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         Surry County North Carolina History

Jonathan Hanby Carter, Surry County’s Civil War Sailor

Jonathan Hanby Carter. Courtesy of Doniphan and Meg Carter.

In May 1853, J. E. B. Stuart wrote from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York to his cousin Bettie Hairston, “A few days ago I had a visit from an old friend and neighbor Jonathon Carter now a Lieutenant in the Navy on the eve of starting out in Ringgold’s expedition to Bering’s Straights to be absent four years. He looked better than I ever saw him and seemed to anticipate a fine time.”

            Jonathan Hanby Carter was born on January 1, 1821 in Surry County, North Carolina, this author believes in a house on Old Rail Road near White Pines Country Club, but his family roots where in Patrick County. Susannah Hanby, whose father was Jonathan Hanby married William Carter, the man O. E. Pilson called the “Father of Patrick County” in 1788. These were Jonathan Hanby Carter’s grandparents. William Carter II married Elizabeth Moore and lived in the northern part of Surry County, North Carolina.

            There still many signs of the Carters in Patrick County. Anytime you travel south from Stuart on Route 8 you will pass Carter’s Mountain on the right just before you reach the intersection with Highway 103 and if you proceed onto Ararat you pass the Carter Cemetery just after crossing the Dan River on the left of the Ararat Highway.

            I had never heard of Jonathan Carter until reading Stuart’s letter, but since I have found him to be fascinating and one of the great historical finds that my time with Jeb Stuart has ever brought me. Carter was in the first graduating class at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1846. He traveled the world rising to the rank of Lieutenant in the navy of the United States for fifteen years and eventually resigned in 1861with the outbreak of the Civil War. He commanded ironclads in the navy of the Confederate States of America on the Mississippi and Red rivers.

Carter Home in Surry County, North Carolina. Courtesy of Doniphan and Meg Carter.

Mathew C. Perry led several expeditions to the Far East to open up China and Japan. Cadwalader Ringgold (1802-1867) led an expedition of five ships beginning in 1853 to survey the western Pacific for the whaling industry. Carter served on the USS Powhatan during the expedition. Carter began his naval career in March 1840. He traveled the world rising to the rank of Lieutenant in the navy of the United States serving on the USS Powhatan, USS John Adams, USS Perry, USS St Lawrence and USS Savannah.

            While traveling the world Carter kept in touch with his family and roots in Patrick County. The 1859 Patrick County Land Books reports him owning 100 acres worth $100. The Patrick County Deed Book #17 shows him acting as Power attorney for two of his brothers the next year.

On April 25, 1861, Jonathan Hanby Carter resigned his commission in the United States Navy and began his second naval career in the Confederate States Navy. His first command involved taking the Ed Howard, a side-wheel steamship and turning it into the CSS General Polk. The six-gun ship patrolled the Mississippi River and Louisiana coast in the first two years of the war. After fighting in the Battle of Island #10 on the Mississippi River in March 1862, Carter escaped seventy-five miles up the Yazoo River and burned the ship to avoid its capture.

By October, he was building another ship. In April 1863, Carter launched the CSS Missouri on the Red River near Shreveport, Louisiana. He supervised all aspects of its construction and commanded through the end of the war. The ironclad ship carried three guns: one eleven inch, one nine inch gun and one thirty-two pounder. A Union officer described the ship as “very formidable” but “very slow.” Carter’s command included 24 officers and 18 men, but it was not very exciting mainly due to low water in the Red River keeping the ship from participating in any major campaigns.

Carter became so bored that in February 1864 he wrote, “Feeling desirous of doing my country more effective service I must respectfully request that Steamer Harriet Lane now lying in Galveston harbor be turned over to me for the purpose of running her to some European port and there altering her as to make an efficient cruiser.” During the war, he wrote over 262 letters edited by Katherine B. Jeter in A Man and His Boat: The Civil War Letters of Jonathan H. Carter.

Jonathan Hanby Carter surrendered on May 26, 1865. The CSS Missouri was the last Confederate ship to surrender in home waters. After the war, Carter farmed in Louisiana, married Henrietta Tompkins in 1870 and settled near Edgefield, South Carolina where he died in March 1884. In Edgefield’s First Baptist Church cemetery, Carter lays near South Carolina’s Civil War Governor Frances Pickens and cavalry general Mathew C. Butler, the man who saved J. E. B. Stuart at Brandy Station in June 1863 bringing this story full circle.

Grave of J. H. Carter in Edgefield, South Carolina’s First Baptist Church

I had never heard of Jonathan Hanby Carter until reading Stuart’s letter. I have found him to be fascinating and one of the great historical finds that my time with Stuart has ever brought me. Travels to Annapolis and the Naval Research Library in Washington D. C. followed. Every time I visit my mother’s family in Augusta, Georgia, I make the short trip to Edgefield, South Carolina, where I visit two graves. My late Uncle Ed Hobbs rests in Edgefield County and Jonathan Hanby Carter, Surry County’s Civil War Sailor shares the same soil of the Palmetto State.  –Tom Perry

J. E. B. Stuart's Family Gave Mount Airy Its Name


            Thomas Perkins wrote the following passage in his will dated April 17, 1816, listed on page 138 of Surry Will Book Number 3, “To my son Constantine Whitehead Perkins I give my land including the seat where I now live called and known by the name of Mount Airy.” This is where Mount Airy, North Carolina gets the name, but who were the Perkins and what famous person from our region are they related too. The source for most of this material is The Descendants of Nicholas Perkins by William Hall.


            Mapquest lists at least ten communities named Mount Airy all over the country. Mount Airy, Maryland along with Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, just north of Perkins Ferry on the Dan River is Mount Airy, Virginia. It is with this family named Perkins that we begin the story.


            Nicholas Perkins came to Virginia in 1641. By 1650 he had 170 acres in the Bermuda Hundred area on the James River near Richmond and died six years later in Charles City County. His family would spread out across our country into present day Kentucky, Tennessee and Surry County, North Carolina. The descendants of two of his sons Philemon (ca1680, Henrico County, Virginia-1769, Goochland County, Virginia) and Constantine (1682-1770) would bring their families to our region.


            Philemon married Obedience Cox and had Abram (ca1720, Henrico County, Virginia-1793, Caswell County, North Carolina), who had Philemon, who died in 1795 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He married Mary Whitehead and they had Thomas Perkins. Son Thomas got 68 acres in from his father and is listed in 1811 Pittsylvania County, Virginia records as paying taxes on it. Thomas married twice, first to Faithey (Faithy) Peebles. Their children were Constantine, Polly who married a Buckley and then a Walker, Elizabeth, Nancy who married John Martin, Amy who married a Robertson and then a Massey and Peter Peoples Perkins. In 1798, Thomas sold his land in Rockingham County, North Carolina, on the south bank of the Haw River and moved to Surry County.


            The other son of the first Nicholas Perkins Constantine married Anne Pollard. They had Nicholas who married Bethenia Harding. This family lived on the Dan River in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. One of their homes Berry Hill still stands on the banks of the Dan built by their son, Peter. His sister Elizabeth married William Letcher in 1778. They moved to Henry County (Patrick County today) and in August 1780 Tories killed William in front of Elizabeth and their baby daughter Bethenia. Elizabeth married George Hairston, one of the wealthiest men in the country. Elizabeth had twelve children with her second husband. She rests with him today at Beaver Creek Plantation just north of Martinsville.


Elizabeth Perkins Letcher Hairston’s first child Bethenia married David Pannill and had two children William Letcher Pannill and Elizabeth Letcher Pannill. The latter married Archibald Stuart and moved to the land on the Ararat River in the 1820s. Of their eleven children, the eighth born on February 6, 1833, became our region’s most famous historical figure. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart spent his first twelve years outside Mount Airy at Laurel Hill. He grew to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, (Class of 1854) served seven years in the United States Army, mainly in the First U. S. Cavalry in Kansas Territory and then across three Aprils rising to the rank of Major General commanding Robert E. Lee’s cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. He died on May 12, 1864, after being wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern and is buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.


Another interesting side story to Thomas Perkins were the executors of his will. Michajah Oglesby, Jonathon Unthank and Jesse Franklin. Jesse Franklin (1760-1823) married Maacah Perkins (1766-1834). She was the daughter of Hardin Perkins (1730-1795) and Sarah Price. Hardin was the younger brother of Nicholas Perkins, the father of Elizabeth Perkins Letcher Hairston. So these two prominent families were connected via marriage into the Perkins clan. Franklin was Governor of North Carolina along with serving in both the United States House of Representatives and Senate.


North Carolina Links  
Surry County NC Genealogical Association
Rockford Preservation Society
Horne Creek Farm
Mount Airy Museum of History
Edwards-Franklin House in Surry County NC
Stokes County NC Historical Society
Townfork Settlement
Killed In Action Stokes County NC
Great Wagon Road

"History is like going down a river, but you never get to the end of it, because you are up in all the tributaries checking out all the coves."

                                                                                   -- Ruth Minick 


Lessons In The Shade Of A Holly Tree

In Mount Airy’s Oakdale Cemetery stands a lone holly tree giving shade to the graves of two great ladies who shared a love of our region’s history. Many know Miss Ruth Minick for her columns in the Mount Airy newspapers. Ruth worked with me on many projects over the years such as placing the marker for Stoneman’s Raid at the Mount Airy Library. She shared her accumulated knowledge of regional history. She never let the boundary line between North Carolina and Virginia stand between her and writing of history often writing on Stuart’s Birthplace.In an adjoining plot, Icy Bowman Brown, her husband G. E. "Shug" Brown and their two children rest. To say Icy loved history would be an understatement. Her enthusiasm for Stuart’s Birthplace and preserving the site and the history surrounding it is legendary to those of us who knew her. As a boy, she stimulated my interest in Laurel Hill through her scrapbooks and her willingness to tell me all she knew. I hope these two great ladies are together now and that heaven gets a big dose of our history every day. Some warm summer day when the wind blows through that holly tree, we might hope to hear them or at least in our memories learn from their example that history is on both sides of the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia.

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