John Combs, Sire of
Here begins a sort of saga; for this gentleman, like his daddy, "traveled a fur piece and seed many a sight," leaving tracks over a wide area, in four states. He was first Tuckahoe, then Cohee, then Tarheel, then Virginian again, then Tennessean, before becoming a Kentuckian. There is very little about him in the records until he reaches Perry County, Kentucky. He was born around 1733, supposedly in Caroline County, Virginia. Married Nancy -----, in the 1750's and lived at first in Warren County [then Frederick Co, VA], around the forks of the Shenandoah [River], above Front Royal. There is no doubt that his wife was Nancy; I shall establish that point a little later.
Family tradition has it that John served in the Revolution; he probably did, but it was not in North Carolina, as they say. One tradition says that he received a large military land grant in Buncombe County, North Carolina, as [at] the close of the Revolution. Since John was living in Virginia during the Revolution, this is hardly probable. Ordinarily, such grants were made at that time by the States, not by the Federal Government. The Land Offices at Raleigh [NC] and Richmond [VA] make no mention of such a grant to John in either State. The records of the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, Washington, show that one John Combs was serving in Capt. Casey's Company, Col. James Wood's Virginia Regiment, in October, 1776. Capt. Casey's Company was at Valley Forge from January 6, to May, 1778, during the terrible winter of that year. We know that old John's son John (born 1761) served in the same regiment and company, 1777-1779. If John, Jr. went into the Continental Army at fifteen (in Warren County [then Frederick > Dunmore > Shenandoah Co, VA]), his father must have been living in Warren at the time, and at least as late as 1777. In fact, evidence may not be lacking
that John, Sr. saw service in the French and Indian War. In the autum [autumn] of 1755, after Braddock's defeat, the Colonial forces up in Northern Virginia was [were] reorganized. The name of John Combs appears among the soldiers. John's brother Josiah was in that war. At the time of Braddock's defeat, John was a young man, and not much, if any, beyond twenty, and unmarried. (1)
The two Virginia censuses of 1783 and 1785, for Shenandoah County, do not list John, although they do list other families known to have been his neighbors previously, including Nicholas Combs, above Front Royal and in Powell's Fort Valley [Shenandoah Co, VA], further south. He had doubtless already migrated to the Yadkin Valley [Surry Co, NC]. Nor are any of John's sons listed in these two censuses.
The assumption is that John served his three years in the Continental Army, then moved to Surry County, North Carolina soon afterward. He sold his land and grist mill down there, to Mason, his father, in 1784. The following year he is one of the administrators of his father's estate. That is all, for North Carolina. The sale of his land and mill indicates that he was leaving that State, and going back to Virginia, which corroborates the family tradition. The tradition, from different sources, (including Jesse, a grandson, born in 1798), says also that John and the family left the Yadkin country [Surry and surrounding North Carolina counties] because of the death of a young daughter, twelve years old; and who was killed by a falling tree as she was taking dinner to the work hands in the field. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the tradition that the tragedy caused John to move away, the girl was born about 1772.
John's younger brothers, William and Mason, Jr. were living in Montgomery County, Virginia, a short distance away, in 1784, 1785; Mason, Jr., as late as 1788. John himself moved over into Montgomery (into what is now Roanoke County [VA]) most likely in the spring of 1785. There is no doubt that he moved back to Virginia. Jesse Combs (b. 1798), of Perry County [KY], and a son of Gen. Elijah, one of the eight brothers, corroborates it in his story of the family as related to Susan Combs Eversole, his grandaughter [granddaughter]. Tradition says that Gen. Elijah married in Roanoke, about 1792-1795. There is a final piece of presumptive evidence: when old John came to Perry he named a creek Montgomery Creek, almost in sight of where he took up land at the mouth of White Oak [Creek, Perry Co, KY], eust [just] below the present town of Vicco; a few miles away there is another Montgomery Creek, flowing into Troublesome Fork, seven miles below Hindman [then Perry, now Knott Co, KY], Troublesome Fork of the Kentucky River, in [now] Knott and Breathitt Counties [KY], where so many
Combses are to find their homes later on, is also reminiscent of Virginia. There is a creek of the same name in Virginia, located between the Holston and Clinch Rivers, in Scott County, or between Gate City [Scott Co, VA], and Speers Ferry. It empties into the Clinch at Speers Ferry, seventeen miles from Kingsport, [Hawkins or Sullivan Co] Tennessee.
John is supposed to have gone to the Holston [River Valley], in Tennessee, and joined some of his older sons and the family of "Danger Nick", his brother, for their treck [trek] over into Perry [Co, KY]. He was an old man when he came to Perry and settled at the mouth of White Oak, a small creek that runs into Carr's Fork, about eleven miles above Hazard [Perry Co, KY]. We have again the testimony of Jesse Combs, above, that this is where old John settled. Jesse was his grandson, twenty-two years old when the old man died, and must have known where all his uncles and his grandfather settled. It hardly seems necessary to argue the point, but since there has long been confusion as to the early Johns in Perry, I append some documentary evidence. (2)
The deeds books of Perry shows a conveyance (May 8, 1822) to Jeremiah ("Long Jerry") Combs, beginning "seventy poles below John Combs' old improvement''" [sic]. This is of course just below the mouth of White Oak Creek. The words "old improvement" tell the story, since it indicates the original tract "squatted" upon by the early settler and improved. The settler's cabin was sometimes called the "improver's cabin". The Census of 1810, for Floyd County [KY], lists this John, living alone. (By 1822, and before, "Long Jerry" had come into possession of the old John Combs improvement). Carr's Fork was in Floyd County in 1810. The John Combs of the old Land Warrants (1816), on the Kentucky River, is not this John, but his son. The two Johns have become woefully confused, even among their descendants in Perry.
The records of Floyd County show that in April, 1820, appraisers were appointed for old John Combs' estate. He died, then, probably in 1819 or 1820. In Bell's Kentucky Deaths, 1852-1862, Vol. I, for Perry County, John and Nancy Combs are listed as the parents of Elijah Combs. We shall see later that John and Nancy were the parents of the "eight brothers," among whom Elijah was one.
John lies buried, with his wife Nancy, in what is one of the oldest graveyards in Perry County, located two or three hundred yards up White Oak, on the left side going up stream. Walking up the hillside about thirty-five paces from a persimmon tree, you come to a wide, sunken double grave, a few feet from a small ravine. At the upper
end, and in the center, there is a crude stone, round or curved at the top. This is where John and Nancy lie buried. So it was, when I inspected it in 1933.
I have substantiated these facts from different souces [sources]. The old place came into possession of "Long Jerry" Combs, then to Elijah Combs, Jr., his son-in-law, and finally, on January 22, 1854, Elijah's heirs sold it to John J. Godsey. It has since been known as the old John Godsey place. Mrs. Henry Brashear, daughter of John Godsey, and who lives (1933) at the mouth of Scuddy [Perry Co, KY], near the old place, confirms the story of John Combs and Nancy, the grave, etc. (The Brashears descend from a French family, probably Huguenots, Brassieur, that came to Colonial Virginia). The story is also corroborated by Bertha Lyttle Jett and Logan Combs.
EARLY JOHN COMBSES IN PERRY COUNTY. There has been so much confusion as to the identity of the early Johns that , at this point, it becomes necessary to clarify the matter. There were five of them.
1. John, father of the eight brothers. Settled at the mouth of White Oak, on Carr's Fork. Died 1819-1820.
2. John, one of the eight brothers. Settled near mouth of Line Fork, now Letcher Co., on the Kentucky River. Died around 1840.
3. John, about the age of John (2), moved from Lincoln (now Boyle) Co. [KY] to Carr's Fork before 1817. Moved back to Boyle after a few years, died in Washington County [KY] in 1848. A cousin of the eight brothers. Said to have been in the Revolution. His daughter Elizabeth ("Betts") married "Bird-Eye Nick" Combs, old "Danger's" son.
4. John, born in Tennessee, fifty-eight years old in Census of 1850 for Owsley Co. [KY] (formerly part of Perry). Son of John (3) above, and called "Jack". Wife, Elizabeth, forty-seven.
From this point on it will be well to consult the General Table at the end of this book from time to time, in order to avoid further confusion among the families in eastern and central Kentucky. I shall later take up a collateral line, Joseph Combs of Stafford and his descendants; and a few others. Under "The Saga of the Eight Brothers" I hope to establish beyond all cavil the identity of those brothers, and
to show that there were eight, and only eight, of them. The children of John Combs and Nancy follows [sic].
1. Mason, m. Jenny Richardson
2. William ("Old Buckery"), [and] a daughter [of John and Nancy], died age twelve.
3. John, m. (second time) Margaret -----
4. Nicholas (not "Danger Nick")
5. George, m. Lydia Herald
6. Henry (Harrison), m. Rachel, dau. of Benj. Clements; (Francis Phoebe)
7. Elijah, m. Sarah (Sallie), dau. of Michael Roark
8. Biram ("Barm")
The arrangement of the list is not necessarily chronological. Mason is said to have been the oldest son.