The brief history of the ancestors and descendants of Harrod Hopson of Claiborne County, Tennessee

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Our Hopson and Bunch Ancestors of East Tennessee

By Nancy Cassada Nelson
nancycassadanelson@yahoo.com
Chesterfield, New Jersey
May 7, 2001

The earliest record that I have found of a Hopson in the East Tennessee area is the signature of Edward Hopson on the Watauga Petition of 1776.  This was a real signature, not an "X".  The connection of this Edward to our family is not known.  Our first East Tennessee Hopson ancestry was Harrod, or "Old Hard," Hopson.  His wife was Sarah Bunch.  They are listed in the Wake County, NC census of 1800 as a household containing one male age 16-26 and one female age 16-26.  This couple arrived in East Tennessee soon after their marriage, along with Sarah's father Martin and some of her brothers.

In Orange County, NC in 1786, Richard Hopson wrote his will. He named his wife Elizabeth, his sons Richard, Daniel, Younger and Martin, also daughters Sarah and Jane. Three sons-in-law were named, but not the first names of their wives.  Sons Martin and Daniel were left 240 acres of land on Panter (Panther) Creek in Wake County, NC.  Elizabeth Hopson is head of a household in Orange County in 1790.  In Wake County we find six Hobson families, including Daniel but not Martin.  Of the six, only Daniel has sons under sixteen: three of them, and also three females (of any age) in the household.  Also in 1790 in Wake County are five families named Harrod: Benjamin, James, John, Martin and William Harrod.  My theory is that our Harrod Hopson was a son of Daniel, and that Daniel's wife was a daughter of one of those Harrod families.  In 1800 in the census, his name is spelled Harrard Hopson, and the families are also Harrard.  There is no Wake County census for 1810 or 1820.  By 1830, the surviving families are Harward.  I'm wondering if the name was originally Howard.  The Claiborne County clerks consistently spell his name Harrod.  Census takers were more creative.

In February of 1814, in Claiborne County, Harrod Hopson was already in debt and being sued by William Bunch, Sarah's brother, to sell his land and pay the debt.  In 1817 Harrod bought land in the county from William Blackwood.

In 1830 Sarah Hopson was a head of household in Claiborne. In 1832 a petition was filed with the Tennessee state legislature on behalf of Sarah Hopson, requesting "Femme sole" status for her. It stated that after over 20 years of marriage and 12 children, Harrod had left her bed and board and taken up with another woman. He was also running up debts and she feared that what little she was able to hoard for the support of her children would be taken to pay his debts. In 1835, Sarah was granted here femme sole status, with the proviso that she was not allowed to remarry until after his death. We assume that he had the same restriction.

In 1835, the Hopson farm was sold for debt or taxes by Sheriff John Hunt of Claiborne County. The property was bought by Anderson Jennings and deeded back to Sarah. By the time of the 1840 census, Sarah no longer appeared as a head of household, but Harrod did. There was a woman in his household, presumably the former Prudence Maples Cunningham, and an older woman who could have been her mother, Elizabeth Maples Henderson. In 1850 Prudence was listed in the household as his wife. In Elizabeth's [mother's] application for a Revolutionary War Widow's pension, various testimonies made in the mid 1840's calls her daughter Prudence Hopson.

The second child of Sarah Bunch and Harrod Hopson was Richard, born in North Carolina in 1803 if Claiborne County census records are accurate. His wife Rhoda Yarbrough was born in North Carolina in 1805. Rhoda joined the Big Spring Primitive Baptist Church in 1834. In the 1830 census, the name of Abner Yarbrough and wife age 50-60 appears next to the name of Richard Hopson. These could be Rhoda's parents. There were no Yarbrough's in 1840 in Claiborne.

By 1845 Rhoda had died and Richard married Hannah Damewood Ritter, widow of Moses Ritter and mother of at least seven children. Over the next few generations there were many marriages between Ritter, Bunch and Hopson children. James Bunch was a brother of Sarah and thus Richard's uncle, although he was closer in age to Richard than to Sarah. According to P. G. Fulkerson, James was over six feet tall and broad shouldered. He supposedly killed a man with one blow and it was later reported in the county that the Tennessee legislature had passed a law prohibiting James Bunch from hitting a man with his fist. In 1821, James and John Bunch were fined 25 cents each for assault and battery. Their fines were paid by James Hopson.

James Bunch and Richard Hopson were partners in a fishing business on the Clinch River, and Richard's daughter Mary Jane was married to James' son Martin Van Buren Bunch. Richard's son William Younger Hopson, known as "Young" married Julia Ritter, daughter of Hannah. Unitia Hopson, daughter of Jane Bunch and an unknown Hopson, married Henry Ritter. Richard's brother Harrod Hopson, Jr. married Elizabeth Mahulda Ritter.

The Bunch and Hopson families have starring roles in the saga of the Big Spring Primitive Baptist Church of Springdale in Claiborne County. The minutes of this church have been preserved on microfilm. In June of 1810, Sarah Hopson joined the church. The following September James Hopson's wife Penelope became a member. In 1816 after being "cited" to attend several meetings, Penelope was excommunicated for "the sin of dancing and refusing to face the church." Sarah and several others had been sent to labor with her.

James Bunch, brother of Sarah, and his wife Isabel Taylor, joined the church in November of 1840.  James became an active member, sometimes serving as moderator at their business meetings, and going to represent the church at association meetings and to other churches. In January of 1861 he admitted to being drunk with spirituous liquor and vowed not to drink any more. In March he was accused of "drunkness" - a charge that he denied, but in April he was excommunicated. Not until August of 1867 did he rejoin the Church, promising not to drink anymore. Soon he was again serving as moderator. In March of 1869 he again acknowledged that he had been drinking, and the church forgave him.

When James Bunch died in 1882, a very moving and personal eulogy for him was written into the church minutes by D. H. Rosenbalm, who was at that time the church clerk and who had known James for many years.

The Civil War years were horrible ones in Claiborne County. Not only did brother literally take up arms against brother, but the county was constantly in the grip of one army or the other, or of the various unofficial armed local groups. The Big Spring meeting house was occupied by Confederate troops in April of 1862, and from that month through the end of the year the record contains the same mournful sentence "Church failed to meet." Finally in 1863 they began to hold meetings in the Tye School House, and it was not until the autumn of 1866 that the members voted to put their old meeting house in order and resume meeting there.

Richard Hopson's sons joined the Union Army, and James Bunch's three sons joined the Confederate Army. If this alone was not enough to end their partnership, their fishing business would have been destroyed by the War. Here is an entry from the Federal Army's Official Record regarding the Clinch River near Tazewell: KNOXVILLE, TENN., June 12, 1862. Col. BENJAMIN ALLSTON, Commanding, &c.: COLONEL: I am directed by the major-general commanding to say that Barton's command is ordered to Tazewell. He will destroy all the boats on the Clinch River, except one at Clinton, in charge of a guard. The enemy have moved to the rear of Cumberland Gap. You will occupy the valley as long as possible, retiring to the south side of Clinch River when forced, watching and defending the crossings. The general will himself move to Tazewell with such force as he can collect for the relief of Stevenson tomorrow. Major Harper with a battalion of Morrison's cavalry was ordered via Kingston to Jacksborough. I will endeavor to stop them at Kingston and bring them to this place. Continue to send your dispatches here as usual.
Respectfully,  your obedient servant, J. F. BELTON, Assistant Adjutant-General.

In July, 1863, the church voted to exclude William Younger Hopson, Richard's son, from membership "for leaving his family and joining the enemy of his country to subjugate the South and the voice of the church taken he is therefore excluded." Exactly two years later, in July of 1865, they voted to re-instate him. Then, in September 1865: "Big Springs Church met at Tye Branch. Charge against Richard Hopson, W. Y. Hopson, Mariah Wells, Leata [Shelton] Carpenter, Julia [Ritter] Hopson, Sarah [Ritter] Taylor, Mira Ritter for a breach of church covenant for joining other churches without calling for letters from this church and for declaring an un fellowship with all southern members for their principles for taking any part in the Rebellion. Therefore they are excluded from the [fellowship] of this church. Elder Hiram Hurst, moderator." It was about this time that Richard and Hannah, and Young, Julia and their children, moved to Grainger County. It is sad to think that the War that divided this nation for so long was ultimately responsible for a break between the families of Richard Hopson, whose sons Brink and Young fought for the Union and James Bunch, whose sons Martin and David fought for the South and whose son James died in a Northern prison camp. These men had been as close as brothers for many years, joined by family, business and church.

Rhoda Yarbrough and Richard Hopson's son James (c. 1827-1884) married Martha "Patsy" Wells in Claiborne County in 1844. P. G. Fulkerson calls her Patsy Wells, and the death certificate of her son Thomas B. Hopson (1869-1946) calls her Martha Wells. The handwritten Claiborne County Marriage Book seems to say "Wills," and the various transcripts of the marriage records call her Wills or Mills. I cannot attach her to any of the Wells families who were in Claiborne County at this time; either they have a Martha born a different date, or they have no unidentified "slash" in the right age group in the 1840 census that could be our Martha. Neither Mrs. Hansard [Mary Lorena Hansard, Old Time Tazewell] nor Fulkerson [P. G. Fulkerson, Recollections and Early Settlers of Claiborne County] lists parents for Martha.

James and Patsy had at least 12 children. In the early 1850's they lost three little boys who had gone into the woods with the men to cut logs - one of the logs rolled down a hill, killing the boys. Eliza, Sarah and Thomas were born after this tragedy, and later James and Patsy raised Henry and William Greer, children of their daughter Nancy who died after less than five years of marriage. In 1880 Eliza and her four daughters were living in the household as well.

Great Grandpaw (Thomas) died in 1946, but I can't honestly say that I remember him. I do remember Aunt Sally.

Nancy Cassada Nelson
Copyright May 7, 2001. All rights reserved.
William Hopson, the sixth child of Harrod and Sarah Bunch Hopson was born about 1813 in Claiborne County, Tennessee. One source says that William was still alive in 1882; his exact date of death is not known.
On August 29, 1839, Penelope Hopson and William Hopson were called to Grainger County, Tennessee to testify in the trial of James Kirby, for passing counterfeit money. The court record for that date lists their two names with the notation that they came from "out of county, 26 miles," four days, and their payment of $5.04 each.
The 1840 census of Lauderdale County, Alabama lists W. Hopson age 20-30, wife 20-30. One male under 5, one female under 5, one male free colored. The 1850 census for Lauderdale County shows daughter Mary age 13 born in Tennessee and son Carter age 10 born in Alabama. This probably indicates that William and his family came to Lauderdale County about 1840. His son Thomas was a Confederate soldier, killed during the War. William's occupation is listed on the 1850 census as "boatman."
The children of William and Jane were: Jasper, born about 1833 in Tennessee; Mary Ann (who married William Wallace Whitsett), born in 1835 in Tennessee; Carter, born about 1840 in Alabama; Thomas, born about 1842 in Alabama; Franklin, born May 7, 1845; John, twin to Franklin also born May 7, 1845 (married Permelia Jane Freer); Sarah Isabel Hopson, born October 10, 1850; Martha Jane Hopson, born January 28, 1852
Alabama land records show that William Hopson purchased 40 acres of land through a cash entry sale on January 4, 1852, document number 15277, serial number AL3680__.122, Meridian or Watershed Huntsville parcel Township 1S, Range 15W, Section 33. On January 12, 1859 William Hopson purchased another 40 acres through a cash entry sale, document number 29040, serial number AL3890_064, Township 1S, Range 15W, Section 33.
When the 1860 census was taken on June 4, Hopson brothers, Harrod, James, Thomas, William and cousin Eldridge (listed as Thompson), were in the Western Division of Lauderdale County, Alabama, with Westmorelandville listed as the post office. The 1870 census shows two young women in William and Jane's household. Martha age 20 and Isabel age 33. Isabel is Sarah Isabel Hopson. On the 1880 census William gives his parents' place of birth as North Carolina. Also in 1880, William's grandson by Mary Ann, William Isaac Whitsett, age twenty was living with him and his second wife Mary.

For information on the family of William Wallace Whitsett and Mary Ann Hopson go to our Whitsett Family Page.

 
Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 10 February 2018