John and Sarah Holford

Our Holfords can be traced back to John Holford. All attempts to trace any further back have heretofore proved fruitless. One theory has been postulated that John Holford's name was originally John Alford and various reasons have been suggested as to why he might have changed his name, but there is no hard evidence to support this theory. The sad fact is that records in rural colonial America are often very spotty.

John Holford appears to have been born about 1760-61 in Warren County, North Carolina. According to one source, he served as a private in the Revolutionary War and received a land grant in Overton County, Tennessee for 640 acres1 dated 26 November 1789, Warrant No. 2165 from the State of North Carolina. [Tennessee did not become a state until 1796.] I have provided more information about North Carolina Revolutionary War land warrants. However, this grant may be in the name of John Alford and I have not been able to obtain a copy of the warrant.

He married Sarah about 1806-07. She was born in 1790 and her maiden name is not known. It has been hypothesized that John may have had a family by a previous marriage. This view is based upon the 30-year age difference between John and Sarah, with no other evidence.

Eight children are known to have been born of this marriage:

1. Matthew, born 13 March 1808 in North Carolina.

2. Jonathan, born in 1809, probably in North Carolina.

3. Nancy, born in 1814 in Overton County.

4. Winneford, born 30 June 1816 in Overton County.

5. Solomon, born 15 April 1817 in Overton County.

6. Cynthia, born 1 January 1819 in Overton County.

7. Willis, born 25 October 1820 in Overton County.

8. Martha Jane, born 26 July 1824 in Overton County.

John Holford either bought or claimed his land sometime in late 1808 or early 1809. Later census records indicate that son Matthew names his place of birth as North Carolina and his birthdate in 1808 has been established. The Register of Deeds for Overton County in the Tennessee State Library and Archives has John Holford purchasing land by indenture deed in the volume covering the years 1801-09. I am in the process of obtaining a copy of this deed.

Otherwise John appears in the annals of history in September 1815. According to the Circuit Court Minutes 1815-24, he served on either a jury or grand jury 12-14 September 1815. He also served on the grand jury 10 March 1823. There is a Deed E-504, dated 1 Jan 1825, in which Henry Lee conveys to John Holford, what is described as "Spring Creek west end of Turkey Mountain 3rd District, 14th Section." I do not have a copy of this deed but only the report of it, so I don't know exactly what parcel of land or even the amount of land it conveys. Whether this involved a move from the land claimed under the warrant or was adjoining land is unknown. However there is about a section of land between Turkey Mountain and Spring Creek.

The last act of John Holford known to be on public record is his conveyance on 4 January 1832 of 49.5 acres of land on the waters of Spring Creek to his son Matthew "for love and affection". It is unclear whether this land is now in Overton or Putnam County, as Putnam County was established (permanently) in 1854, taking in part of Spring Creek from Overton County. However, if the above mentioned deed from Henry Lee is any indication, it was probably in Overton County, as the area west of Turkey Mountain and east of Spring Creek is still in Overton County.

The 1820 Census of Overton County is difficult to read because the 32-column form, which was probably bound together in a book, is spread across two pages and all of the pages have become detached. They are also worn around the edges. However, matching up the two pages as best I can (with the help of it appears that the Holford household also contained two males slaves under 14 years old, one under 26, two females slaves under 14, and one female between 26 and 45.

The 1830 Census is much easier to read. John may have been at the height of his wealth. It is unknown if he acquired any more land, but he owned 17 slaves.

There are a number of black Holfords from Tennessee including a free black woman Lucy Holford, age 65, in the same area of Overton County as our ancestors in 1860, and a family of 9 in 1870 also from the same part of the county. I do not know if these are descended from John Holford's slaves.

John Holford does not appear on the 1840 Census and Sarah Holford appears as a head of household. This would be pretty good evidence that John died before 1840. Many of the slaves appear to have been sold. There are only three left in the household. A man and a woman, both aged between 24 and 36, and a girl under 10.

A few further things are known about Sarah after the death of John. She sold 236 acres of land on 23 February 1848, though I do not have information as to who bought it. She is living with Willis at the time of the 1850 Census, but still has her own real estate, valued at $350. She also owns six slaves, a man of 39, women of 60, 42, and 42, and girls of 5 and 3.

Sarah Holford died 31 December 1854 and the final distribution of her estate was filed and recorded at the September 1856 term of the Overton County Court by her son Willis and recorded by Wm. M. Pickett, Clerk. The final value of her estate was after the payment of all debts, funeral costs, and administrator's fees was $3950.60

The whereabouts of the graves of John and Sarah Holford are unknown. There are a lot of "unknowns" in at least three Holford cemeteries. In one small cemetery of four graves on the upper part of Spring Creek there is a possible J Holford. This would be a likely place.


1 The late Ruth Alexander's information said it was 440 acres. However, I am going with the probability that this is a typo or misreading of the documents on her part, since it is incongruent with the policy on land warrants. I am awaiting verification from the National Archives as to the actual contents of the warrant.

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