William Bright of Craven: There Were Two

by | Jul 26, 2020 | 0 comments

There were, demonstrably, two William Brights living within, what was then, Craven County during the mid 1700s. Look at the Petition to Change the Seat of Government of 1733. Among the signatories of this document were William Brite and William Bright. So, how do we differentiate between them? When examining records, read them carefully. Pay attention to details like dates, geographic cues, the neighbors.

Reading the Land

Let’s start with land patents. For this, we will need two sites: North Carolina Land Grant Images and Data and the North Carolina Gazetteer. What I did at NCLGI&D was click “Index”, select Craven and “include border counties”, and navigate to William Bright from there.

Carefully read each patent. Make note of geographic cues and the names of the owners of adjoining lands.

Geographic Cues

Let’s take the first one on the list. There is no patent to read, but the “Location” mentions John Vernon and Losing Swamp. I replaced “Bright, William” in the subject box with “Vernon, John” and discovered a patent for 200 acres on Stoney Town Creek issued to Mr. Vernon 1 Mar 1738. One of the William Bright patents was also located on Stoney Town Creek.

Next, I clicked over to the gazetteer. Here’s what I found:

Place Name Description
Stoney Town Creek see Stonyton Creek
Stonyton Creek rises in N Lenoir County and flows SE into Neuse River. Now frequently appears as Stonington Creek but first called the Stoney Town Creek in the 1730s because it was near an Indian town on a hill with outcroppings of slate and sandstone.
Losing Swamp none, but, then, I searched for
Loosing Swamp rises in N central Lenoir County and flows E for approx. 5 mi. into Stonyton Creek. The name appears in local records as early as 1744. It is believed to be derived from Lucerne, the Swiss city, and was given to the swamp by Swiss settlers who moved into the area from New Bern in the early eighteenth century. Also appears as Louson, Lousin, and Luzern.

Interesting. What about the others? The text of the 1740 grant mentions “Briery Branch.” I did not find one of those, but there is a Briery Run that “rises in N Lenoir County and flows E into Stonyton Creek.” Therefore, four of the six results are clustered in the same geographical area and, thus, refer to one of the William Brights. Unfortunately, I had no such luck with Wildcat Swamp. However…


If geography doesn’t work, look at people. The text of this patent mentions Daniel West. By playing with the search parameters, I learned the following:

  • Mr. West was granted 200 acres on the east side “of a little branch called the Wild Cat Branch” 22 Nov 1738.
  • On 20 Dec 1791, David Hill was issued a patent for 50 acres situated on the north side of Neuse and east side of Wild Cat Branch, and began at a mulberry tree in Joseph Arthur’s cornfield.
  • Mr. Hill was issued another grant in 1793 for 40 acres beginning at a stake in Joseph Arthur’s second corner. This patent also mentions land belonging to Ann Gaskins and a place called Middle Branch Pocosin.

The gazetteer gives no help and there are no grants registered to either Mr. Arthur or Mrs. Gaskins.

Other Land Records

This can be done online two ways: the Craven County register of deeds (my personal preference) or FamilySearch. William Kennedy of Tyrrell County sold William Bright of Johnston 200 acres of land in Craven on the south side of the Neuse River, joining the lands of George Roberts 13 Dec 1750 (Craven County Deed Book 1, p. 471). Francis Kennedy and Simon Bright witnessed this transaction. Bright sold this parcel to John Cox, Jr. 17 Sep 1752 (Craven County Deed Book 1, p. 535). The evidences were John Williams and John Slade.

But, wait, I hear you say. Johnston? The county of Johnston was created from Craven in 1746. In 1758 the eastern portion of Johnston became Dobbs.

Image on the left represents North Carolina counties in 1750 and the right is 1760.

Lenoir County, a child of Dobbs, did not come into being until 1791. While I did not find any land records in Johnston County for William Bright, a look at the Grantor/Grantee Indices for Dobbs yielded three results.

  • Deed Book 1, p. 35 – Wm. Bright and Simon Bright to John Lister
  • Deed Book 3, p. 68 – William Bright to John Winders and others
  • Deed Book 6, p. 255 – William Bright to John Windows [sic Winders]

Unfortunately, thanks to the ravages of fire, all we have are the indices. Regardless, the name John Winders is a very big clue. More on that below.

The Other William

On 9 Apr 1749, Lemuel Harvey sold William Bright, both of Craven County, 160 acres in that county on the north side of the Neuse River on Lower Broad Creek (Craven County Deed Book 2, p. 345). Joseph Mason and James Arthur witnessed the transaction. Mason sold William 200 acres he held by patent dated 8 Oct 1747 on 10 May 1749 (Craven County Deed Book 4, p. 260) and another 150 acres on the east side of Swifts Creek 18 May (Craven County Deed Book 2, p. 346). Edward Bryan patented this second tract 5 May 1742. John James and W. B. Whitford were evidences to the first sale and John Phillips and Nicholas Lawley to the second.

Place Name Description
Lower Broad Creek see Broad Creek
Broad Creek rises in E Pamlico County and flows E into Neuse River estuary. Appears on the Moseley map, 1733. Known locally as Lower Broad Creek.
Swift Creek rises in S central Pitt County and flows SE into N Craven County, where it enters Neuse River. Appears on the Moseley map, 1733.

Incidentally, Daniel West sold his 1738 patent on Wild Cat Branch to James Arthur 4 Aug 1742 (Craven County Deed Book 1, p. 373) and David Hill sold both of his to John Arthur 26 Jul 1793 (Craven County Deed Book 36, p. 289 & Deed Book 36, p. 414).

Wills and Probate Records

Thanks my research on the Bourden family, the association of John Winders with William Bright rang a lot of bells. Because of this, I knew just where to look.

William Bright of Duplin County

William Bright of Duplin County wrote his will 2 Jul 1762. He left everything to be equally divided between his sons-in-law John Winders and Stephen Herring. Each of these men married a daughter of William Bright. Thus, in one of those odd meetings one seems to stumble over in genealogy, his grandson, James Winders, married my first cousin, six times removed, Anne Bourden.  Stephen Herring’s will gives his wife’s name as Sarah. She died in 1808. I have in my notes that the first wife of John Winders was Ann, but I have no idea how I came by this information. John remarried 29 Aug 1799.

Given that Simon Bright witnessed the transaction between William Bright and William Kennedy and that he and William sold property to John Lister sometime between Nov 1746 and Apr 1750, I would surmise that this William was the son of John Bright (d. 1720) of Hyde Precinct and Elizabeth ? Bright Handcock (d. 1744).  To add weight to this theory, I will add that:

  • Simon Bright received a patent for 640 acres on Briery Branch 7 Jul 1739.
  • Francis Hodges, his brother-in-law and an evidence to the will of Elizabeth Handcock (see below), patented 190 acres on the north side of Neuse River and north side of Stoney town Creek 8 Dec 1738
  • Howell Jones, another witness, received a grant for 50 acres on the north side of Neuse River on a branch of Loosing Swamp 1 Mar 1738
  • The will of Benjamin Herring of New Hanover County, dated 28 Aug 1789, mentions a son named Bright Herring.  Given that one of William’s daughters also married a Herring, it is logical to conclude that Benjamin’s wife, Mary, was the daughter of William’s brother, Simon and the former Miss Hodges.

On a side note

Elizabeth was NOT the daughter of Harman and Sarah Hill of Beaufort County. Elizabeth Handcock wrote her will 20 Jan 1743/4. It was proven in Court on the oath of Francis Hodges 6 Jun 1744. The will of Harman Hill bears the date 4 Dec 1752. On that date, his daughter, Elizabeth Hancock, was yet living. Always, always take particular note of dates when reading wills. I cannot stress this enough.

William Bright of Craven County

He composed his will 12 Jan 1754. In this document, he names his wife, Ann, one son, five daughters and three grandchildren. Let’s examine the clues revealed within the real property bequests:

  1. He bequeathed two plantations to son, Stockwell, one situated on Orchard Creek and the other on Lower Broad Creek. They were, apparently, parts of the same patent. This sounds like the land he bought from Lemuel Harvey, plus one other tract.
  2. Daughter Ann Nelson is to receive the home plantation after the death of her mother. Given the other bequests, this, most likely, refers to the Edward Bryan patent he acquired from Joseph Mason.
  3. Unmarried daughters Elenor and Mary received the Joseph Mason patent.
  4. He left his granddaughter, Sarah, fifty acres purchased from Francis Nash, adjoining the eastern side of the home plantation.

I have yet to discover the Francis Nash transaction or the acquisition of the second portion of the Rice Price patent on Orchard Creek. According to the gazetteer Orchard Creek “rises in E Pamlico County and flows SE into Neuse River.”


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