Thomas Butler, 1792-1866

The Butlers of Carroll County, Tennessee were a long-lived and exceptionally prolific clan. They were also fond of repeating names, making sorting Butlers almost as difficult as sorting Dickens. “My” Thomas Butler lived near at least three other Thomas Butlers, two in Carroll County and one more for good measure in neighboring Madison County. There is also a lot of unsourced or incorrect information about this family floating around to confuse matters.

I’ve spent the last week documenting each Thomas, and I believe I have it straightened out. Thomas Butler was born about 1792 in North Carolina. He was probably the son of Elias Butler, the Great Butler Patriarch of Carroll County. Though Thomas is not named as an heir in Elias’ will, he did witness it. (Occasionally, children would be given their legacies in advance of a will, and therefore not mentioned in it.) Thomas is also found living next door to Sarah Starke Butler, Elias’ widow in 1840. I believe if he was not actually Elias’ son, he must have been his nephew or another close relative. This is the next question I intend to reseach.

Thomas is often referred to as “Thomas Elias Butler” on family trees, however, I could not find any evidence that this was actually his name. In fact, I believe he had a son, who referred to himself as “Thomas E Butler,” born about 1809 in North Carolina, who is often mixed up with his father. Thomas I would have been about 17 at the time of Thomas E’s birth, and it is about five years before his next child, Eli H Butler. So, I think Thomas E was either a son by a very early first marriage, or possibly born out of wedlock. But he is mentioned as an heir in Thomas Butler’s probate file. “Thomas Elias” would be a very logical name for a firstborn son, after all, and teenagers have been known to father children!

A third Thomas Butler, born about 1805 in South Carolina, is found living in a different district from our Butlers in the 1830s and 1840s. (He later moved to the 18th district, near my Butlers, just to confuse me 150 years later!) He falls into another clan of Butlers (referred to by my grandmother to this day as “the other Butlers”) who all moved to Carroll County at about the same time our Butlers did. They included a Horatio Butler who is constantly confused with our Thomas’ son Eli H Butler. But they were also two completely different people, as proven by appearing in different places on censuses at the same time!

One of my questions regarding these Thomases was to determine whether or not my Thomas was a slaveholder. There are several Carroll County deeds, court records and slave schedules mentioning a Thomas Butler, but which one? After carefully picking through them, I believe that Thomas did indeed hold two slaves. In 1841, he purchased “a negro girl, Lucy, aged about eleven years” for $450 from Arden Taylor. (Carroll County Deed Book E, pp 187-188 at Family Search.)

Lucy is found on the 1850 slave schedule for Thomas Butler, and again in 1860 with a 9 year old boy, presumably her son. She was not difficult to locate in 1870: a black Lucy Butler the right age is found living in the town of Maple Spring in the 14th District near Huntingdon, a widow with three children. She is found again in 1880. She has been added to my Butler family tree with documentation.

Thomas, who was not an especially wealthy man, surely bought Lucy to help his wife, Lavinia, with their large family, which included at least 14 or 15 children. While slavery and child labor were never good, this was not a plantation situation: Lucy would have been well known to the children, who were all strongly “for the Union” during the Civil War, with several sons and sons-in-law joining the Federal army. I just wonder whether Lucy herself had any influence on their decision to side against secession and slavery.

Finally, I believe I have identified Thomas’ wife (often referred to as Lavinia Thompson on trees with no documentation) as Lavinia Bennett, probable daughter of a Solomon Bennett. Lavinia’s youngest daughter, Nettie E Butler, lived long enough to have a death certificate which lists her mother as a Lavinia Bennett. Solomon lived near Thomas in Carroll County in 1830, and significantly, is found in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1820. While I have not been able to locate Thomas before 1830, his son, Wiley’s, military file lists his birth being in 1818 in Wilson County, placing Thomas there at the same time as Solomon. Lavinia also named on of her sons William Solomon Butler. More research is required, however, I think I am on the right track here.

Lavinia died of the flux (dysentery) in 1859, on the same night as the Carrington Event, a powerful geomagnetic storm noted as a “grate Lite in the heavens” in the family Bible.

Thomas died around 1866, apparently without a will. His son, Phillip Thompson Butler, the most businesslike of the bunch, applied to the court to sell Thomas’ lands. As there were only 155 acres on the banks of the Sandy River, he said, “owing to the number of heirs and the quantity and quality of said Land the same could not be divided without greatly deprecating the value of the same.”

Thomas and Lavinia Butler left very little in the way of a material legacy, however, they left nine surviving, relatively prosperous, children, dozens of grandchildren, and hundreds of later descendants in an epic tangle of southern genealogy. My grandmother, as one example, is descended from two of his sons, Alexander T and William Solomon Butler. This, along with the family having been Unionists in a southern state, makes them one of my more interesting and worthwhile research projects.

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