Sutton relatives resided prior to the mid-1700s. Matching YDNA of Sutton descendants from Bucklesberry with Sutton descendants from Bertie and/or Perquimans Counties would definitively prove that John originated from that area.
Genetic traits are biologically transmitted to succeeding generations through male descendants, which prove lineage. Therefore, Phase 1 of the strategy included obtaining YDNA-67 evidence from male Suttons who were descendents of the three proven sons of John Sutton of Bucklesberry–-Benjamin, John, Jr., and William. If descendants’ genetic markers all matched, then Phase 2 would include obtaining YDNA-67 evidence from male Sutton descendants from Bertie and/or Perquimans Counties. Finally, if YDNA-67 results of the Bucklesberry Sutton descendants from Phase 1 matched that of the Bertie and/or Perquimans County Sutton descendants from Phase 2, then confirmation that John Sutton originated from that area of the State could be definitively concluded.
In 2016, five Sutton males, all descendants from the three proven sons of John Sutton of Bucklesberry, agreed to YDNA-67 testing through Family Tree DNA for Phase 1 of the study. In order to preserve confidentiality of the descendants, they are identified simply as A, B, C, D, and E. Descendants A and C of La Grange, NC and Descendant B of Smithfield, NC are from the Benjamin Sutton line. Descendant D of Weymouth, MA is from the William Sutton line, and Descendant E of La Grange is from the John Sutton, Jr. line. Remarkably, when the DNA results were analyzed, the 67 genetic markers of all five Bucklesberry Sutton descendants matched with a variance of no more than three markers, proving their relationship to each other and to John Sutton.
Phase 2 of the plan was advanced by identifying two Sutton males whose lineages could be traced to Suttons from Perquimans and Bertie Counties and who agreed to YDNA-67 testing. Descendant G descended from a line of Suttons in Bertie County where he also resides. Descendant F of Chatta-nooga, TN, was born in Washington, DC, but reared in Rocky Mount, NC. His father was a Sutton descendant from Perquimans County. The Suttons from Bertie and Perquimans are proven relatives.
Incredibly, the YDNA-67 markers of Perquimans County Descendant F matched those of the five Bucklesberry Sutton Descendants A, B, C, D, and E. However, Bertie County Descendant G’s markers did not match Descendant F or that of the five Sutton Descendants from Bucklesberry. Descendant G’s markers did match descendants with other non-Sutton surnames.
The only way that Descendant F from Perquimans County could genetically match Descendants A, B, C, D, and E from Bucklesberry is for all to share a common Sutton ancestor. Descendant F’s ancestry can be traced directly to George Sutton, and wife, Sarah Tilden Sutton, of Perquimans County. Therefore, from a series of patrilineal relationships, the lineages of Descendants A, B, C, D, and E, all proven descendants of John Sutton of Bucklesberry, can also be traced to George and Sarah by way of wills and other court documents, as follows:
► John’s proven parents were Thomas (1699-1750) and Elizabeth Luerton Sutton (1705-1750) of Bertie County.
► Thomas’ proven parents were Joseph (1673-1723) and Parthenia Durant Sutton (1675-before 1723) of Perquimans County.
► Joseph’s proven parents were Nathaniel (about 1644-1682) and Deborah Astine Sutton (1668-about 1732) of Perquimans County.
► Nathaniel’s proven parents were George (about 1613-1669) and Sarah Tilden Sutton (1613-1677) of Perquimans County.
George Sutton is the earliest proven Sutton of the Bucklesberry Sutton line to arrive in America. Among the confirmed passengers on the ship, Hercules, George migrated to America in 1634/35. He was a servant to yeoman Nathaniel Tilden, also a passenger on the ship. Both George and Nathanial were from Tenterden Parish in Kent, England. George married Nathaniel’s daughter, Sarah, in 1636 in Scituate, Massachusetts, near Boston. George and Sarah migrated South, making brief residence in New York and possibly Virginia, eventually settling in Perquimans County, NC.
Results from the DNA study effectively solves the mystery of John Sutton and his origins prior to arrival in Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County, NC. Coupled with circumstantial evidence, the DNA results provide definitive proof of John Sutton’s ancestry to the Suttons of Bertie County, NC.
Although the exact year is uncertain, John was likely a young man in his twenties when he arrived in Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County in the mid-1700s. Interestingly, the community in the Merry Hill area of Bertie County where John was born and reared was also called Bucklesberry. Whether John’s move away from his homeland of Bertie County, NC was for greater opportunity, access to more farmland, family disagreement, or other motivation, is unknown.
John’s relocation to old Dobbs County was no small feat, given the only mode of transportation at the time was horse-and-wagon. The estimated distance from Bucklesberry in the Merry Hill area of Bertie County to Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County is approximately 100 miles. Author-educator, Terry Burns, noted that a person could travel 15 to 25 miles a day using a horse-drawn wagon; therefore, it would have taken John about 4 to 7 days to traverse a 100-mile distance in the best of environmental conditions.
However, given the rough, unsettled and mostly wooded terrain at the time, it probably took John considerably longer. Combined with all the uncertainties he assuredly faced, John’s move to Bucklesberry in old Dobbs County was an arduous trek that reflected steadfast character and a dedication to advance his life and that of his family.
Based on his purported birth (about 1730) and death (before 1773), John may have been only 40 to 45 years of age when he passed away. In light of 21st century life expectancy standards, John lived a relatively short life. The average life span for Americans as recently as 2010 was 78 years, according to World Bank (2012). By way of comparison, R. W. Fogel (2004) analyzed the adverse effects of low-level diets on high-energy work required of typical 1775 early colonial American laborers, and determined their average life expectancy was about 53.5 years. John’s interpolated maximum age of 45, then, would have placed him at least nine years below the average life expectancy at the time, suggesting he may have died prematurely. No available information exists on the cause of John’s death.
For his life’s work, John was a farmer, as were virtually all early residents of old Dobbs County and the surrounding area. Farming in colonial America was considerably more challenging and difficult than current-day, mechanized farming, suggesting John was nothing less than a hard worker. The inordinate physical strain he experienced continuously year-round, however, may well have caused health issues that he battled without the aid of a physician or medical intervention, which could have prompted early death. Reflective of immensely strong, daring, and brave character, John accepted the risks of relocating from his settled homeland in Bertie County to the uncertainties of primitive Dobbs County.
Descendants of colonists and early American settlers are considered first families. In addition to the Suttons, surnames of other first families of mid-eighteenth century Bucklesberry included Burnett, Giles, Herring, Johnston, Jones, Rouse, Uzzell, and Williams, all of whom were referenced as Neighbors or named in business transactions in the oldest of the Clellan Sutton Collection of Bucklesberry papers dated between 1741 and 1773.
Central to any first family are its matriarchs and patriarchs. Although John is the proven patriarch of the first Sutton family of Bucklesberry, little is known about the family’s matriarch. To date, the name of John’s wife has not been proven, let alone whether he was married more than once. Further, the name of the mother of John’s children is not known for certain. Among other genealogists, the late-Marjorie Sutton Oliver (1933-2019) of La Grange, NC, a Bucklesberry Sutton descendant and author of the 1974 book, The Suttons of England and North Carolina, USA, 1620-1974, believed that John’s wife was Ann Sutton.
Assumed to be John’s widow, Ann Sutton is named in the 1780 tax list for old Dobbs County, which indicated she may have inherited the property and estate of a husband who preceded her. Although John’s name was absent in the 1780 tax list, suggesting he was deceased by that year, he was identified in the earlier 1769 tax list. It is believed that Ann was the daughter of John Turner, probably from Southampton County, VA, who also owned land in old Dobbs County, possibly in or adjoining Bucklesberry.
Entries from grantor-grantee county indices dated 1750 to 1758 show that John Turner gifted or sold land to John Sutton of Bucklesberry on three occasions, lending support that Ann Turner indeed may have been John’s wife. Ms. Marble noted that, although the Turner family owned land in Dobbs County, they never lived there. Rather, the Turners were neighbors of John and his Sutton relatives in Bertie County. If Ann Turner Sutton was indeed the wife and widow of John Sutton, there is no evidence or proof that she was the mother of his children.
From 1773 estate records in old Dobbs County, Ms. Marble’s research identified a second woman named, Ann Sutton, widow of Dr. Joseph Sutton. Joseph’s wife was formerly Ann Ward, purportedly from Carteret County. It is plausible, then, that the Ann Sutton named in the 1769 tax list could have been either Ann Ward Sutton or Ann Turner Sutton.
Absent definitive proof of the name of John’s wife at the time of his death, whether he was married more than once, let alone the name of the mother of his children, available records prove that John had three known sons: Benjamin Sutton (born about 1752; died 1837); John Sutton, Jr. (born about 1758; died 1820-1830); and William Sutton (born about 1760; died 1813-1820). All three sons were born and lived in Bucklesberry and are named in multiple documents in the Clellan Sutton Collection.
Four other Sutton men named in the Collection are believed, although not proven, to be additional sons of John Sutton: Thomas Sutton (born before 1758; death year unknown); James Sutton (born 1755-1767; death year unknown); Richard Sutton (born 1755-1773; died 1800-1810); and Simon Sutton (born 1765-1767; died before 1813). John likely had daughters, too, but no document evidence to date has emerged to identify their names.
John’s three proven sons and their families lived their lives in Bucklesberry and were largely responsible for populating the community. By 1880, the Sutton surname was the most prevalent surname among all Lenoir County residents. Research from the Old Dobbers website, coupled with Ms. Oliver’s book, and the 1973 book, John Sutton and Benjamin Sutton, co-authored by Bucklesberry residents, Estelle Sutton Creech, Grace Sutton, and Linda Sugg Ivey Cauley (all three deceased), trace at least ten generations of John Sutton’s descendants who have resided to this day in Bucklesberry and beyond.
JOHN, THE PATRIARCH
Residents with the Sutton surname who live in the nearby towns of Kinston and La Grange previously believed that they originated from different ancestral lines and purportedly migrated from different geographical areas than the Suttons of Bucklesberry. However, two of the Sutton descendants (D and E) in the YDNA-67 study were born and reared in the towns of Kinston and La Grange, and documents prove they are descendants of one of the three known sons of John Sutton. Specifically, descendant D from Kinston descended from William Sutton, and descendant E from La Grange is a descendant of John Sutton, Jr.
Admittedly, more than one Sutton genetic line exists in NC. For example, results from recent YDNA-67 testing on Sutton males in neighboring Sampson County do not match the YDNA-67 results from the Suttons of Bucklesberry. Rather than another genetically distinct line for the Suttons of Kinston, La Grange, and greater Lenoir County, however, the YDNA study reported here proves they all join the Bucklesberry Suttons in sharing John Sutton as their patriarch.
Note: This biographical is a synthesis of newspaper articles originally published in 2017 in The Weekly Gazette, La Grange, NC, as part of the ongoing series, Bucklesberry, Back in the Day. These articles focused on the life of John Sutton, fifth great-grandfather of contributor, Joe P. Sutton, PhD.