If you’ve been following this site for very long, then you know that one of the biggest brick walls for this researcher has been determining the parents of my earliest Craven County Morris ancestor, Laban, who was born about 1781, married Caroline “Kitty” Williams in 1805 in Craven County and had several children (a daughter, Alpha, and six sons: John, William, Thomas, Joseph, Levi, Rowland).
Laban first shows up in Craven County records in 1805 when he obtains his marriage bond to Kitty Williams. Then, for decades, Morris researchers assumed the next record available for him was a land purchase in 1814 from the heirs of Hardy Gatlin. (He didn’t keep the land long, as he turned around and sold it to Hiram Pollard the very next year.)
Strangely, although Laban does show up on an 1815 tax list for Craven County in David Chapman’s district, he doesn’t show up again on a census until 1830.
After 1830, Laban and his family appear on the 1840 census and the 1850 census for Craven County (twice, actually, in 1850!) By 1860, Kitty has passed away and Laban is living over in Beaufort County.
In late November 2013, I found an obscure reference in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, which mentioned a Laban HENLY and sons, John and William, all of Craven County, North Carolina, changed their names to MORRIS in 1810. It referenced the General Assembly Session Records for that year, so as one might imagine, I wasted no time in planning a trip to Raleigh a couple of days later so that I could go to Archives and research that further. I had hoped to find his original petition for his name change, as that would’ve explained why he wanted his name changed in the first place, but unfortunately, the folder of petitions for 1810 did not survive. The only surviving record pertaining to the name change was the official written record, and the typed version in the General Assembly Private Laws for 1810.
More recently, we discovered a record of Laban’s service in the War of 1812. Unfortunately, for now, we only have the index card (right) indicating that he did, in fact, serve, but we’re hoping more of those records will be made available at some point in the future.
So, who were Laban’s parents?
That’s the big question. And don’t worry, I’ll get to the reveal in a minute, but, first, I want to give credit where it’s due.
My biggest research partner in all of this has been my cousin, Mike Morris, of Stella, North Carolina. Mike and I both descend from Laban through his grandson, William Bryan Morris and his first wife, Elender Witherington. Mike’s great-grandfather was Fenner and my great-great-grandfather was his brother, Dorsey Samuel, affectionately known as “Doss.” (I also come from Laban’s son Levi on another line, but I’ll get to that shortly.)
Mike and I have spent countless hours poring over old records, trying to find any clue that might help shed some light on a family story that had been passed down in a few branches of the family, that Laban wasn’t really a Morris, but that he was a Ledbetter and had been adopted, “or something like that.”
We knew Y-DNA testing would give us some answers, so a few years ago, we began that process with my grandfather and Mike, and then branched out to add another Morris from another one of Laban’s sons about a year later. As the results started rolling in, the oral tradition was proven true. Our Morris men matched with Ledbetters right down the line.
Now, we had to figure out which Ledbetter was Laban’s father. We had already done a good bit of research on the Ledbetters in North Carolina — at least enough to know which ones were of age to have been able to father Laban. We were also able to weed out some based on a too many mutations in markers of the Y-DNA.
We had a hunch it might be one in particular — Rowland Ledbetter. He was the right age, and Laban had named a son Rowland, and had grandsons with Roland in their names, as well. And, the DNA of a descendant of Rowland Ledbetter lined up pretty nicely with our Laban Morris descendants. That still wouldn’t have ruled out Rowland’s brothers, or even his uncles or first cousins.
My grandmother has the golden ticket
There is a whole lot more to the story, and thousands of hours of research, but all of that, along with some new DNA testing we had done using FamilyTreeDNA’s FamilyFinder test, has revealed a very strong connection between my grandmother, Beatrice Cox Morris, (her mother, Ethel Morris, is a great-granddaughter of Laban Morris through his son, Levi), and Billy Ledbetter of Tennessee, a double-descendant of Rowland Ledbetter. It was remarkable that Billy showed up in her results at all considering there are no guarantees with distant cousins.
As it turned out, though, not only did Billy show up in her results, they were predicted to be at the 3rd to 5th cousin level — and the FamilyFinder FAQ says a 3rd to 5th cousin match is most likely your 4th cousin — which would be just right, because if Rowland is Laban’s father, that would make Billy my grandmother’s 4th cousin once removed. My mom, Teresa Morris, also came back with a strong 3rd to 5th cousin link to Billy Ledbetter, but oddly enough, none of the rest of us did — not my grandfather (who’s actually one generation further from Laban than my grandmother is), not my cousin Mike, not our other Morris cousin, and not me.
It’s important to remember, though, that even two siblings can show up with different cousin matches in the FamilyFinder test once you get farther out than five generations. My grandmother is exactly five generations from Laban, but six generations from Rowland. My mother was also predicted to be at the 3rd to 5th cousin level with Billy Ledbetter, even though she’s six generations from Laban and seven from Rowland, but that’s most likely because both of my mom’s parents are Laban’s descendants, so the combined segments show up in her even though Billy doesn’t show up as a match for my grandfather.
Where do we go from here?
Now, cousin Mike and I are working feverishly on trying to settle the matter of Laban’s mother. Thanks to FamilyFinder testing on several of us Laban descendants, we think we’ve zeroed in on the family of Laban’s mother, but we’re not confident enough to identify them just yet. We will say that we think she likely lived in the area of Wayne County, or old Dobbs County, when Rowland came through that area for a three-month tour during the War for American Independence.
Many questions are still to be answered:
- Who was Laban’s mother?
- How does the Morris family fit into this story?
- Which Morris family fits into this story?
- Why did Laban wait until 1810 to change his name, considering he was already recognized as a Morris as early as 1805? Is it because he was called in as a witness to a lawsuit in Craven County that year?
- What ever became of Laban’s two sons, John and Thomas? It’s said they moved west to Tennessee, “and were never heard from again.” (Hint: We think we’ll soon start uncovering the answers on this, as we’ve been in contact with the administrators of the Morris Y-DNA Project about 21 men who match Laban’s DNA in the Morris DNA project as haplogroup I1.)
- Who is Nancy Morris who’s living with Laban and family at least in 1850 and 1860, and probably as early as 1830?
- Who are Mary and Susan Morris, who are living with Laban and Nancy in 1860 in Beaufort County?
Stay tuned to this continuing saga. We’ll post more as new discoveries are made, so if you aren’t already a subscriber of this website, sign up using the form at the top of the right-hand sidebar.
Also, Mike and I are currently working on a book with all of our research, along with an updated record of Laban’s descendants, so stay tuned for details on that, as well.
I’ve also just started a Facebook for this website. You can find it here. http://www.facebook.com/eastcarolinaroots
If you think you might connect to this Laban Morris family, please contact us either using the comments form below, or using the Contact page.