Those Dang Butlers

My family’s oral tradition has always been that my great grandparents were cousins, both descending from Butlers. Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out just how they connect. And have succeeded only in narrowing things down a bit!  Here are some notes, for my own reference and to share.

My great-grandfather, Carzy Clifford Cole, was a grandson of William Solomon Butler.  My great-grandmother, Ruth Esther Dickerson, was a granddaughter of Alexander T. (“Alec”) Butler.

So, if they were actually some sort of cousins, then these two Butlers, William and Alec, must be related. But how?

In neither case is the parentage clear. The search is greatly complicated by the sheer number of Butlers running around Carroll County, TN in the first half of the 19th century. Most of them do seem to be part of the same clan, but sorting them out is practically impossible. (A Butler family historian once said that the clan “bred like rabbits immune from myxomatosis.”  I feel his pain.)

Butler: William Solomon Butler
William Solomon Butler (1820-1902)

William Solomon, born in 1820 in Tennessee, is said to be the son of Nathaniel Cornelius “Neely” Butler. He was listed as such in a history of Carroll County, Tennessee.  But I have not been able to find one single piece of evidence that was the case.

In fact, Neely had another son named William born in 1838. It is not impossible that Neely could have had two sons named William, but it seems unlikely.

Neely also moved to Arkansas some time between 1830 and 1840, when William would have been a teenager. William did not marry his first wife, Temperance, until 1842 in Carroll County, TN. So, where was he in 1840?  He is not listed as a head of household in Carroll County, TN, therefore, he was most likely living with his father. Did he move to Arkansas with his father, then come back to TN to get married?

It seems more likely that he was the son of another Butler in whose household he would be found in 1840 in Carroll County, or that possibly he was adopted into another household when his father left—but I am not sure why a teenaged male would be left behind when he would clearly be so useful on the frontier.

A John Butler who was Neely’s brother has a son the right age in 1840. He had a known son named Calvin, who is found living next door to William in 1850. William named his first son John. Granted this is a common name, but it was the custom at the time to name the firstborn son after his paternal grandfather, and this can be considered a hint, at least.

Interestingly, this son who is found in 1840 is not found in John’s household in 1830.  This could be an error, or it could mean that William was “taken in” by John’s family. He could be a relative, an illegitimate child, or a completely unrelated orphan!

Finally, there is an interesting deed from 1835 in which John is listed as the owner of a property, but that is crossed out and replaced with William.  Did William inherit the property from John?

At this point, let’s just say that my working theory is that William was most likely a part of John’s family, and therefore a grandson of the “patriarch,” Elias Butler, who migrated from Montgomery County North Carolina before 1820.

Butler: Alexander T Butler
Alexander T. Butler (1827-1902)

If this is the case, it would explain how William and Alec were related, as I believe that Alec, born in 1827, was most likely the son of Thomas Butler, brother to Neely and John.

A son the right age to be Alec is found in Thomas’ household in 1830 and 1840.

Alec regularly listed his middle initial as “T.”  This is often assumed to be Thompson, for some reason that is unclear to me, but I have never seen any proof of this. It could just as easily be Thomas. One of his son’s had the middle name Thomas, but none have the given name Thomas or Thompson, for that matter. (In fact, he didn’t seem to go for family names at all, giving his 13 kids by three of his five wives stylish names like Fleet, Columbus and Artemesia.)

There is even more important clue, however.  Alec’s family Bible has an inscription stating that “mother” died on 1 September 1859 and a “grate Lite was seen in the Elements that nite.”  As it turns out, there actually was a “great light.” A massive solar storm known as the Carrington Event caused auroras to be seen as far south as the Carribbean. They certainly would have been visible in rural Tennessee. So, we can be pretty sure that Alec got the date right!

This corresponds exactly with the death of Lavinia (possibly Thompson) the known wife of Thomas Butler, and if not absolute proof, can at least be considered a strong hint of Alec’s relationship to her.

Finally, my grandmother and myself have both had our DNA done and come up with several matches to people who clearly descend from the Montgomery County, NC Butlers. The situation is complicated by having two Butlers in our tree.  But we can at least say with some certainty that ONE of them is descendant of Elias Butler. So, the chances are good that at least one of my working theories is correct!

For what it’s worth, if both Alec and William were grandsons of Elias, then my great-grandparents were third cousins and the family oral history is correct, though they were not as closely related as previously thought (phew!)  Of course, in Carroll County, and given that Carzy was one of the multitudinous Cole clan, the odds were greatly in favor of them being related at least once, regardless.

At this point, I have gone as far as I can with this branch of the family tree, given that I am posted overseas and limited to online resources. At some point in the future, I may be able to nail this down further. If you have read this far, and are also trying to untangle this family, I welcome any comments you may have on the subject.


10 thoughts on “Those Dang Butlers

  1. According to my records, the person whom the” grate lite “referred to was Temperance McCord, who died in 1854. It was recorded in a family Bible belonging to my family. I looked up the date and found that a comet had passed overhead and was visible in the night skies at that time, in 1854.


  2. September 28 2012
    jerry carr

    I believe the possible that James Kerr who married Mary Bertram on 8 Sep 1732 was the
    father of James King Carr 1739.
    Your James King Carr II is wrong he is only King Carr and had an older brother named


  3. Hi I am a descendent of the Butler’s from Carroll Co. TN. & Montgomery Co, NC. My great grandfather was Harrison Butler Hus father was Phillip and Phillip’s father was William Soliman Butler. On the 1900 census it shows were Harrison was living with Lavinia Caroline Butler Rogers. Daughter of Thomas Butler I the no. I know there was 2 Lavinia Butler’s. Harrison was 11 yrs. old on that census. I am trying yo figure out if the Lavinia he was living with was his aunt or how he was related. Any info would be great.
    Thank you.


    1. You mentioned the Thompson name. I know that The widow Butler of Thomas Butler married a Thompson man and took her & her orphaned children to Virginia. That was in the late 1640s. They was living on Kent Island at the time of Thomas’s death. Hope this helps.


    2. Correction above is wrong please forgive me my wife wasn’t listening or not understanding.
      Hi my name is Brett Butler from West TN. My grandfather was Harrison Butler his father was Philip Butler. In the 1900 census it shows he was living with a Lavinia Caroline Butler Rogers.


  4. Looking up my family tree. Great great great great granddaughter of Elias, through Reuben, Locket, James Monroe, Charlie Allie, Gene Butler. Interested in Cherokee heritage through Grandmothers. Thank you! Gina Butler


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