Monday, April 4, 2011

Bransons, Part II: Heroes, Namesakes, and Defiance Revealed.

Sometimes the names in a genealogy tell a story so clearly.  For years, I have wondered about the name of my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Branson.  Why name him that?  What kind of patriotic leaning caused that name?  His sons were named Henry Clay and Isaac Newton, so I knew there was a sense of history in the family.  For years, I thought it was nothing more than that.

But now I know why: George's great-grandfather, Eli.  Eli Branson was born in New Jersey in 1734.  His father and grandfather were also born in New Jersey.  His family were Quakers, and this may be the reason they came to America.  But Eli ran into problems with the faith, as he was disowned by the Quakers of the Cane Creek, NC Meeting in 1767.

Eli lived in North Carolina with his wife Keziah and his 6 children.   In 1771, he fought on the 'regulator' or rebellion side against the Governor in the Battle of Almanace, a North Carolina precursor to the Revolution.  When they lost the battle, the governor executed 6 of the rebels, and forgave the others on condition that they swear an oath of allegiance to the king.

When the Revolution started, Eli stuck with the oath, joined the Tories, and became a captain under Cornwallis.  He was captured at Yorktown in 1781 and released in 1783, probably during the last prisoner exchange of the war.  He went to Nova Scotia where he received a land grant in 1784.  But instead he goes to England and married (without divorcing Keziah) Jane Rankin, the daughter of another famous Loyalist, William Rankin.  They have two children, Anne and Charles Cornwallis, named after Eli's hero and commander.  The year Charles is born, 1788, Eli went back to Canada alone and applied for reimbursement for damage to his land by the rebels in North Carolina.  He then settled in South Carolina, brought Keziah down from North Carolina and lived with her until his death in 1797.

When Eli was captured at Yorktown, his son John was 17.  What was it like for him and the rest of the children left behind in North Carolina?  It can't have been easy.  What stories were told?  What resentments were built up?  We can only guess, but the heroes and namesakes provide solid clues.  John named his first son Andrew Jackson Branson.  It seems he knew or admired future President Andrew Jackson, who was a solicitor in North Carolina in 1788.  So John named his first-born son not after his father, who might have been back in contact by then, but after a man who was a soldier in the Revolutionary army at age 13, a man who was scarred for life by the sword of a British officer whose boots he refused to clean and who hated the British from that day on.  He named his second son William, and his third Benjamin Borden, after one of the Benjamin Bordens who were Eli's uncle and great-uncle.  The uncle was one of the most successful landowners in Virginia, the great-uncle a legislator in Rhode Island.  John chose his sons' namesakes from his own hero list, and they are different men from his father's heroes.

John's second son William was 6 when Eli died.  He may never have met his Tory grandfather, but he did follow the family tradition of naming his sons for his heroes.  His first son, Isaac Newton Branson, was born in 1825.  His second, Benjamin Burden Branson, in 1830.  And in 1833, George Washington Branson was born and named after the man who defeated the great Cornwallis who his grandfather so revered.

So now I see that George was not merely named in some patriotic fervor.  He was the coup-d'etat in a multi-generational war, the final pin in the reviled effigy of his grandfather.