I am a Trafton descendant through my third great grandmother Eliza Trafton (b. 1820). Eliza was born free which is evident through her presence in the 1850 Federal Census (as the wife of Henry Newsom); however, little is known about her early life. In an effort to learn about Eliza’s lineage, I have begun to research the Trafton family of Camden County, NC. This article is an introduction to the patriarch, Charles Gardner Trafton, and some of his descendants.
Charles Gardner Trafton was born in Dighton, MA on December 31, 1760 to Joseph Trafton and Ziporrah Talbot. As part of a long line of military men, he enlisted in Captain Peleg Peck’s Company (of Colonel George Williams’ Regiment) on September 29, 1777. After the Revolutionary War he became a mariner and entered the Port of Currituck1 several times in the late 1780s (twice on the ship “Nancy” owned by Seth Talbot and twice on the ship “Salley” owned by Joseph Jones on the first entry and Benjamin Jones on the second entry).
On December 7, 1790 Gardner Trafton was called a mariner of Camden County, NC while buying 21 acres of land from Timothy Cotter (who was also called a mariner of Camden County, NC) near River Bridge on the west side of the Pasquotank River in Pasquotank County, NC. The land was adjoining Joseph Richardson, David Cartwright, Jonathan Herring, and Labeus Richardson and the deed was witnessed by Abner Whitney and Nathaniel Paine. He later sold this tract of land on July 12, 1796 to John Hamilton.
The area around River Bridge was originally called “Joppa” and was the shipping and trading center for those who lived in upper Camden County. As a mariner, this would have been a convenient community for Gardner Trafton and he had relationships with several other investors in the area—including Arthur and Hollowell Old who owned a warehouse at River Bridge. The name “Joppa” was eventually replaced with “Pasquotank River Bridge” and later “River Bridge” in the early 1800s.
On July 11, 1791 Gardner Trafton married Lovey McPherson. As a newcomer from Massachusetts, Gardner did not have close family connections in Pasquotank County, NC but his wife (believed to be the daughter of Joshua McPherson and Courtney Hixon) was part of an established family in the area. Gardner Trafton and his wife lived in Pasquotank County, NC through the births of all of their children2 (Courtney (b. 1793), Joseph Talbot (b. 1796), John Wesley (b. 1799), and Benjamin (b. 1799)).
The name “John Wesley” may have been in honor of John Wesley, a religious leader of the time and the founder of Methodism. The McBrides, Gamblings, McPhersons and Cartwrights were all named in the 1792 lease from Jeremiah Sexton to build a house of worship (McBride Church) for joint use between local Methodists and Episcopals. A few years after the birth of their last child, Lovey Trafton died on April 9, 1802.
Important details about Gardner Trafton’s life can be extracted from the deeds he entered throughout his life in Camden County, NC.
|Deed Information||Deed Description||Grantee||Grantor||Witnesses||Notes|
|6 August 1799 (Book I, Page 74)||$250 for a 50-acre tract of land and swamp near Pasquotank River Bridge in Camden County||Gardner Trafton||Joseph Jones||Charles Grice, Abner Whitney||+50 Acres (Land & Swamp)|
|30 September 1800 (Book I, Page 83)||600 spanish dollars for a 3-acre tract of land near Pasquotank River Bridge formerly belonging to the copartnership of Hughs, Smith & Scarborough (sold by the sheriff to Austin and Susanah Davis who then sold it to Elisha Davis who then sold it to Thomas Gordon)||Gardner Trafton||Thomas Gordon||Abner Whitney, Joshua McPherson (Gardner Trafton’s Father-in-Law)||+3 Acres|
|26 April 1802 (Book I, Page 293)||$613 for a 3-acre tract of land near Pasquotank River Bridge formerly belonging to the copartnership of Hughs, Smith & Scarborough including the piece of land called the “Jib”||Arthur & Hollowell Old||Gardner Trafton||Arthur Wilkins, Christopher Whitehurst||-3 Acres (See Book I, Page 83; A jib is a triangular sail. Could this refer to the island in the middle of the Pasquotank River?)|
|22 January 1803 (Book I, Page 372)||600 spanish dollars for one negro man named Thomas (formerly the property of Timothy Hixon) and one negro woman named Pamela (formerly the property of Benjamin Jones)||James Pearce||Gardner Trafton||Roger Slover, William Hinton||-2 Slaves|
|15 October 1804 (Book K, Page 243)||600 spanish dollars for one negro man named Thomas (formerly the property of Timothy Hixon) and one negro woman named Pamela (formerly the property of Benjamin Jones)||Gardner Trafton||James Pearce||Jeremiah (?) Murden, Benjamin Howell||+2 Slaves (See Book I, Page 372; Repurchased the same slaves that he sold)|
|__October 1804 (Book K, Page 322)||$550 for a 20-acre tract of land on the north side of Joy’s Creek adjoining Elisha McBride, Joseph Abbott, and James Haley||Gardner Trafton||Joshua Burnham||B. Jones, J. Pearce||+20 Acres|
|3 December 1805 (Book L, Page 37)||$250 for a 50-acre tract of land and swamp on the Pasquotank River Bridge in Camden County known by the name of Butter Weed (?)||Hollowell Old||Gardner Trafton||Malachi Wilkins, Nehemiah Riggs||-50 Acres (See Book I, Page 74, Land & Swamp)|
|3 December 1805 (Book L, Page 38)||$550 for a 20-acre tract of land on the north side of Joy’s Creek adjoining Elisha McBride, Joseph Abbott, and James Haley||Hollowell Old||Gardner Trafton||Malachi Wilkins, Nehemiah Riggs||-20 Acres (See Book K, Page 322)|
|23 January 1808 (Book M, Page 35)||$30 for a 250-acre tract of swamp land near the head of Joy’s Creek in the Great Dismal Swamp adjoining David Pritchard, Joseph Pritchard, and Timothy Jones||Gardner Trafton||Joseph Pritchard||+250 Acres (Swamp, See Image Below)|
|8 February 1808 (Book M, Page 65)||350 silver dollars for one negro man named Mat (formerly the property of Hollowell Old)||Gardner Trafton||Josiah Grandy||Thomas R. Butter, John K(?)||+1 Slave|
|25 October 1808 (Book M, Page 134)||$800 for 94-acre tract of land known as “Sawyer Lands” adjoining the swamp off the Pasquotank River, the road leading to the Shipyard, and the land of the heirs of Edmund Sawyer||Gardner Trafton||Nathaniel Downs||John Wilkins, Willis Wilkins||+94 Acres|
|16 February 1818 (Book P, Page 436)||$1725 for 74-acre tract of land (formerly the property of Griffith Sawyer) adjoining Edmund Sawyer and Willis Etheridge and a 40-acre tract of land (purchased from Enoch Sawyer from Susannah Shannonhouse) adjoining the up River Road and James B. Cunningham||Gardner Trafton||Thomas Jones||Thomas Gordon, Demsey McPherson||+114 Acres|
|23 April 1818 (Book P, Page 448)||$205 for 20.5-acre tract of land beginning at Down’s Shipyard Landing Road (previously purchased from Nathaniel Downs by Asa Sawyer, father of William Sawyer)||Gardner Trafton||William Sawyer||William Forbes, Catherine Forbes||+20.5 Acres|
|3 February 1819 (Book Q, Page 89)||$200 for a 55-acre tract of land (conveyed by Jesse Gregory to Caleb Gregory) in the Lake adjoining the land of Isaac Gregory on the side of the land next to the swamp||Gardner Trafton, Miles Gregory||Cason Hutchings||John Grandy, Justin B Jacobs||+55 Acres|
|22 February 1819 (Deed Book Q, Page 160)||$350 for one negro boy named Bob about 10 years of age, son of negro woman named Judith (formerly the property of Asa Sawyer, deceased)||Gardner Trafton||Jeremiah Forbes||Thomas Gordon||+1 Slave|
|14 January 1824 (Book R, Page 284)||$100 for a 61-acre tract of land or swamp on the Pasquotank River, part of the Thomas Leavy deed adjoining the Shipyard, William Forbes, and William Sawyer||Gardner Trafton||David M. Sargent (agent of Joseph White of the city of Boston)||Jordan Lurry, John Trafton||+61 Acres|
|28 July 1825 (Book S, Page 177)||$200 for a 20-acre tract of land that Asa Sawyer purchased from Nathaniel Downs adjoining William Forbes||Gardner Trafton||William Saywer||Justin B. Jacobs, John Trafton||+20 Acres|
|2 November 1825 (Book S, Page 206)||$227 for a 22.7-acre tract of woodland beginning at a bridge in the road running up to the swamp then up north easterly to the mouth of a ditch||Gardner Trafton||William Saywer||W.S. Bell, John Trafton||+22.7 Acres|
|7 August 1826 (Book S, Page 311)||$100 for a 250-acre tract of swamp land near the head of Joy’s Creek in the Great Dismal Swamp adjoining David Pritchard, Joseph Pritchard, and Timothy Jones||Phineas Sanborn||Gardner Trafton||W McPherson, George Ferebee||-250 Acres (See Book M, Page 35, Swamp)|
|30 April 1827 (Book T, Page 104-105)||$140 for a 14-acre tract of land near Creek Bridge adjoining Tully Robertson, the widow Polly Bell, Linus Williams, Benjamin Trafton, and Cason Hutchings||Gardner Trafton||Tully Robertson||Justin B. Jacobs, Jordan Lurry||+14 Acres|
|12 August 1828 (Book T, Page 259)||$500 for one negro boy named Enoch (formerly the property of Isaac Murden, the father of Robert Murden)||Gardner Trafton||Robert Murden (of New York City, NY)||Thomas Gordon||+1 Slave|
|4 February 1830 (Book T, Pages 512-513)||$650 for a 55-acre tract of land (and plantation) at the head of Sawyer’s Creek adjoining Richard Jarvis, Jabez Sawyer, and William Hearring||Gardner Trafton||William Hearring||Justin B. Jacobs, Enoch Sawyer||+55 Acres|
|2 December 1831 (Book U, Pages 150-151)||Appeared in court to divide Gardner Trafton’s land according to his last will and testament, Neighbors named were the heirs of Miles Gregory, Richard Jarvis, William Sawyer, William Forbes, Abner Lamb, and William Sanderlin||Joseph and John Trafton, Heirs of Gardner Trafton||Gardner Trafton||Chain Bearers were John Trafton and Jonathan Hearring, Surveyed by David Pritchard|
After analyzing the full collection of Garden Trafton deeds, it was clear that he owned property in a few different communities. In order to understand the stages of his life and his activity in each community, I divided information by census year.
Gardner Trafton had a household of 11:
Gardner Trafton’s neighbors in this census year were O. McPherson, W. Etheridge, G. Granger, J. Gallop, E. Burnham, and L. Berry.
Based on the composition of his household, it appears that Gardner Trafton was married to his second wife (Mary?) by this time (after the death of his first wife in 1802). By reviewing Gardner Trafton’s land purchases and sales, it is evident that only two purchases (both made in 1808) remained by the 1810 Federal Census—the 250 acres of swamp land near the head of Joy’s Creek (Deed Book M, Page 35) and the 94 acres known as “Sawyer Lands” adjoining the road to the Shipyard (Deed Book M, Page 134). All of his land at River Bridge was sold.
Gardner Trafton had a household of 10:
Gardner Trafton’s neighbors in this census year were Jabez Sawyer, Isaac Sawyer, Joseph Sawyer, Willis Etheridge, Harvey Burnham, Joshua Gallop, William Forbes, and Miles Gregory.
Gardner’s oldest son Joseph (24 years old at the time) had moved out of the household to Norfolk County, VA and was married to Elizabeth Miars. Benjamin (21 years old at the time) was recorded in his own household in Camden County, NC and was married to Nancy Upton. By process of elimination, the young male in his household must have been John (also 21 years old at the time).
Gardner Trafton’s second wife (?) Mary died on February 27, 1822. On January 20, 1824, Benjamin Trafton made his first independent land purchase from David M. Sargent. The deed was for a 23-tract of land near Creek Bridge adjoining Nancy Hastings, James Williams, Sawyer’s Creek swamp, and Cason Hutchings (Deed Book S, Page 88). Between 1826 and 1829, Benjamin Trafton sold 3 tracts of land located in Gumberry (just south of Shipyard) that his wife Nancy Upton inherited from her father (John Upton’s land division, Deed Book O, Pages 327-328, Deed Book S, Pages 337-338, Deed Book T, Page 236, Deed Book T, Page 395).
Gardner Trafton had a household of 8:
Gardner Trafton’s neighbors in this census year were Thomas Linton, David Hall, William Sawyer, John Trafton, Jabez Sawyer, and Isaac Sawyer. All three of his sons were alive and living in their own households at this time. Joseph remained in Norfolk County, VA with his wife and family.
|Benjamin Trafton’s Household of 12||John Wesley Trafton’s Household of 7|
There were several people recorded as part of Benjamin’s household (both adults and children) that did not appear to be part of his family. His neighbors in this census year were James O’Daniel, John O’Daniel, William Hastings, Ammon Sawyer, Cason Hutchings, Cornelius Sawyer, Sr., James Granger, and Miles Sawyer.
John was never recorded in a deed prior to his father’s death so he may have never bought land independently. His neighbors in this census year were David Hall, William Sawyer, Gardner Trafton, Jabez Sawyer, Isaac Sawyer, and Elizabeth Sawyer.
This was the last year that Gardner Trafton was recorded in the federal census. He left an August 1831 will and died on September 2, 1831 in Camden County, NC. His will was not proved until December 1848 meaning that the distribution of his estate was not resolved for 17 years. An analysis of his will (and supplemental information not included in the will) provides additional insight into his life.
Executor: William Herring (Friend), Witnesses: Miles Gregory, Isaac Taylor, Simeon Miller Thomas
|Heirs||Joseph Talbot Trafton (b. 1796)||John Wesley Trafton (b. 1799)||Benjamin Trafton (b. 1799)||Courtney Chamberlain (b. 1793)|
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth Miars (m. 1818)||Nancy Etheridge (m. 1826), Permelia Banks Jarvis (m. 1840)||Nancy Upton (m. <1820)||Charles (?) Chamberlain (m. <1810)|
|Children (Grandchildren who were alive and/or named in the will in bold)||Walter Jones (b. 1821), Fanny B. (b. 1829), Virginia A. (b. 1833), Sarah (b. 1835), Mary J. (b. 1838), Benjamin (b. <1831), William T. (b. 1835)||George (b. 1827), Lovey (b. 1829), Thomas B. (b. 1831), Horatio (b. 1834), Mary (b. 1837), John Wesley, Jr. (b. 1841), Elizabeth (b. 1842), Pamelia (b. 1846)||Mary A. (b. 1826), Sarah (b. 1829), John (b. 1831), Philip (b. 1837), Mary (b. 1838), Joseph (b. 1842)||Timothy, Lovey, Sarah|
|1/3 of 233-acre residence and 1/3 of the 61-acre swamp land with the profits going for family support and at his death to his son Benjamin Trafton; Negros Enoch and Mary to be hired out in Camden County for schooling his children and at his death Negro Enoch to pass to his son Benjamin and Negro Mary to his daughter Fanny Trafton; One bed and furniture; Walton Jones Trafton: Negro Lurry (son of Rachel) to be hired out until he is an adult using the proceeds for the education.||2/3 of 233-acre residence (to be divided between sons George and Thomas Trafton after his death); Negros Bob, Isaac, Amy and her children, and Lydia; At his death Lydia and her issue to John Wesley’s other issue. Negro Bob to son George, Isaac to son Thomas, and Amy to daughter Lovey; Desk, one gun, one handmill||14 acres purchased from Tully Robertson; 20 acres purchased from Benjamin Trafton; 22.5 acres called the Lake Land; Debt Forgiveness; One bed and furniture; Gordon Trafton: Negro boy Jerry (the son of May) to be hired out with the purpose of schooling—should he die under the age of maturity the Negro goes to John Trafton (the son of Benjamin).||Timothy Chamberlain: Negro boy Cason; Lovey Chamberlain: Negro girl Sally; Sarah Chamberlain: One bed and furniture|
Gardner Trafton left his slaves Tony and Rachel each to have the choice of living with either of his three sons Joseph, John, or Benjamin and he left the remainder of his estate to be divided between his sons.
Gardner Trafton was buried where he lived on Trafton Road in Camden County, NC. His residence off of North Carolina Highway 343 was left to his sons Joseph Talbot and John Wesley while his land around Shipyard was left to Benjamin. Biographies of many of Gardner Trafton’s contemporaries were included in Jesse Pugh’s “Three hundred years along the Pasquotank” but Gardner’s name was only mentioned once. As I discover new information, I will continue to share more details about the Traftons of Bristol County, MA who became a Camden County, NC family.
My investigation into the life of Gardner Trafton has not yet revealed Eliza Trafton’s parents but there are many clues worth carrying forward into future research:
1Port of Currituck Mariner’s Records (1784-1789) by the Family Research Society of Northeastern North Carolina (2006)
2Gardner Traftons marriages and the births of his children were all recorded in the Trafton Bible.