Amherst families trace bloodlines
to earliest days of county history
By Jessie Martin
ELON - Hannon Rucker has spent all of
his 90 years in Amherst County. A member of one of Amherst's first
families, Rucker says he couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
"The mountains sure are pretty," he said gesturing toward his backyard. His property has been in the family for more than two centuries.
He is the sixth generation of Ruckers, to live in the county since John Rucker patented 5,850 acres in 1739, 22 years before the county received its charter in 1761.
Rucker and his wife of 68 years, May, now live on Ambrose Rucker Road, in a brick house that over-looks the foothills of Tobacco Row Mountain. The home is several miles from where his family first settled along the James River.
His ancestors - Anthony and Benjamin Rucker - designed and constructed the first batteau in 1775. The boats, used for transporting cargo (mainly tobacco) along the James River, helped show Tidewater residents that their perceptions of Central Virginia as wilderness were incorrect.
Rucker, like his ancestors, grew apples and peaches, and learned the art of grafting new limbs and creating hybrids, 4 skill his ancestors passed on from generation to generation.
Indians had been there for thousands of years before the Ruckers and the other settlers arrived in the first half of the 18th century.
A census taken in 1761 shows 5,296 whites and 2,750 blacks - which included Indians.
Little is known about the Indians who lived in the Piedmont area because they kept only verbal records. Colonists, who did not venture into the Blue Ridge Mountains until the middle of the 1600s, recorded fear of crossing the paths of Indians.
To get into Virginia, the Indians had to overcome the physical obstacles of the land - the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains, the Valley of Virginia, the Piedmont Plateau and the Coastal Plain.
Widespread disease and social disarray in. Indian villages during the late 1600s wiped out many details of American Indian culture from the Piedmont, or midsection of the state.
Historians believe the Indians were hunter-gatherers, meaning they moved throughout the year so as to best use available resources. Through archaeological digs, scientists have discovered the remains of Monacan Indian villages. The artifacts help confirm theories the local Monacans lived from above Otter Creek, on the southwestern edge of the county, to John Lynch's Ferry, at various times of the year.
Some of the first recorded travel into what is now Amherst County was written by John Smith, who explored Virginia in the early 1600s and later constructed maps showing five Siouan villages in the Piedmont.
According to folklore, one of the first settlers of Amherst County was "Trader" Hughes, a Scottish hunter and fur trader. Hughes was married to a full blooded Indian named Nicketti, supposedly a niece of the famous Indian Chief Powhatan.
Arriving in the colonies in the 1630s, it is uncertain exactly when Hughes and his wife set up a trading post by Otter Creek, about half a mile from the James River. The store, with a stone chimney that later served as a landmark, also served as a home for the family.
Although interracial marriages (white men and Indian women) were not looked favorably upon by aristocrats, they were fairly common in Amherst, where there were not many white women. The marriages also helped traders establish their business credibility with Indians.
During the early and mid-1700s, more immigrants arrived in Central Virginia.
Scots-Irish, Irish and Germans who had settled in Pennsylvania and northern Virginia began looking for a place to practice their religion freely. They moved when land became available in the Shenandoah Valley, and called themselves "Cohees" and their home "new Virginia."
In addition, settlers, mostly English, came from Tidewater with their slaves and indentured servants. Their culture centered largely on tobacco plantations, and the Cohees named the planters "Tuckahoes" and called their land "old Virginia."
During the period between 1730 and 1750, at least 500 settlers in the county are documented through official documents and personal diaries.
One of the settlers who arrived in the county at about that time was Dr. William Cabell, who married Elizabeth Burks, the great granddaughter of Trader Hughes.
Often credited with being one of the founding forces in the formation of the county, Cabell chopped out about 25,000 acres along the James River beginning above Howardsville and continuing to the present Amherst-Nelson county line. Upon his death, Cabell gave the majority of his land to his four sons and the children of his only daughter.
Cabell was a historian and religious doctor who treated Patrick Henry. Over the years, various Cabells located in Amherst, Nelson and Buckingham counties, on plantations that lasted until the 1800s.
Other families who permanently settled in the county at about the same time include: Howard, Nevil, Jopling, Rose, Taliaferro, Carter, Clark, Higginbotham and many others.
Some have vanished from the county. Others, like the Ruckers, have published volumes about the family's genealogy.