A lot of what I know about the Bells and related families comes from one of my Bell cousins. Her grandmother, Clara Bell Guest, was the older sister of my grandmother, Cora Bell Wheat. As keeper of the Bell family treasures, my cousin gave me a genealogical jump start by sharing family photographs, Primitive Baptist church minutes, and a dog-eared handwritten history of the Bell and Powell families written in the 1880s by our great-great-aunt Lydia Powell Ray.
|Page 1 of the "Genealogy of the Powells"|
by Benjamin Powell, as told to his
The tears and mends make it very hard to read, and I only have a photocopy of Aunt Lydia’s “Genealogy of the Powells.” However, I was able to decipher enough to set me on the way to identifying my Powell ancestors. The usual way to do genealogical research, from the present back through each generation to the earliest ancestor, worked the other way around in this situation. I ended up working down from the earliest ancestor listed in Lydia’s genealogy until I got to Benjamin Powell, who was the father of the most recent Powell in my family tree—Mary Mourning “Polly” Powell who married James W. Bell.
Although written by Lydia, she was recording the words of her father, Benjamin Powell, who said, “The ancestors came from Wales and settled in Virginia and moved [from] to Halifax Co., N.C. Had two sons one of them (my great grandfather) Dempsy Powell married a Miss Benton [indecipherable] moved from there to Wake Co., N.C. before the Revolution War. Raised up a family of five daughters and four sons.” They go on to record the names of Dempsey’s sons and daughters, daughters’ married names, their children, and where they lived. For example, one readable part of the document says, “The other three daughters of my great grandfather Dempsy Powell married Sims Streeter and Temple and moved to Middle Tenn and settled on Duck River near Shelbyville. They were all very wealthy and their children married so far as we know, men of affluence.” (I love the Victorians!) While much information is there, it’s sometimes hard to untangle and frustrating because so much is missing due to the age of the document itself.
|Map of Tennessee showing location of Duck River|
It’s been almost 20 years since I received this document from my cousin and did the initial research. So much is now available on ancestry.com and from other sources that corroborates these facts or calls them into question. For example, Lydia does not mention Dempsey’s purported first wife, Nancy Dempsey, at all. According to comments I have read online, the name Nancy Dempsey first shows up in early DAR applications and Powell researchers have not been able to find a source for it. Lydia’s genealogy seems to support the fact that Dempsey only had one wife, a “Miss Benton,” given name Pleasant, according to a court record that lists her as the mother of Caswell and Jesse Powell.
I remember how exciting it was as I did find sources that mostly supported the facts that Lydia and her father had recorded. For example, Dempsey Powell’s home was in Wake County, North Carolina, near the present town of Wake Forest. I recently found a transcript online of minutes from the 1792 meeting of Commissioners in Wake County who were viewing lands in the county for a site for the State Capital, “establishing a place for holding the future meetings of the General Assembly and the place of Residence of the Chief Officers of the State.” They viewed the “Land of Dempsey Powell on the south side of Neuse at Powell Bridge Seven miles from Isaac Hunters” and others.
Another piece of information from Lydia’s document has proved to be correct. Dempsey received a grant of 1,977 acres located on the Duck River in Tennessee for his service in the North Carolina state militia. (When he was one his way to have the land surveyed, he was shot through the heel by an Indian at Nashville, whereupon he turned around, went back home, and hired someone else to survey the land for him.) Upon his death three of his daughters, Charlotte who married John Sims, Mildred who married John Streeter, and Elizabeth who married Robert Temple, settled on their father’s grant lands on the Duck River in Tennessee.
Lydia’s 3-page document ends with these words: “This was written by myself Lydia C. Powell as given to me by my father Benj. Powell son of Caswell Powell who was son of Dempsy Powell (senior.) She adds: “My father died near Potts Camp, Miss. in 1889 age 78 years 0 months. My mother’s maiden name was Eliza Fowler daughter of Wm. Fowler of Paris, Tenn.”
Benjamin Powell married Eliza Helen Fowler on 22 December 1828 in Henry County, Tennessee. They had ten children: William Dempsey, Joseph Devereaux, Thomas A., Benja Ann Helen (Bennie), Georgiana Isabella, John Calvin, Mary Mourning, Lydia Caroline, and Eliza Jane (Jimmie.) Of the siblings, only two remained in Tennessee. The others went to Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. Eliza Helen was visiting her daughters in Johnson County, Texas, when she died on 22 December 1882 on the 54th anniversary of her marriage. She is buried at Bethesda Cemetery, Burleson, Texas.
|Eliza H. Powell headstone|
Bethesda Cemetery, Burleson, Texas
James W. Bell died in 1883, and in 1894 or 1895 Mary M. Bell married George Akers and moved to Woodford, Indian Territory. George Akers died in 1896. On the 1900 census Mary was living in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, with her adult children, William, 32; Russell, 30; Kitty, 22; and Joseph, 20. William, Russell, and Joseph were working as miners. Mary apparently died before 1910 as she does not appear on the 1910 census. She is supposedly buried in McAlester, Pittsburg Co., OK, but I have not been able to find her grave. Her granddaughter Cora, my grandmother, named her only son William Powell, and he went by the name Powell all his life.
|1900 Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory census|