Pharoah and Joel Sawyer have been a part of my Camden County, NC research for years. They were adjoining landowners to my ancestor William Bass and they ultimately bought all of his land. I followed the stories of William Bass’ descendants; however, I failed to recognize the importance of including Pharoah and Joel Sawyer’s descendants in my research until recently.
On 10 April 1801, William Bass bought 125 acres of land (formerly owned by Thomas Gordon) from John Sikes (Deed Book I, Page 148). This land was located on the east side of the Pasquotank River, directly opposite of Richardson’s Landing, and was bounded by the land of Pharoah Sawyer, David Hall, and Joel Sawyer. This was William Bass’ first and only land purchase in Camden County, NC. He ultimately sold all of this land as follows:
Despite William Bass’ sale of all his land, there is no evidence that his family bought additional land or moved. When an ancestor sells all of their land before death and their immediate family did not independently acquire land, it is imperative to find where survivors went. In this article, I will outline the families of Pharoah and Joel Sawyer to provide insight into where William Bass’ immediate family may have lived after his death.
The first documentation of Pharoah Sawyer in Camden County, NC is from 12 March 1779 in the Return of militia divisions commanded by Colonel Isaac Gregory. He was part of Captain Thomas Terry’s (?) Company in the Third Division along with Thomas Overton, Samuel Rhodes, John Abbott, William Sawyer, Darius Bright, Jabez Cartwright, Mack Perkins, William Linton, Jesse Winberry, John Jones, and Benjamin Jones.
It is unclear when they married, but by the 1790 Federal Census Pharoah Sawyer was married to his wife, Dorothy “Dolly” Riggs, and they appeared to have had children born in or before 1774. Dorothy Riggs was the daughter of Isaac Riggs and Ruth Durant1 who were documented as Pharoah’s neighbors for many years.
In the 1790 Tax List, Pharoah was taxed on 0 acres and 1 poll, in 1791 he was taxed on 0 acres and 1 poll, and in 1792 he was taxed on 100 acres and 1 poll2. It is unclear what land Pharoah was taxed on because his first land purchase was not recorded until 15 November 1793 when Joseph Jones, Sr. (merchant of Camden County, NC) sold Pharoah Sawyer (planter of Camden County, NC) 30 acres. The land was adjoining Robert Gray, Joel Sawyer, River Swamp, Butter Weed Swamp, David Burnham, and William Shirlock and the deed was witnessed by Isaac Murden and James Ferrill (Deed Book F, Page 217).
In the 1795 Tax List Pharoah was taxed on these 30 acres and 1 white poll then on 1 August 1799 he sold 30 acres to Arthur Old. The land was at the head of the Pasquotank River adjoining Robert Gray, Joel Sawyer, Joseph Jones, Sr., and Thomas Gordon and the deed was witnessed by Newton Edney and James Butt (Deed Book H, Page 428). By the next census year, Pharoah’s household increased by 1.
On 20 January 1801, Pharoah Sawyer bought 125 acres (formerly owned by Thomas Gordon) from John Sikes (Deed Book I, Page 157). Less than three months later, William Bass bought an adjoining 125 acres on the north side of Pharoah Sawyer’s land (Deed Book I, Page 148). Evidence indicates that Pharoah and William were neighbors before they bought equal portions of Thomas Gordon’s former land from John Sikes (i.e., adjoining landowners, like David Hall, and witnesses were the same for these purchases as previous deeds).
Pharoah Sawyer’s father-in-law, Isaac Riggs, died in early 1804 and his land was divided between his heirs. On 22 October 1804, Pharoah and Dorothy Sawyer sold her land inheritance (5.5 acres) to John Wilkins (Deed Book K, Page 315). On the same day, Pharoah bought 15.5 acres from William Bass adjoining his own land (Deed Book K, Page 326). A little over a year later, on 5 January 1806, Pharoah bought another 50 acres from William Bass (Deed Book K, Page 483).
Pharoah Sawyer appears to have died the following year based on his widow’s actions. On 21 February 1811, Dolly Sawyer (of Camden County, NC) leased land from Robert Gray (of Pasquotank County, NC) near River Bridge adjoining Arthur Old and Joel Sawyer’s (Deceased) lands except the orchard with permission to clear as much land she like for 7 years. The lease was witnessed by Joseph Spence (Deed Book N, Page 183-184).
Dolly Sawyer was documented in the 1820 Federal Census with a household of 4 (1 white female over 45, 1 white male 16-25, 1 white female 16-25, and 1 white male under 10). She was then documented in the 1830 Federal Census with a household of 4 (1 white female 70-79, 1 white female 40-49, 1 white male 10-14, and 1 white female under 5) still living in River Bridge next to Thomas Sawyer, Edmund Sawyer, William Sawyer, and Alex D. Sawyer.
It remains unclear how Pharoah and Joel may have been related, but Joel appears to have been in Camden County, NC as early as the 1780s. Willoby Nickols swore that he served as a substitute for Joel Sawyer in Captain Rufus Williams Company in March 1781.
In the 1782 Tax List, Joel Sawyer was taxed on 50 acres, 2 horses, and 9 cattle. It is unclear when they married but by the 1790 Federal Census, Joel was married to his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Riggs (sister of Dorothy Riggs), and appeared to have had several children born before 1774.
In the 1790 Tax List Joel Sawyer was taxed on 100 acres and 1 poll, in 1791 on 100 acres and 1 poll, in 1792 100 acres and 1 poll, and in 1795 on 100 acres and 2 white polls.
On 3 February 1806, Joel Sawyer, Sr. made a deed of gift to his son Joel Sawyer, Jr. for 50 acres he bought from William, John, and Willis Sawyer. The land was adjoining David Hall’s swamp, Robert Gray’s land, Joel Sawyer’s swamp, and Pharoah Sawyer’s road, and the deed was witnessed by William Sawyer and John Wilkins (Deed Book L, Page 47). Based on the land description, it is possible that Joel Sawyer bought this land from the heirs of another Sawyer (deceased before 1806).
It appears that Joel Sawyer, Sr. may have died around this time (note that he was referred to as Joel Sawyer (Deceased) in Dolly Sawyer’s 1811 lease with Robert Gray). Joel Sawyer, Jr. remained on the land his father gave him and built his own family.
There was no deed for Joel Sawyer, Jr.’s purchase of the slaves recorded in his household so he may have acquired them through marriage. In the 1815 Tax List, Joel Sawyer was taxed on 50 acres, 1 free poll, and 1 black poll.
On 4 November 1818, Joel Sawyer bought 81 acres from Joseph Riggs located in the upper part of Camden County, and the deed was witnessed by Hollowell Old and Joshua Williams (Deed Book Q, Page 146). Joel’s wife (?) may have died before 1820 because there were no adult females in his household in the following census year.
On 26 November 1822, Nicolas Sawyer (of Pasquotank County, NC) sold William Sawyer (of Camden County, NC) one undivided fourth of one half of a 50-acre tract of land near River Bridge which formerly belonged to Joel Sawyer. The land adjoined Grandy Sawyer, River Swamp, William Sawyer, and Robert Gray, and the deed was witnessed by George Ferebee (Deed Book S, Page 220).
On 14 January 1823, Frederick Sawyer (of Pasquotank County, NC) sold William Sawyer (of Camden County, NC) one undivided half of a 50-acre tract of land near River Bridge which formerly belonged to Joel Sawyer. The land adjoined Grandy Sawyer, River Swamp, William Sawyer, and Robert Gray and the deed was witnessed by Malachi Williams (Deed Book T, Page 87).
These two land sales indicate that a Joel Sawyer was deceased by 1822 and that his estate was being divided between his heirs. They also demonstrate that Frederick was more closely related to this Joel Sawyer (possibly a son) than Nicolas (possibly a grandson).
Elizabeth Sawyer (the sister of Dorothy Sawyer, widow of Joel Sawyer, Sr.), was documented in the 1820 Federal Census with a household of 2 (1 white female 26-44 and 1 white male under 10). She was then documented in the 1830 Federal Census with a household of 6 (1 white female 50-59, 1 white male 10-14, 2 white females 10-14, 1 white male 5-9, and 1 white female 5-9) living next to Evan Riggs, Abner Lamb, George Ferebee, Thomas Linton, David Hall, William Sawyer, Sr., Gardner Trafton, John Trafton, Jabez Sawyer, and Isaac Sawyer.
On 4 February 1825, Joel Sawyer and Noah Riggs sold Zebedee Williams 41 acres of land located near the old Burnt Mill Tract, and the deed was witnessed by Joshua Long and William Mills (Deed Book S, Page 253). This deed indicates that Joel and Noah co-owned this land (which may have been inherited from a common ancestor).
A number of questions remain about the structure of the Sawyer family of River Bridge, but I have been able to draw one clear conclusion—William Sawyer came to own all of the land that was formerly owned by William Bass.
Later census records reveal that both the Basses and the Sawyers repeated family names so it is important to document each generation and differentiate fathers from sons and grandsons.
In my next article, I will provide additional insight about William Sawyer and the people who lived with and around him.
1I have not located a primary source for this yet but I have chosen to include it so that I can return to it in the future. Several researchers have referred to Ruth Durant as a woman of Yeopim Indian ancestry.