John Sutton was among the first to move to Bucklesberry Pocosin in the mid-1700s. One of the oldest farm communities in Lenoir County, NC today, Bucklesberry was largely unsettled swamp land at the time, situated directly next to the Neuse River five miles south of La Grange. Bucklesberry was on the map long before La Grange, however. Incorporated in 1860, La Grange was an outgrowth of the Moseley Hall township that was settled soon after the end of the Revolutionary War.
Several records in the Clellan Sutton Collection of Bucklesberry papers, dated 1748 to before 1773, either name John or can be attributed to him. This impressive album of more than 300 documents is the largest of its kind that speaks to the ancestry and origins of the Sutton Family from the Bucklesberry community of Lenoir County, formerly part of eighteenth century Dobbs County, NC. Other available historical documents aside from the Clellan Sutton Collection that are contemporary with the pre-Revolutionary, Colonial period, do not name any individuals with the Sutton surname arriving in Bucklesberry during or before the mid-1700s, thereby affirming John as the first known Sutton there.
The late Martha Mewborn Marble, genealogist, historian, and Bucklesberry Sutton descendant, believed John was born about 1730 and died before 1773. His whereabouts prior to arrival in Bucklesberry, though, 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, suggests that John migrated from Bertie County, NC.
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 of Thomas’ sons were named in his will, proved March 2, 1750. Oddly, each son 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 rationalized 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 be supported, because John’s brother, Thomas, Jr., who received land inheritance 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 received land inheritance from his father. Ms. Marble suggested a more likely, alternative theory. Perhaps Thomas 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 intent to relocate elsewhere. Research by Ms. Marble confirmed no mention of John Sutton by name in any other Bertie County public or court records 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, the 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 this Collection, dated around 1750, was John Sutton.
Bertie County Bride. One of John’s three proven sons, Benjamin, married Sarah Hardy from Bertie County. Benjamin was born in Bucklesberry, where the couple made their home. 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 with her brother. It is plausible, then, that Benjamin may have accompanied his father, John, on trips back to the homeland of Bertie County to visit relatives from time to time, 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 that 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.”
With only circumstantial evidence, and absent DNA proof, John’s origin might never have been known for certain. But in 2015, in consultation with the international Sutton Project (www.familytreedna.com), Ms. Marble recommended a strategy to gather DNA from Sutton descendants of Bucklesberry of Lenoir County which could then be compared with that of Sutton descendants from Bertie and Perquimans Counties. Matching DNA of Sutton descendants from Bucklesberry with Sutton descendants from Bertie and/or Perquimans Counties would definitively prove that John originated from that area.
Family lineage and genetic traits are biologically passed to succeeding generations through male descendants. 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 one or more male Sutton descendants from Bertie or Perquimans Counties. Finally, if YDNA-67 results of the Bucklesberry Sutton descendants from Phase 1 matched that of the Bertie 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 YDNA 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, within a few miles of the Bucklesberry community, 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 descends from a line of Suttons in Bertie County where he also resides. Descendant F of Chattanooga, TN, was born in Washington, DC, but reared in Rocky Mount, NC. His father was a proven Sutton descendant from Perquimans County.
Incredibly, Perquimans County Descendant F’s YDNA-67 markers matched those of the five Bucklesberry Sutton descendants. However, Bertie County Descendant G’s markers did not match Descendant F nor that of the five Sutton males from Bucklesberry. Descendant G’s markers did match descendants with other non-Sutton surnames.
The only way that Descendant F could genetically match Descendants A, B, C, D, and E 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 various 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. A confirmed passenger on the ship, Hercules, George migrated to America in 1634/5. 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.
With the DNA study, the mystery of John Sutton and where he originated prior to his arrival in Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County is now resolved. Coupled with circumstantial evidence, the DNA results provide definitive proof that John Sutton migrated from Bertie County, NC.
Although we are unsure of the exact year, John was likely a young man in his twenties when he arrived in largely unsettled Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County in the mid-1700s. As mentioned earlier, whether his move away from Bertie County 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 between Bucklesberry of the Merry Hill area in Bertie County, where John was born and reared, and Bucklesberry of old Dobbs County, was 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 of the time, it probably took him much longer. Combined with all the uncertainties he most assuredly faced, John’s move to Bucklesberry in old Dobbs County was an arduous trek that reflected steadfast character and dedication in advancing 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 did not live a very long life. The average life span for Americans as recently as 2010 was 78 years, according to World Bank in 2012. By way of comparison, R. W. Fogel in 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 approximately nine or more years below the average life expectancy at the time, suggesting that he may have died prematurely. With no available information on the cause of his death, we can only surmise that John probably lived a relatively short life.
For his life’s work, John was a farmer, like virtually all early residents of 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 may well have brought on health issues that he battled without the aid of a physician or medical intervention which could have prompted an early death. Reflective of an 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.
First families are those who descended from colonists or early American settlers. 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 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 John 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 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 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 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 also likely had daughters, but no evidence is available of their names.
John’s three proven sons–Benjamin, John, Jr., and William–and their families all lived out their lives in Bucklesberry and were largely responsible for populating the community. 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 deceased), trace at least ten generations of John Sutton’s descendants who have resided to this day in Bucklesberry, the neighboring town of La Grange, and beyond.
More significantly, DNA evidence of Sutton descendants who reside in the town of La Grange and the Suttons of Bucklesberry and Bear Creek area, once believed to have originated from separate ancestral lines and who had migrated from different geographical regions, all indeed descend from the first Sutton Family of Bucklesberry and patriarch, John Sutton.