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John Carter: Who Were His People?

John Carter (1790-1841) settled with his wife and family in Coles County, Illinois along with a host of other new settlers in 1830. The county history tells us that he was alone among his relatives to migrate there. Who were his siblings and parents, and where did they live?

Some information about his family comes from family lore:

  1. He was born in Greene County, Tennessee and served in the War of 1812.
  2. He was married in Greene County in 1815 to Mary (Polly) Templeton, and their first child, Susan, was born there.
  3. They migrated to Wayne County, Kentucky where the next seven children (Shelton, Nancy, Bailey, Thena, Janete/Jane, Joseph, and Elizabeth) were born between 1816-1829.
  4. The youngest daughter, Catherine, was born in Coles County in 1832.

The Coles County histories give us a little more information:

  1. John had some blacksmith skills. He served the Ashmore Township community in this capacity until a regular blacksmith arrived to set up shop. Where did John acquire these skills and the requisite equipment? Did he come from a family of blacksmiths?
  2. John migrated to Illinois from the Crab Orchard area of Kentucky. I do not know where that is, but it must have been familiar to 19th-century Illinois residents. I assume the region included Wayne County.

None of these sources offer any clues to John Carter’s natal family. The Carters were numerous in East Tennessee. How did he fit in with them?

I have begun the search for evidence:

  1. John’s wife Mary executed a declaration for a Bounty Land Claim based on John’s War of 1812 service in 1857, a few months before her death. My cousins had a copy of this affidavit, so I have ordered the file from the National Archives to see what additional information it may contain about John Carter and his family.
  2. I have located what I believe is his census record for 1820 in Wayne County. A couple of other Carter families also lived in the sparsely populated county. A Wayne County history written in 1900 includes a Carter family tree with the names of these early settlers on it. According to the county history, they were all related to one another and from Virginia, not Tennessee. John Carter is not named on this tree. Was he not included because he moved away after a few years? Was he an unrelated Carter?
  3. A Greene County, TN marriage record exists for John Carter and Polly Templeton. The record has no identifying information or names of family members.
  4. Online family trees include him, but they place him in different families. One even has him being born to a 10-year-old mother. These trees may offer a bit of a roadmap, but no one seems to have proven his true origin.

Adding to the confusion is the claim that John’s wife, Polly, also descended from the Carters through her mother. Several researchers claim that John and Polly had a common ancestor in the Revolutionary War soldier, Levi Carter, Sr.

I would love to prove this claim for either John or Polly, if not both. The search for relevant documents in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee continues.

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