The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 2 (or I’m Going To Jackson…but not THAT Jackson)

Hiram Keith with wife Elizabeth Ashby

Hiram Keith with wife Elizabeth Ashby


As a kid growing up in 1960s and 1970s Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona, there was always a deep ambivalence in my family regarding “book learning”.

Book learning was great if it led to a good job or a roof over one’s head.

Where book learning became less welcome was the point at which it mentioned things like slavery.  Or the theory of evolution.

Too much book learning was seen as a sign of thinking you might be better than less-educated people.

“Ten dollar words” were not only frowned upon – they were greeted with derision and outright hostility.

Now, on one level I understand these folks. No book is going to make a person a good mechanic, carpenter, sailor, or parent.  A book might help here and there, but some things are only learned properly by DOING.  Fair enough.

No one wants to be lectured by a “theoretical farmer” straight out of agricultural college when your family has been managing the same piece of ground for generations.

But some things ARE only found in books.  Especially history books, because once we are dead, we are, literally, history.

And because living families carefully curate their stories, there is often a visceral fear of books.  Because once someone is dead, especially long dead, all that remains are folk stories – and books, and documents.

History is the delicate dance between documents, and the living who must try to interpret those documents.

And when these interpretations don’t match the carefully curated family folklore, when these interpretations don’t match the carefully curated national folklore, certain bad things can happen.

Like culture wars.  Like the banning of certain books.

My recent post on the overstated impact of the “Scots-Irish” on Appalachian culture got quite a few responses and shares.  That’s great.  It’s the reason writers write.

One gentleman suggested my views were off the mark, and that in his region, there were at least three “Scots-Irish” families for every family of English or German descent – let alone people of “non-white” ancestry.

He further suggested that West Virginia might have less “Scots-Irish” due to the historical influx of immigrant mine-workers.

This blog and podcast rarely concerns itself with late 19th century industrial immigration.

What we are interested in are the earliest origins of what is often called “heartland America”, those people with families stretching right back to pre-Revolutionary times, the people who were on the bleeding edge of the earliest frontiers.

I’m going to share what I know about one small part of Breathitt County, Kentucky.  The town of Jackson, a small place, so not too hard to cast a glance over.

Here is a small cross-section of families present in Jackson, Breathitt County, KY during the 1800s. I have intentionally left out “Johnny-come-lately” immigrants, that is to say, families arriving in America during the mid-to-late 1800s.  Because the bulk of “Scots-Irish” immigration occurred during the first three-quarters of the 1700s, they are of course included where present.

Here are some surnames “A” to “K”.  If there is any interest, I can post the second half of the alphabet later this week.  Remember!  Having a surname which sounds of a particular ethnic background means very little in early American history.  People of ALL backgrounds “borrowed” surnames from the British Isles – indigenous people, people of African ancestry, Jewish people, Romani people, Portuguese people, German people…

This list is neither highly-selective, nor does it claim to be comprehensive.  It is merely based on my own research into multi-ethnic America.  If anyone out there can share the surnames of documentable “Scots-Irish” families of Jackson, Breathitt County, KY, please do!  The population today is still just over 2,200, so we should be able to find them.


Adkins (earliest assumed ancestor – William Vortimer Adkin, born 1689 VA) “Scots-Irish”?  NO.

Aikman (origins unclear – most genealogies claim Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster)  No evidence of Scots-Irish ancestry at hand.

Allen (origins unclear – earliest known ancestors from 1600s Tidewater Virginia) “Scots-Irish”?  NO.

Back (origins unclear – descended from apparently German “Bachs” of colonial Virginia, possibly Sinti)

Baker (origins unclear – related to early Bakers who intermarried with multi-ethnic Bolling families)  No evidence of “Scots-Irish” ancestry at hand

Barnett (origins unclear – no records prior to 1820, with one “Joshua Barnett” head of household in Ohio County, KY including people of color)

Black (descended from a Scot or Ulster Scot, but family heavily intermarried with Germans, and indeed, French and some Portuguese)

Blanton (origins unclear due to apparent “non-paternal event” involving Bakers.  Other Blantons in Harlan County, KY fought with Bunch‘s Regiment.  Some Blanton men of dark complexion nicknamed “Gip” – origins of these Blantons also unclear)

Bryant (origins unclear, although most genealogies suggest Welsh ancestry. Earliest proven ancestor “William Bryant“, slaveholder and friend of non-Scots-Irishman Daniel Boone)

Burton (origins unclear, earliest documented ancestors found in 18th century Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.  Many Burtons of Wales and Somerset, England carry Romani DNA haplo)

Campbell (origins unclear – most genealogies claim Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster.  Heavily intermarried with German Eversole and French Fugate families)

Clarkston (earliest documented ancestors George Clarkston b.1745 and George’s son Thomas Clarkston b.1787.  Thomas apparently married to Nellie Feathers, woman with haplotype most common in Balkan region and southern France)

Collins (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestor William Collins b.1809 in Tennessee, who may have been son or nephew of Melungeon Valentine Collins.)

Conley (Connolly) (although an apparently Irish surname, earliest known ancestor Henry Connolly is referred-to in legal documents as a “Dutchman” with poor English??!!)

Combs (Coombs) (earliest documented ancestors from early 1700s Virginia.  Notables included the Tory soldier, slaveholder, and killer Nicholas Combs)

Cornett (earliest likely ancestor John Cornett b. 1702 Henrico County, VA.  Cornetts of Kentucky deeply multi-ethnic, with no sign of “Scots-Irish” ancestry)

Counts (slaveholders and descendants of Fort Germanna settlements – family lore refers to Counts people as “Black Dutch“, i.e. mixed or possibly German Romani ancestry)

Deaton (slaveholders, earliest documented ancestor Thomas Deaton of Henrico County, VA, whose son William Deaton also fought on the Tory side)

Evans (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in 1700s VA and NC.  Surname is Welsh, and family intermarried with Welsh Bryants)

Francis (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in 1700s VA and KY.  Intermarried with aforementioned Coombs and Fugate families.)

Fugate (well-known multi-ethnic Appalachian family of ultimately French origins.  Famous for rare genetic condition which once rendered family members blue in color.)

Gaye (origins unclear, but likely connected in some way to Gaye and Bolling families of early Henrico County, VA.)

Gibson (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in mid-1700s NC.  See Melungeon Gibsons for possible connections)

Gose (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors such as “Dutch John Gose” appear in mid-1700s NC.  Many Gose people of Breathitt County enumerated as “mulattos“, and intermarried with multi-ethnic Nichols/Nickell/Knuckles families.)

Harris (origins extremely murky – some Harris people of Breathitt descendants of Benjamin Harris, b.1795.  Little more is known.)

Hensley (earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors such as slaveholder Henry Hensley appear in mid-1700s VA.  His childrens’ households included “free people of color”, and intermarried with “Angels” and “Howards“.)

Hogg (slaveholders; earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors include Thomas Hogg b. 1740 VA.  Most genealogies suggest Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster)

Hoskins (origins extremely murky – earliest documented ancestor probably the killer John Hoskinson of Maryland who changed/shortened his name and moved to Ohio Country, his sons moving down into KY.  Name very common among the English Romani.)

Hounshell (earliest known ancestor Johann “John Hounshell” Hauenschild who died 1810 in VA., presumably of German extraction.  All sons were slaveholders.)

Howard (earliest documented ancestor John Howard, born NC early 1700s.  Sons and grandsons apparently intermarried with both indigenous and Melungeon Mullins women)

Joseph (earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors from mid-1700s Delaware and Maryland, intermarried with multi-ethnic Salyers, Huffs, and Arnetts of Magoffin County, KY.  No “Scots-Irish” here.)

Keith (origins extremely murky – earliest documented ancestor William Keith, whose dirt poor “preacher” son Hugh Daniel Keith abandoned family to run away with a young girl – but not before fathering other children by a slave consort. Hence the many “Keith” people once enumerated as “mulatto“.)


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #ScotsIrish #appalachia #genealogy

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