200 Years Ago Today Elizabeth Atkins Died

by Dave Atkins (12 Mar 2003)

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Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, had been in office only two years. The deal for the Louisiana Purchase had not quite been completed, and it would be some four months before Lewis and Clark set out for their famous expedition. The city of Raleigh was only eleven years old and had a population of less than 1000.

Elizabeth died in Wake County, NC, on March 12, 1803. Eleven of her twelve children survived her. Apparently aware of her impending death she made her will just two weeks before her death, and began it: “In the name of God Amen, I Elizabeth Atkins of the County of Wake and State of North Carolina, being weak in Body but in perfect mind and memory, and calling to mind the mortality of my Body, knowing it is appointed for all to die, do make, and Ordain this my last Will, and Testament, in the following manner, ...”

Referring to the son whose land she had lived on since her husband’s death she would: “give and Bequeath unto my Son Ica Atkins, a Tract of Land (adjoining the Land, I now live on ...) containing Seventy Nine acres, more or less, it being a tract of Land, which was bequeathed to me, by my husband.”

She also willed Ica “one featherbed and furniture, all my chairs, one pine Table, one dutch oven, Two of my smallest iron pots, one pewter dish,” and assorted other items including “my Bay Horse, called Button, and all my House hogs (to wit) four sows, and eighteen shoats.”

Interestingly, she gave her “Sons Lewis Atkins and Ica Atkins (Jointly) all my Casks, and my Still.”

To her “Daughter Nansy Myatt, (wife of Briton Myatt) [she gave her] dark bay Mare, called Pigeon.”

The remainder of her assets were variously: “divided between my Ten following children, (to wit) William Atkins, Nicholas Atkins, Sally Hutchins (wife of William Hutchins) Isaac Atkins, Josiah Atkins, Lewis Atkins, Hutchens Atkins, Betsy Mills (wife of John Mills), Polly Pearson (wife of Simon Pearson) and Nansy Myatt (wife of Briton Myatt).” ... Ica Atkins having been left out of that list presumably because he had received her land.

She signed her will with her mark: a feeble “X” that looks more like a “+”.

I do not as yet have much information on Elizabeth’s early life except that her maiden name may have been Hutchins. I have indication that her husband, John Atkins, was born in Virginia in 1723. If so I suspect Elizabeth was as well, and then they probably married in Virginia, perhaps in Surry County (Va.). [LPM Note: Glenn Thatcher shows both John and Elizabeth born in NC.]


I do know that on July 21, 1761 John Atkins received 480 acres in Johnston County, NC “on the N.W. side of Neuse River on Buck Branch.” This was by a land “patent” issued under the authority of the British Crown by Lord Granville of England. It was one year after the end of the French and Indian War. King George III, who would loose the American Colonies in a war that started fifteen years later, had been on the British throne only one year.

Lord Granville was the one Lord Proprietor, out of eight, who refused to sell his New World land back to the Crown when it realized it had given away too much land. Granville’s plan was to collect a few fees with each grant of land to settlers, and then regularly charge them what amounted to a tax. This was the agreement John Atkins, along with a few thousand others, accepted so he could have land to farm.

By 1771 there are court records of John Atkins in Wake County. Not because they had moved, but rather because that was when Wake County was formed, largely from Johnston County. Still the family ties to Johnston County remained. At least two of their sons, Isaac and Josiah, married women from Johnston County.

In 1779 John applied for and received land grants in Wake County totaling 1029 acres. In addition his son William received 630 acres, and John, Jr. claimed 640 acres. (640 acres is one square mile). This land appears to be southeast of present day Raleigh not far from Johnston County.

I find it remarkable that North Carolina was giving land grants in 1779, considering that while we had declared independence, the war was going very badly for us. It wasn’t until 1781 that Cornwallis was cornered by the French and Americans and surrendered at Yorktown. Nevertheless, for a pledge of loyalty to the fledgling country, and the price of a survey and a small fee, one could get a land grant. Presumably if the British had prevailed, those who had given such an oath would have lost their land if not their life. (Just as when the Patriots won, some Loyalists were stripped of their land).


John Atkins support of the Revolutionary cause was apparently sincere. In February 1776 there was a ten minute skirmish in southeastern NC that became known as the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. The British plan was to combine their professional troops with local Loyalist Scots to put down the Carolina rebels in the lower Cape Fear River area. But the attack was poorly organized and the Patriots repulsed the attack, denying the British a toehold in the northern Carolinas.

While John Atkins did not fight in this battle, he did provide “two wagons and teams for Col. John Hinton on the expedition to Moores Creek Bridge. One wagon and team was taken by the Loyalists.”

For this, and his participation as a juror during the period, John Atkins is cited by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a Patriot. (Yes ladies, you could join the DAR!)


One of Elizabeth and John’s sons, John Jr., died in 1781. Unmarried, he instructed in his will that: “after all my Just Debts are Discharged I give and Bequeath to my Honoured Father John Atkins all and every part of my Estate Real and Personall of what kindsoever to him and his Heirs forever.” This means he turned his 640 acre land grant over to his father.

There is some confusion on the cause of John Jr.’s death. Nearly twenty years after his death a deposition was made that: “near or about the year 1780 ... that a certain John Atkins, Junr of Wake County, and Son of John Atkins Senr of sd county, did turn out as a Volunteer and clear a Class [of 40 men for 12 mos. service] ... , which said John Atkins, Junr, this Deponent believes died in the Service and the Command of Major General Greene, ... ” After which his mother Elizabeth made this claim of benefits based on Revolutionary War Service, Related Benefits: “Elizabeth Atkins of Wake Co. shows that her son, John Atkins, in 1780 enlisted as a solder in the Continental service and died under the command of General Greene. Unmarried, he devised his property in his will to his father, John Atkins, now deceased. Deponent feels entitled to bounty land.”

This means Elizabeth was trying to get some of the land promised to those who enlisted in the Continental Line (regular U.S. Army) twenty years after the fact, based on her claim of her son’s service, and that he had willed all his land to his father, who had since died. However, I have yet to find evidence that her request was granted. Additionally, the statement that he died in Service is confused by the fact that he made his will in Wake County a very few months before his death, and that there is a Wake County court entry for him just a few weeks before his death. This suggests to me that he had come home from the army before he died. Perhaps rather than having been killed in conflict or dying in the field from illness, he took sick while serving and came home in hopes of getting well, but didn’t. Or maybe Elizabeth was trying to pull a fast one twenty years later.


Elizabeth outlived her husband, John Atkins, by 10 years. He died in 1793, also in Wake County, when George Washington was President, and just months after the city of Raleigh had been formed. The population of North Carolina was about 11,000. John willed to his son Lewis “One Tract of Land Lying in Cumberland County on Black River Containing Six Hundred and forty acres, also one Negro Man Called George, also all my Blacksmith tools.”

To his son Hutchens “One Tract of Land lying Between Buck Branch and Bullens Glade Containing Three Hundred and twenty six acres” and to his son Ica “One Tract of Land ... whereon I now live containing Six Hundred and forty acres.” This would be where Elizabeth would live, as Ica was unmarried.

To his “Daughter Sally Atkins ... One Negro Boy Called Jim One Horse Creature, Two Cows and Calves, One Featherbed and furniture”, to his “Daughter Betsy Atkins ... One Negro Boy Called Dick ... One Horse Creature, two Cows and Calves, One Side Saddle, and One Featherbed and furniture.”

The 1790 census showed John Atkins owning 13 slaves. Presumably those not accounted for in his will would stay with the tracts of land they had worked.

As to his wife, John’s will states “I Lend to my loving Wife Elizabeth Atkins the Use of the Plantation whereon I now live, also the use of my Old Plantation on Buck Branch during her Natural life.”


One of Elizabeth’s middle sons, Josiah, is of interest to us. The closest thing I can find about him that might be noteworthy is that he was a member of the Wake County grand jury that in May of 1801 sent the Raleigh commissioners a formal statement criticizing their “inattention” in failing to prevent gambling and disorderly conduct, particularly “on the Sabbath day,” and in permitting stores to be open on that day “to the Evil example of Others and encouragement of Vice.”

By 1798 he had reached the rank of Captain in a sort of local police known as “Patrollers.” Patrollers, also known as “patty rollers” or “paddy rollers”, were appointed to police county districts. Their duties were to watch for slaves absent from their plantations without written passes, search slave quarters for weapons, and break up suspicious gatherings.

What is important to us is that in 1816, a dozen years after his mother died, Josiah moved with his wife Francis, his son Josiah Jr. and the rest of his family to an area of Orange County that would later become south Durham County.

Josiah Atkins bought some 550 acres of land on which the Atkins family cemetery, located on Hope Valley Road in Durham, now sits. This is the cemetery where granddaddy Atkins’ parents and one set of grandparents are buried. [LPM note: "granddaddy Atkins" is John Leslie Atkins (1886-1973). See Descendants of John Atkins below.]

Josiah Atkins was granddaddy’s great-great-grandfather.

Elizabeth Atkins was our fifth-great-grandmother.


P.S. I must mention that I have had the privilege (and dizzying thrill) to hold in my hands at the NC Archives several of the actual documents mentioned above: The wills of Elizabeth Atkins, John Atkins and John Atkins Jr., and the U.S. Land Grants for John Atkins, Sr. I can hardly believe that I could (and that they would let me) hold in my hand the 225 year old pieces of paper that was the 1778 survey and land grant for John Atkins. Of course anyone can go to the Archives and request to see them.

Also, anyone interested in reading a transcript of these wills should let me know. There is a Wake County genealogical web site that has them.

Descendants of John Atkins


1 John Atkins I (1723 – 1793)

 +Elizabeth Hutchens (1725 – 1803)

2 Josiah Atkins (1750 - )

  [whose brother Isaac was gg-grandfather of Alfred Thomas Pritchard]

  +Frances Penney

3 Josiah Atkins, Jr (1803 - )

  +Mary Zzz

4 William H Atkins (1831 - )

  +Demarius M Leigh

5 James Leslie Atkins (1858 - )

  +Cornelia Elizabeth Herndon

6 John Leslie Atkins b: February 24, 1886 in NC d: April 04, 1973 in Durham, NC

  [4th cousin to Alfred Thomas Pritchard, et al.]

  +Alma Mattie Younger b: April 01, 1892 d: October 29, 1959 in Durham, NC m: October 15, 1912 in Durham, NC

7 John Leslie Atkins, Jr. - aka: Ted or Leslie b: November 03, 1913 in Durham, NC d: October 19, 1977 in Durham, NC

  +Alice Delores Camp - aka: Delores [LIVING]

8 David Charles Atkins - aka: Dave [LIVING]

This page was last updated 19 February 2012