Richard Kirby of Blount Co. TN
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Poor Richard (Kirby’s) Almanack Issue #1

Harold Spradley, Houston, TX


I. Introduction

On occasion, while attempting to solve a particularly knotty problem, I have found that it is useful to assemble all the things about the problem - whether they be known as proven fact, represent a current working hypothesis or merely exist as a wildly speculative myth – then to "high-grade" the information by making connections between the known elements as well as by bringing focus on the unproven elements to find some shreds of evidence to prove or disprove their candidacy for being labeled "true".

Recently, as a part of documenting a number of parts of family genealogy, I have allowed myself to be drawn in to the interesting questions regarding the origins and ancestry of my 5th great-grandfather, Richard Kirby. This is the same Richard who is variously known as "Old Richard", "Richard 1748", or "Richard Sr., of Blount County Tennessee", and who was married to Sarah Jean Small (who proclaimed herself to have been born in Scotland in about 1748.) As a consequence of Richard’s having made the move west of the Appalachians (and the reproductive efficiency of his offspring), there are now several thousand Kirby descendants in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and elsewhere who can claim Richard and Sarah as forebears. It would now appear that a few hundred of these have plunged into genealogy, and are up against a wall in trying to get more information on Richard’s actual origins. I base this last statement on having made a few excursions into several Kirby web sites, as well as having examined the numerous sets of Kirby family files on the LDS site, or published in Broderbund’s World Family Tree project. The one thing they have in common is that Richard came out of some misty origin in Virginia in the mid-18th Century.

In an attempt to separate the facts as we know them from speculative family lore, I am planning to prepare some periodic reports to serve as a focus for "Richard Research". If any reader of these articles has already uncovered the answers to the remaining questions, and is willing to share them, then the reports can be concluded in only two issues. If not, then it seems that a series of research documents might eliminate the need for many people to make parallel inquiry into avenues already proven to be without merit, or to highlight areas for potential pursuit for documentation of our ancestor’s origins.


II. What About Richard?

A. Reasonably Well Documented Information (Short Summaries)

    1. A Richard Kirby lived from 1795 until 1811 in Blount County, Tennessee with his wife Sarah and family, with a well-documented existence as a member of the community, serving as juror, overseer of roads, church member, and filing his will. After his death, Sarah Jean (Small) Kirby filed an application for a pension as widow of one who had served in the Revolutionary War.
    2. A Richard Kirby/Kerby lived from the early to mid-1780s until 1795 in Yadkin/Surry County, North Carolina with his family, and his presence was documented in the 1790 Federal Census, as well as in community records of his service as a juror, overseer of roads, and church member. The profile of family ages and sexes as extracted from the census is in agreement with the Kirby household who migrated to Tennessee; but that tie is confirmed by Richard and Sarah having transferred their church membership from a Methodist Episcopal church in Surry County to the church in Rockland, Blount County, Tennessee. In Surry County, the Kirby family established a close relationship to the family of Joshua Freeman, with two children of Richard and Sarah marrying two children of Joshua and Lucy (King) Freeman. (Joseph L. Kirby married Eliza Freeman; Richard Kirby Jr. married Temperance Freeman.) Joseph Kirby "came of age" during this sojourn, was a witness on a deed transaction in 1791 together with his father-in-law Joshua Freeman, and in February 1795, bought land adjacent to his father’s property on Grassy Creek.
    3. Several Kerby families lived in Yadkin/Surry County, North Carolina in the same time frame as the Richard Kerby family, as documented by census, deeds, and court records. Given names include Joel Kerby, Edmond Kerby, Francis Kerby, Henry Kerby, Pleasant Kerby, and Samuel Kerby. The number of entries for Henry and Samuel Kerby are more frequent in the earlier court records; while entries for Richard and Samuel Kerby are more frequent for later court records. Joel Kerby, the only other head of household enumerated in the 1790 Federal census for the county, is shown to have 4 males above age 16, 2 males under 16, and 7 females in his household. Other figures are given for Kirby/Kerby households in other parts of the state.
    4. There is little to substantiate a family tie among these having the Kirby/Kerby surname. Joel and Edmond served together on a committee to survey the navigability of the Yadkin River; Richard was a witness to a document being filed by Joel; but these could have been coincidental. (It is fairly easy to extrapolate some these names across the adjacent county boundary into Stokes County, North Carolina, where the will of Henry Kerbey, filed in July, 1789, listed wife Susannah, and children Sarah Davis, Edmund Kerbey, Samuel Kerbey, Jessee Kerbey, Pleasant Kerbey, Sillia Williams, Darcas Cunningham, as well as granddaughter, Patsy Childress.)

    5. A Richard Kerby can be found on the tax rolls of Henry County, Virginia, for 1778-1780, together with other Kirby/Kerby men with given names David, Francis, Jessee (2), John, Joseph, and Josiah. (The second Jessee is distinguished from the first by the indication "Jessee-Pigg River". In 1784, Francis Kerby sold two tracts of land which he owned in Henry County, with (one or the other) Jessee Kirby as a witness to the deeds. Richard Kirby is shown as an owner of 358 acres of land on Sycamore Creek in Henry County. That same Richard, when selling the land in 1785, had wife Sarah Kirby sign (or put her markon) the deeds to two properties. The two land sales by Francis and Richard are close to the time their names begin to appear just across the border in North Carolina.
    6. A Richard Kerby is shown as owning at least two parcels of land in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, the surveys having been performed in the late 1760s to early 1770s. No tie is made between this Richard and the John Kerby (Sr. and Jr.) families in that county. The date of the first survey is 1769, at which time a Richard Kirby born in 1748 would have been about 21 years of age. (Pittsylvania County is adjacent to Henry County, both being adjacent to the VA-NC border.)
    7. A Richard Kirby had an 1881 will filed in Halifax County, in which he named a son Richard as one of his heirs, but described that son as not yet being of age (21). This will would rule out these Kirbys as not fitting the age of one born in 1748.
    8. In the sequence of Richard Kirbys of Southampton County, Virginia, the third Richard of that set was serving as executor of his father’s estate in 1880, and seemed to be sitting on a gold mine as the leading inheritor of family lands, house and out-buildings. These are the facts as revealed in deed records. (My opinion, as separated from fact, is that it is highly unlikely that this is the same Richard Kirby who would be launching out to make a living out of untamed lands in the west.)
    9. John Kirby, second son of the Richard Kirby who migrated to Tennessee, had some opportunity to become acquainted with the Adair (or Addair) family of Christiansburg, in Montgomery Co., Virginia. He was not only able to woo their daughter Jane to become his bride in 1791, but also set up sufficient contact for his younger sister Betsey to later marry Thomas Addair. (It must be noted that the time frame of John’s marriage in Virginia corresponds to the same the time the rest of the Richard Kirby clan is in North Carolina.) John’s family moved to Blount County, Tennessee, and to Jackson County, Alabama, but those moves may have been later than those of his father and brothers.
    10. The DAR saw fit to include the following line in its 1990 "DAR Patriot Index, Centennial Edition, Part II":

"KIRBY:KERBY Richard: b c 1748 VA d 4-30-1811 TN m Sarah Jean Small Sol PS VA"

(The above entry is fact, but this researcher has not seen the records held by the DAR as basis for the acknowledgement.)

B. Richard Kirby Lore

Author’s note: For those who have provided information which is included in the following section, the author must apologize if it appears that these bits and pieces are somehow less valid than the items presented in the "fact" section above. However, they fit into different parts of the "warp and weft" of the woven document which makes up the fabric of a history.


    1. Richard Kirby had a brother named Francis Kirby who is buried in an unmarked grave in the Kirby Cemetery in Blount County, Tennessee. This relationship, if it can be proven, would tie in neatly with Richard’s naming of a son Francis, with the presence of a Francis Kirby in both Henry County, Virginia and in Surry County, North Carolina, and with the sale of lands by Francis Kirby at about the time of the move into North Carolina by the Richard Kirby family.
    2. Sarah Jean Small’s father was named Samuel Small. While this might be true, I have never seen a source cited for the information.
    3. Richard Kirby served with Captain Fleming Bates company, and was on Cherokee Expedition. (No data in federal Revolutionary War index to support this.)
    4. Richard and Sarah’s marriage was in Amelia County, Virginia (Clarence Kirby Bible), so Richard may have been born there.
    5. Richard Kirby was of Scotch-Irish ancestry, and came with four brothers from Ireland to live in Virginia.
    6. Richard Kirby had a brother named Thomas Kirby.
    7. Richard Kirby may have been related to the family of immigrant Thomas Kirby of Poquoson, York County in Virginia. (This is derived from the name Thomas Hawkins Kirby given to Richard’s grandson by John Kirby and Jane Addair, and fact that Thomas Kirby of York County had granddaughter who married a Thomas Hawkins.)



III. Proposed Lines of Research

If the Richard Kirby who lived in Surry County, North Carolina is accepted as being the one who moved to Blount County, Tennessee in 1795, then he must have been born in North Carolina or moved there from some other location. Tradition says that it was from Virginia (his older children claim to have been born in that state); and there are a number of Richard Kirby-Kerby candidates which must be screened for continued "candidacy" as representing his earlier life and family origin. In such screening, the elimination of a particular candidate whose particulars do not fit can be quite important in directing efforts elsewhere. Also, the documentation of events which place Richard Kirbys in different locations in the same time frame can serve as a form of proof that these are separate individuals, as opposed to the same man who is moving. For example, if it can be shown that the Richard Kirby III in Southampton County, Virginia was indeed tending to family affairs continuously through the late 1770s and early 1780s, then it would not fit for him to have been the Richard Kirby who paid taxes in Henry County, Virginia in 1778-1780. Richard Kirby of Southampton did have a brother named Thomas, but none named Francis; so the proof of a Francis as a brother in the family who moved to Tennessee would be a "negative" for maintaining the Southampton line in the candidacy. At this point, the Henry County, Virginia Richard Kirby, complete with a wife named Sarah, and having sold lands at the same time as the move to North Carolina, would appear to be the high-percentage leader as a "working hypothesis" to be followed as the leading candidate for the Surry County NC and Blount County, TN Richard.

Some particular lore needs to be examined, including a search for evidence of a Richard Kirby in Amelia County, Virginia, or other information about the marriage between Richard Kirby and Sara Jean Small. The Clarence Kirby Bible data, which cites the Amelia County event, also is reported to have a date of marriage in 1756, at which time the Richard and Sarah of Blount County, Tennessee would have been only 8 years old.

It would be extremely helpful to have confirmation of Richard’s military service; and in that regard, a review of all records submitted to the DAR would seem to be a starting point. Also, as a part of following the family lore, it would be useful to have a review of "Captain Fleming Bates Company", its history and any rosters.

More needs to be known about the Richard Kirby of Pittsylvania County, to be added to his land survey record information. This individual is one of the earliest (pre Revolutionary War) citations of a Richard in western Virginia. The locations in Pittsylvania County are not far from Henry County, Virginia, the North Carolina border, or in particular from the Yadkin District/Surry County part of North Carolina.

Montgomery County, Virginia cannot be ruled out as a possible origin or stopping place for the Richard Kirby family, if only from the standpoint of later marriages with the Addair clan. In this latter relationship, one must consider the possibility that the Addairs, as opposed to the Kirbys, might have had a prior Thomas Hawkins contact.

  1. Summary and Acknowledgements

It should be obvious that the above paragraphs do not provide any conclusive evidence about Richard Kirby’s origins; so this is not the end of a story, but only a beginning. It is our objective to call attention to areas of investigation which may be fruitful, as well as interesting for Kirby researchers to pursue. We are just beginning to compile a bibliography of "Richardiana"; and will provide such in a following report.

In the meantime, I would like to express my appreciation to a number of individuals and sources from whom I have gleaned information as well as some intellectual prods to pursue this task. Many thanks to my closer Kirby/Spradley cousins from the Alabama clan, including Mary Ruth Jernigan Reagan and Hope Kirby Patton. Thanks for several valuable contacts from Dr. Jim Kirby and Cindy Swagler, for lists as well as family lore passed on by Jessie Armstrong, Robert S. Duggan and Jimmy G. Lewis. In addition to the web sites maintained by Bob, Jimmy, and Dr. Jim, the entire Kirby clan is enriched by the efforts and information put into sites maintained by Adrianne Hopkins and Eve Gregory.


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