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Early Settlers on the Yadkin River – The Muddy Creek Settlement

Old Hope Church Moravian in Hope NC

Here is a great article on early American Elrod history from Dianne Underwood who is an Elrod ancestor from North Carolina. I want to thank her for allowing me to share with everyone!

Introduction – Early Settlers on the Yadkin River- The Muddy Creek Settlement

In 1753 a group of Moravian settlers came to North Carolina and began a permanent settlement called Bethabara in what is now Forsyth County. The Moravians kept detailed records including diaries, maps, and personal memoirs. These records are the source for much of the following information.

In her personal memoir, Altje Sell Elrod states that she and her husband Christopher settled along the banks of the Yadkin River in 1751. They were part of a large extended family living in what the Moravian surveyor Christian Reuters would later call the Muddy Creek Settlement. Altje Sell was raised as a Mennonite and Christopher Elrod was Lutheran but the couple joined the Moravian faith. In 1771 their daughter, Margaret Elrod, married Josephus Wilhelm Bohner. Will Bohner was a Moravian who came to Bethabara in 1769 to serve as a tanner.

The Muddy Creek Settlement on the east bank of the Yadkin would eventually become known as Clemmons. Peter Clemmons arrived around 1800 and deserves credit for turning a collection of farms into a community. The book Images of America- Clemmons by Kevin White written in association with the Clemmons Historical Society documents the history of Clemmons beginning in 1800. However there were hunters, trappers and a few settlers in the area as early as the 1740’s. Things changed between 1743 and 1746 when the Granville District was formed. The Granville District was a large area that extended sixty miles south of the border with Virginia and spanned the entire northern half of the state. The land was owned by John Carteret, Lord Granville, and he wanted to attract permanent settlers.

One of the first known permanent settlements in the Piedmont region was the Morgan Bryan (Bryant) settlement. The Bryan settlement is generally recognized as land located in what are today western Forsyth County, eastern Yadkin County, and most of Davie County. Robert Ramsey’s book Carolina Cradle explains the significance of the settlements in the forks of the Yadkin River and traces the roots of the early pioneers. The Bryans came to what was then Anson County in North Carolina about 1748 and purchased several large tracts of land. Morgan Bryan’s daughter Eleanor married William Linville.

According to land records William Linville purchased land on the east bank of the Yadkin River from Lord Granville on 28 April 1753 and sold it to Adam Sell (Sill) on 16 June 1753. Adam Sell moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania near the Maryland border with two of his daughters and their families. One of his daughters was Altje Sell Elrod. Fortunately for the Elrods and Sells, they settled next to the 100,000 acre parcel of land that would become known as the Wachovia Tract. Lord Granville typically sold one mile square parcels of land but agreed to sell a large parcel to the Moravians in 1753 because of their intent to create permanent settlements.

By the mid 1750’s, the arrival of large numbers of permanent setters forced the Native Americans to declare war. The Elrods and other families along the Yadkin River sought refuge at Fort Bethabara during the Indian Wars. After this initial encounter at Bethabara, the Sells and Elrods began to attend Moravian services at Friedberg and welcomed Moravian ministers into their homes. Christopher and Altje Sell Elrod were English speaking and Moravian ministers George Soelle and Richard Utley rode circuits and delivered sermons in English to the families. The Moravian records described the settlers as “an honor roll of those who sought to live godly lives in the midst of a careless and oftentimes godless land, not infrequently scoffed and jeered by their neighbors.” Many of these settlers are buried at the Old Hope Moravian Cemetery in Clemmons. Hope was the first English speaking Moravian congregation.
The early pioneer families that settled south of the Shallow Ford on the east bank of the Yadkin River next to the Wachovia tract were Sell (Soelle), Elrod, Douthit, Johnson, Riddle, Hauser, McKnight, Ellis, and Bohner(Boner), to name a few. These families came to America from Europe in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s seeking economic and religious opportunities.

Lutheran Roots

To better understand the desire for economic and religious freedom, the following information describes the times in which our ancestors lived. Michael Elrod owns the Elrod Family Website and his thorough and exhaustive research is the primary source. In the 1500’s, Germany was not a united country but a collection of independent states known as the Holy Roman Empire. The French writer Voltaire commented that it was not holy, Roman, or an empire. The Elrod (Ellroths, Elrode, Ellrod) family is from an area in the Holy Roman Empire known as the Palatine. Many books have been written about the Palatine Emigrations.
Palatine was a regional area in the southwest of Germany on the border with France. Because of its location, the region assumed a strategic importance in history. The area was greatly affected by the religious wars that raged for decades. Cities were destroyed, taxes were high, and there were episodes of famine and disease. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict were undisciplined and often lawless, imposing severe punishments on citizens in the territory.

The Elrod family history can be traced to the early 1600’s in Europe. This period in European history was one of great growth and change. The Elizabethan Era in England had ended. What was called the Thirty Years War in Europe was over but religious conflicts continued and took a heavy toll on families for many years to come. Several generations suffered greatly during this time. Economic issues, religious strife, and constant warfare were the main factors in what became known as the Great Palatine migration to America.

Elrods in Germany

The Elrods were an educated and accomplished family. Jacob Elrod I was born in Kulmbach, Germany, in the latter part of the 1500’s. Our family is descended from of one of Jacob Elrod I’s sons, Johannes Christophorus. Little is known about our early ancestor but the family history of his older brother is well known.
Jacob Elrod II (1601-1671) studied theology, astronomy, and mathematics at the University of Altdorf. In 1657 he published the Mittle Calendar in which he worked out the differences between the Catholic Gregorian calendar and the Protestant Julian calendar. In 1659 he presented his calendar to the Diet of Regensburg and received a gold chain from Emperor Leopold for his work. An elementary school in Kulmbach, Germany is named for Jacob Elrod II.

In the 1700’s, Jacob II’s great grandsons were elevated from the middle class, or bourgeoisie, to nobility. Their grandfather was Jacob II’s son Phillip Andreas (1643-1706). Their father was Phillip Andreas’ son, Johan Michael. Johann Michael Elrod was known as a master tailor and two of his three sons became part of the German nobility. Wolfgang Friedrich (1704-1766), was elevated to peerage. Another son, Phillip Andreas, (1707-1767) became the first Count Elrod. A third son, German August (1709-1760) a theology professor, declined the honor. The Plassenberg Castle in Kulmbach was home to the Elrod nobility.

Our ancestor, Johannes Christophorus Elrod, was born in 1608 a year after John Smith founded the settlement of Jamestown in America. He was the brother of Jacob II. The grandson of Johannes Christophorus, Johan Teter Elrod (1684-1744), is our Elrod ancestor who came to America. Johan Teter’s father was born about 1654 but his name is unknown.

So about the time that the descendants of Jacob II were elevated to nobility, the descendants of his brother, Johannes Christophorus, left Germany for America. All three families, Elrod, Sell, and Bohner, chose to leave Germany in what has become known as the great Palatine Emigration.

Lutheran Immigrants- Elrods

In the early 1700’s war between the Protestants and Catholics had raged for decades in Europe. Choices for survival were limited. Some citizens were willing to switch their religion depending on which side was in power. There were even groups who outwardly supported the church in power but held secretly to their own beliefs. The Moravian Brethren were known as the “hidden seed.” Many others decided to leave and resettle elsewhere. Lists of refugees to America total over fifteen thousand, about half of whom were Palatines.

The lure of good land and religious tolerance was strong. William Penn had founded a new colony based on religious freedom. Reports about the colony created a strong desire in many to undertake a perilous journey in hopes of a new beginning. Our Elrod ancestors were Lutherans and may have held strong religious beliefs but the desire for land was most likely their primary motivation.

Refugees from Germany sailed to Holland, then to London, and from there to America. The mother of William Penn, Margaret Jasper, had German cousins and was sympathetic to the Palatines. At one point the sheer number of refugees caused the Dutch government to close the port of Rotterdam. London was overrun by starving Palatines. Queen Anne of England was sympathetic to their plight and ordered collections to be taken to provide food and shelter. The exiles were a mixture of refugees from the Palatine. Their numbers included Reformers, Lutherans, Catholics, and a few Baptists and Mennonites. The English crown made the Lutherans their official agents.

Johan Teter (1684-1744) and Maria Magdalena Elrod (1685-1721) were Lutherans in the fifth party of Palatines who sailed from Holland between 3 and 10 July of 1709. They travelled with their infant son Wilhelm. Johan Wilhelm and Susanna Catarina Lerchenzeiler, were listed on the ship’s roster with one child. Johan Wilhelm Lerchenzeiler may have been Maria’s father or possibly her brother. The party arrived in England and most likely took shelter in a barn or army tent that the English provided. London was a small city with its own poverty and hunger issues. Although the English found ways to temporarily provide for the religious refugees, relocating them was a priority. The Palatines were sent to three locations- Ireland, New York, or the Carolinas. The refugees resettled to America were to produce naval stores, turpentine, tar, and pitch for the royal Navy.

The voyage to America claimed many lives. The exiles were lived in crowded quarters. Food and water were scarce and disease was rampant. The exodus continued for many years and conditions onboard got worse with each voyage. Rations of food often ran out and lice were so thick that they had to be scraped off. When the ships arrived in America, a doctor would come aboard and decide who would was healthy enough to stay and who had to return to England. If you had a furry tongue, you were not allowed to get off the ship.

The Elrods arrived in America no later than August of 1709 in the port of New York. During this time in history, the first town in North Carolina was incorporated (1706) and called Bath. From 1711-1714, the Carolina colonists were fighting the Tuscarora Indians and by 1717 Stede Bonnet, better known as Blackbeard, was raiding ships off the North Carolina Coast. Church records show the Elrods in the area of New Castle County along the Pennsylvania/Maryland border until 1721.

In 1721 a son was born to the Elrods and named Christopher. That child was the first American born Elrod ancestor. His mother, Maria Magdalena Lerchenzeiler Elrod, had eight children and died the year that Christopher was born, possibly in childbirth. She is buried at Old Swede’s Church (Holy Trinity Church) at 7th and Church Streets in Wilmington, Delaware. Johan Teter remarried the same year. His second wife was Sarah Wood and the couple had seven children. From the fifteen children of Johan Teter, the Elrod pioneers scattered far and wide.

Elrods in North Carolina

Moravian memoirs are valuable tools for research but, more importantly, they are the stories of our ancestors. Christopher Elrod’s memoir says he was born in 1721 in Pennsylvania on the Maryland border and reared in the Lutheran religion. He married Altje Sell in 1743 and in 1751 the couple moved to the Carolina wilderness. Christopher and Altje did not come alone. Several sons and daughters of Johan Teter Elrod travelled to North Carolina. Altje’s father (Adam Sell) and her sister (Catherine Sell Boyer) also made the journey. The large extended family most likely did not all travel to the area at the same time. One group would arrive and, when they were established, send for others.
The following is a brief introduction to seven known Elrods who made the journey to North Carolina. Wilhelm Jeremiah, Robert, and Christopher were the children of Maria Magdalena Lerchenzeiler. Margaret, Hannah, and John were the children of Sarah Wood.

Christopher Elrod’s half-sister named Margaret married George Hauser Senior. Margaret Elrod Hauser’s Moravian memoir describes a hard life. After her mother (Sarah Wood Elrod) died, she was bound out to service. Her conditions during the seventeen year period were so harsh that her brothers worked to secure her release.

George Hauser Senior was a blacksmith by trade and the couple came to the Yadkin in 1753 and eventually settled in a little house in Bethania. The family experienced hardship when one son married outside of the Moravian faith. Moravians needed permission to marry even within the faith. Margaret’s memoir recalls how she tried to make amends with her husband and others when she felt her death at age 38 was close. The Moravian community of Bethania is sometimes called Hauser Town.

Another half-sister to family patriarch Christopher was Hannah Susannah Elrod. She married John Parke and the couple journeyed to North Carolina eventually moving to West Virginia. The Rowan Family Heritage book has an entry on this family and their son Noah Elrod.

Christopher’s oldest brother Wilhelm, who was born in Germany and survived the voyage to America, married Ana Bischoff. One branch of this family, descendants of Wilhelm and Ana’s son, Conrad, eventually settled in Blowing Rock and live there today. Another son of Wilhelm and Ana was an officer in the British army during the American Revolution and killed as a traitor. William Elrod Junior’s death is noted in the Moravian Records. The Revolutionary War divided family loyalties and the Bryan Clan had a reputation as notorious Tories. Wilhelm and Ana had two other sons, Samuel who died young and Peter who moved to South Carolina.

Christopher’s brother Jeremiah Elrod married the sister of John Douthit. When Jeremiah Elrod died, George McKnight Senior became guardian for his two sons. McKnight’s wife died later and he married Jeremiah’s widow who became Sarah Douthit Elrod McKnight. The Douthits and McKnights were early settlers in Clemmons. The Methodist Bishop Asbury met at McKnight’s Meeting House and the McKnights helped form Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church in Tanglewood Park. Jeremiah Elrod’s son Adam moved to South Carolina with his first cousin Peter (Wilhelm’s son). Another son, Jeremiah Junior created a scandal in the pious Moravian community in Forsyth County when he abandoned his wife Ana Vogler and ran off with another woman.
Land records show the presence of Christopher’s brother, Robert Elrod, in North Carolina by 1753. Robert married Sarah Scott the sister of John Douthit Senior’s wife Mary. The family moved to Kentucky as did many settlers and, when Robert Elrod died, Samuel Boone probated his will. Squire Boone lived across the Yadkin in Bryan’s settlement. The Boones had settled on Dutchman’s (Deutschman’’s) Creek near Mocksville in 1752. The Elrods probably followed the trail blazed by Daniel Boone across the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky. A half-brother to Christopher, John Teter Elrod Junior also moved to Kentucky. His wife was Mary Muse. The area that became Forsyth County has many descendants of the Elrod family.

Mennonite Roots- Sell, Soelle, Sellen

The Elrods came to America in 1709 but our Mennonite ancestors had been here for almost twenty years. Samuel Pennypacker wrote a book in 1899 titled The Settlement of Germantown Pennsylvania and the Beginning of German Immigrations to North America. His work is the source for much of the information that follows. Pennypacker is descended from many of the original families in Germantown, including the Seilen (Sell) family.

Mennonites were a religious sect that endured persecution in Europe for many years. One issue that set them apart from other sects was infant baptism. Altje Sell Elrod notes in her Moravian memoir that she was Mennonite and therefore not baptized as a child. Their leader was a man named Menno Simons. He was born in 1492 in Holland and educated as a priest. In 1536 Menno Simons severed ties with the Catholic Church. His reformist teachings went further than Luther or Calvin in that he believed in separation of the church and state.

For many years it was assumed that Germantown was settled by Mennonites from Krefeld, Germany. However, William Isaac Hull, a professor at Swarthmore College and Quaker scholar proved that a mix of Quaker families and Mennonite families from Krefeld settled in Germantown. Many of these Mennonite and Quaker families eventually settled along the Yakin River in North Carolina.

Krefeld (Crefeld), Germany was a city on the lower Rhine a few miles from the German border with Holland. It is from this war torn area along the Rhine that the early settlers came. The Global AnaBaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) states that the Seilen family came to Germantown from Krefeld in 1690. Passenger lists record Hendrick (Heinrich) Sell and his brother Dirck. Martin Sell may have been another brother. Peter Dirck Sell married Adrianna Van Sintern late in life and had three children. Their daughter Neeltje Seilen married Johan Pennypacker. Heinrich Sell may have had thirteen children and two or three wives. By 1713, the family of Heinrich Sell moved from Germantown to Skippack about twelve miles north and back to York County by 1732.

Dr. Kenneth Sells has researched the Sell (Sellen, Seilen, Soelle) family extensively. His research does not provide supporting evidence for a father/son relationship between Adam Sell (born in 1700) and Heinrich Seilen but Dr. Sell’s research does not rule out a relationship either.

However, several documents support the fact that Adam Sell’s daughter Altje was born in 1724 in Germantown and married Christopher Elrod in 1743. Altje’s Moravian memoir gives an account of her early life in her own words. Her last name is spelled Soelle in the Moravian records. There is a Moravian minister named George Soelle who came to North Carolina from Maine. George Soelle was a Lutheran minister before becoming a Moravian. No relationship between the families has been established so the last name for Altje will be Sell in this work to avoid any confusion.

In her Moravian memoir, Altje states that she was born in Germantown in Pennsylvania. Her parents were Mennonites and later moved to Conewago Creek where she faithfully attended Menonnite meetings. When she was grown, Altje was baptized by a Lutheran minister and, in her own words, the act made a great impression. The minister was David Candler and Lutheran records show that he baptized eighty people in 1740. Altje’s family moved to Monocacy, Maryland, where she met and married Christopher Elrod.

With respect to the mother of Altje Sell, many online family trees identify her as “Sarah” the daughter of Thomas Fitzwater. Thomas Fitzwater came to America from England aboard the ship Welcome in 1682 as a young child. His will states that he had a daughter named Sarah. However, there is no supporting evidence that the mother of Altje was Sarah Burdon Fitzwater. So we are left with these facts. Altje’s parents were Mennonites. Her father was Adam Sell and her mother was likely named Sarah. Altje Sell also had a younger sister named Catherine who married Henry Boyer and came to North Carolina.
Letters from many of the original Germantown settlers give a valuable insight into life in Germantown. Daniel Pastorius relates the discomforts and poverty along with the riches of the new land. Pastorius was raised a Lutheran but was approached by leaders of the Mennonites, Pietists, and Quakers about traveling to America and purchasing land for a settlement. Daniel Pastorius is known as the founder of Germantown which is now part of Philadelphia.

In his letters, Pastorius writes that the journey over took about ten weeks. Seas were rough and many were sea sick. High winds broke a foremast and one ship was repeatedly bumped by a whale. Food and water were poor in quality and rationed. Pastorius warned others to bring food of their own.

On arrival many settlers took shelter in caves until crude cabins could be built. Pastorius wrote that anyone wishing to spare his hands should stay put. He went on to say that there had been more trouble from Christians than so called savages. One Lutheran minister was nothing but a drunkard according to Pastorius. It should be noted that Lutheran historians did not agree with Pastorius’ assessment of the Lutheran settlers and their leaders.

Pastorius described one meal with the Native Americans where they sat on the ground to eat using shells for spoons and leaves for plates. Their pumpkin was cooked in pure water, needing no butter or seasoning.

Land was described as heavily wooded. Settlers let their livestock roam freely. Pastorius asked that the next group of settlers include some men to clear the land and carpenters to build homes and barns.

Sells in North Carolina

Adam Sell, the family patriarch, came to North Carolina about 1751 with his two daughters and sons in law. About ten years later he returned to Maryland where he died in 1767 in Monocacy, Maryland.

In 1753 Lord Granville transferred 587 acres of land to William Linville who transferred the land to Adam Sell. The Linvilles were Quakers and had previously relocated to Virginia from Pennsylvania. As far as the English were concerned, Quakers, Mennonites, and Moravians fell into the general category of Deutsch. The English did not differentiate based on country of origin either. The Swiss, Palatines, and Alsatians were simply Deutsch or Palatines. These groups were often ridiculed for their beliefs and language and chose to relocate.

Moravian records show that Adam Sell associated himself with the Moravians at Bethania but there are no specific details of his life and no memoir.

Moravian Roots- Bohners

The Elrods and Sells had lived on the Yadkin for about 18 years when a young man arrived in Bethabara as a tanner in 1769. Josephus Wilhelm Bohner had been raised by the Moravians in York Pennsylvania.

Inspiration for the Moravian Church and protestant Reformation began in the 1400’s with the eloquent and impassioned teachings of Jan Hus. Hus was a monk in the Catholic Church and protested fearlessly against the abuses of the church. He was burned at the stake in 1415 for his beliefs. His early followers formed the Hussite League and later, in 1497, organized as Unitas Fratum or Unity of the Brethren.
Protestants date their separation from the Catholic Church to 1517 when Martin Luther used the recently invented printing press to translate the Bible into German. However, all good Moravians know that Martin Luther was influenced by Jan Hus. The Moravian Church is arguably the first Protestant Church formed sixty years before Luther’s Reformation. By the time of the reformation, the Moravian Church had over two hundred thousand members and four hundred parishes.

Religious freedom was declared in 1609 in Bohemia and Moravia only to be crushed in 1627. Protestant churches were seized and clergy banned. Many believers chose to leave but a group that became known as the hidden seed remained. The hidden seed was a group of men who were outwardly Catholic but secretly held to the beliefs of the Brethren. In 1722 descendants of the Brethren began building Hernnhut as a rallying place for other believers.

Nicholas Lewis, Count Zinzendorf, became the leader of church and sought to avoid conflict with the State Church by fostering the growth of the Brethren in settlements elsewhere. Missions were established in the West Indies, Greenland, and Georgia.
After five years in Georgia the missionaries moved to Pennsylvania and created settlements at Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Lititz. By 1752, they sent a party to North Carolina to establish a settlement named Bethabara.

The parents of Josephus Wilhelm Bohner are unknown and DNA tests have not solved the mystery. Will’s parents were likely Palatine refugees and there are some sources that say he born in Lower Alsace in the Palatinate. The most reliable source is the Moravian memoir which states that Will was born in Pennsylvania in 1747.

Bohner’s memoir also states that he was the apprentice of Francis Jacob Miller in York and that he arrived in Bethabara in 1769. Records show that Josephus Wilhelm Bohner left Bethabara no later than 1771 and married Margaret Elrod the daughter of Christopher and Altje Sell Elrod.

So what became the Boner family in Clemmons began with Lutherans named Elrod, Mennonites named Sell, and a Moravian sent to Bethabara as a tanner. My early ancestors began their journey by leaving Europe to take refuge in America. From Pennsylvania, another generation moved to the North Carolina wilderness. These pioneers created a settlement, fought Indians, survived epidemics of scarlet fever and typhus, and endured the Regulator conflict and American Revolution. They lived in Clemmons before it was Clemmons.

To better understand the family stories that will follow, it is helpful to have some background knowledge concerning North Carolina counties and land records, the Great Wagon Road, the Shallow Ford, and life in general for the pioneers.

Land Records and NC Counties

With respect to land ownership, North Carolina land records for this period of time are complicated. Rowan County was formed in 1753 from Anson County and earlier Anson land records were destroyed in a fire. In addition, a family in what is now Forsyth County could live in one place but, depending on the year and location, the farm could be in Anson, Rowan, Surry, Stokes, Davidson, or Forsyth Counties. Revolutionary War records show the settlers in the area as citizens of Surry County. By the War of 1812, many are in Stokes County and during the Civil War the area was either Davidson or Forsyth County. Forsyth County was formed in 1849 but not complete. The Shallow Ford area was later annexed from Yadkin County and Clemmonsville from Davidson County.

Colonial land records do exist, however, young couples were often allowed to live on a parcel of family land and no land transaction was recorded until the family patriarch died. A family may have lived on land for years before registering a deed through the courts.

The Great Wagon Road

In 1751, the pioneers traveled along the Great Wagon road from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. In many places the road was little more than an Indian path or buffalo trail. Kyle Stimson’s research and John Henry Clewell’s History of Wachovia in North Carolina from 1752-1902 are excellent resources. Our family’s experiences would have been similar to the description that follows from Clewell’s book.

Travelers may have had wagons and horses or walked most of the way. Their journey from Pennsylvania would have been about five hundred miles and lasted about six weeks. The travelers were at the mercy of the weather and the kindness of strangers. The search for food was never ending. Many rivers had to be crossed and mountains safely ascended and descended. Sometimes curious Indians might follow the group. Panthers, venomous snakes, and poisonous spiders were a part of the journey and travelers had to be vigilant.

Altje Sell Elrod may have been pregnant with her fifth child (Margaret) as she made the journey with her three young children and husband. She had already suffered the loss of a little girl. Christopher Elrod was thirty years old and Altje was twenty seven when they came to North Carolina.

The Shallow Ford

The Shallow Ford and Great Wagon Road have been forgotten by many today but were extremely important to settlers in the 1750’s. Most of what follows is from Kyle Stimson’s book The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road in Forsyth County, N.C. 1750-1770. There are many possible paths for the road but Stimson concludes that it passed through the Shallow Ford area in the heart of the Bryan Settlement. In 1748 Bryan and Linville were the first to take wagons from the Shanidore (Shenadoah) to the Etkin (Yadkin) according to Moravian records. Their journey took three months and at one point Bryan took the wheels off his wagon and carried it piecemeal to the top of a mountain. A historic marker for the great Wagon Road is located at Bethabara.

The Shallow Ford, as its name implies, was typically an area where the water was about 18 inches deep over a built up rock bed. Ferries eventually dotted the Yadkin but this was the only area that could be forded by wagons and horses. Kyle Stimson lists the names of John Douthit, Robert Elrod, and Christopher Elrod as settlers arriving in the area in the early 1750’s. He credits them with being the earliest settler families of what is now Clemmons. Lord Cornwallis and his army crossed the Shallow Ford during the Revolutionary War as did General Stoneman during the Civil War.

Life in General for the The The Pioneer Woman

The following description of pioneer life is from the book Forsyth: A County on the March by Adelaide Fries and others. The Piedmont was heavily forested so trees needed to be cleared before crops could be grown. Settlers fed themselves by using their muskets or crude farming tools. Corn was a staple and some wheat and rye were grown in the fertile soil. There were fruit trees in the area and game was plentiful. Corn pone and sallet (greens) were basic fare. The gristmill at Bethabara made bread possible and the community was well known for its bread.
Farmers built barns and fenced pastures to protect their livestock often before building a cabin for the family. Barns and pastures provided livestock protection from predators such as bears and panthers. Houses were little more than protection against the elements at the beginning. The pioneers would sleep in their wagons until a cabin was built.

Clothes were either homespun or buckskin so tanners were in high demand as clothing for men (and sometimes women) included buckskin shirts, breeches, and leggings. Moccasins were often the only shoes available. Our ancestor Will Bohner came to Bethabara to serve as a tanner.

Flax was one the earliest fibers grown and Margaret Elrod’s sister Mary was a weaver in Salem. Will’s sons would be apprenticed in Salem as tailors and hatters. The Moravians wore plain clothes and a traveler would know who you were by the way dressed.

Settlements along the Yadkin had their share of taverns and alcohol. Illegitimate children as well as orphans were problems for the courts. Court records are a wealth of information for that time. Many frontier families moved frequently because they had trouble getting along with others but some folks just liked to stay on the move. After moving from the Maryland/ Pennsylvania border, Christopher and Altje Sell Elrod lived in North Carolina for the rest of their lives.

Piedmont Pioneers- Christopher and Altje Sell Elrod

The Elrods settled on the east side of the Yadkin River in an area called Blanket Bottom about 1751. One reason for choosing land along the river was that the floodplain was fertile soil. The area away from the river was heavily forested and trees had to be cleared to make room for a cabin, barn, or garden. Chances are the original home was a log cabin on high ground away from the river. The thick logs made the home warm in winter and cool in summer. Plank homes came later as the family prospered.
Fortunately for the Elrods, Moravians began their settlement at Bethabara in 1753. John Henry Clewell describes the Moravians as devout Christians well prepared to begin their settlement. Diversity of industries was central to their plan for a successful community. By 1754, Bethabara had a carpenter shop, shoe shop, tailor establishment, pottery, blacksmith shop, cooper shop, and tannery. The Elrod family soon benefited from the kindness of the Moravians. About 1759, the Elrods traveled to Fort Bethabara for safety during Indian raids as did frightened settlers for many miles. They would have been kept in a part of the fort separated from the Moravians as “strangers” but the Moravians generously provided for them. The French and Indian War stretched over a ten year period from 1754-1764. Fort Dobbs near Statesville was built in 1756.

Christopher Elrod states in his memoir that he thought of himself as a hardworking man and tried to support his family honorably and righteously. He is also described as having a temper but willing to settle differences and live in peace. Christopher states that he heard Brother Joseph (Bishop Gottlieb Spangenberg) preach at Bethabara and from that point on wanted to enjoy the blessing of the Brudergemeine. In 1773 Christopher and Altje were received into the Friedberg Church and, in 1780, a church for an English speaking congregation near Clemmons called Hope was consecrated. The building of the church was delayed by the American Revolution.
Hope Moravian Church

Hope was the first English speaking Moravian community. The Friedberg Pastor George Soelle gave his sermons in German and English. Altje’s memoir states that the opportunity to talk about the state of her poor soul in English was “balm for her heart.” Many of the later settlers in the Hope area came from Monocacy in Maryland and were also English speaking. This is significant because many Germans refused to learn the English language. Even enlightened leaders like Benjamin Franklin considered this a suspicious act and it is one of many reasons that German settlers endured bigotry.

Hope was some distance from the center of Moravian control in Salem and the Moravians were reluctant to allow the community to form fearing it would not adhere to their strict standards. After tearful requests by the Elrods for a church, John Douthit and his good friend and neighbor, Christopher Elrod, were allowed to build Hope Church. The building was also used as a church school.

Christopher and Altje had a large family and all of the surviving children married with the exception of Mary Elrod (1755-1819). Mary served in the community at Salem in several capacities. In 1786 she is listed on the Single Sister’s roll. She was once mistress of weaving and records note that she replaced Sister Peddycourt as Fremden Dienerin.

The population of the entire Hope community near Muddy Creek in what is now Clemmons was very small, only a few families, so everyone who was not related, soon was. A family tree for the children of Christopher and Altje is attached.

Christopher died at age 64. According to his memoir, his last words were “Dear Savior, have mercy on me!” Altje never recovered from the loss. Her memoir states that she lived for another twenty years but had an unusual longing to depart and be with Christ and often expressed great impatience that it was taking so long. She died at age 85 at the home of her son John Elrod. John moved to Kentucky after his mother’s death. Christopher had two brothers named John (Mary Muse) and Robert (Sarah Scott) and he named two of his sons after them. Christopher’s sons John and Robert married sisters who were Riddles.

Altje Sell and Christopher Elrod were born in America on the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. They traveled to North Carolina along the Great Wagon Road and settled south of the Shallow Ford. After seeking refuge from the Moravians at Bethabara the Elrods sought to have their own English speaking Moravian church. The couple survived the Regulator Movement and the American Revolution. According to their memoirs, Altje and Christopher Elrod had 12 children, 63 grandchildren, and 73 great grandchildren.

Three key events shaped the lives of these North Carolina pioneers- the French and Indian War, the Regulator Conflict, and the American Revolution.

3 Responses to “Early Settlers on the Yadkin River – The Muddy Creek Settlement”

  • Cynthia Kuehn Simmons:

    Dianne did such a thorough accounting of the Elrod, Sell, (Soelle) and Bohner (Boner) families. She has worked long and hard on accumulating all the information. Dianne is so blessed to be living in the middle of so much history! I am so proud that I am related to Dianne. Her great grandfather, Jacob Boner, was a brother to my great great grandfather, Josephus Boner. Dianne is younger than I am but she is closer to Joseph Wilhelm Bohner than I am. (by one generation) My Josephus was a son of Samuel Boner, born in 1800 to Joseph Boner and his wife, Christine Hummel Boner. Samuel, his wife,Elizabeth Elrod Boner and their second son, Josephus, moved to southern Illinois in about 1851. Josephus was married to Mary Ann Harper. When they moved to Illinois, Aaltje Elrod Harper, who was the widow of James Alfred Harper, moved to southern Illinois along with the Boners. Aaltje brought her children with her. Samuel’s wife, Elizabeth, was a sister to Aaltje. Elizabeth and Samuel’s son, Josephus, married his first cousin,Mary Ann, daughter of Aaltje and James Alfred Harper. This made my great great grandparents first cousins. The Boner and Harper families stayed in southern Illinois and eventually I was born there. My mother, Dorothy Boner Kuehn, who married a Mr. Blessin after my father died, worked on the Boner genealogy for many years. I am so happy that my husband and I, along with one of our daughters,Nancy, had the pleasure of meeting our cousin, Dianne, when we visited in North Carolina a couple of years ago.

  • Larry Elrod:

    Extremely interesting information. Does anyone know which records or documents show that Johan Teter Elrod’s grandfather was Johannes Christophorus Elrod? How do we know he was Johan Teter Elrod’s grandfather if we don’t know who Johan Teter’s father was?

    Also, I believe Wilhelm Elrod had another son named James, who was born in NC about 1755. I think this because this James Elrod left the Piedmont in 1782 immediately after the Tory William Elrod was killed by American patriots with his mother, Hanna (Ana?) and resettled in Georgia. After remaining in Georgia for a few years, he moved into South Carolina and settled near Peter Elrod (son of Wilhelm). Later, James Elrod and Peter Elrod appear in Federal Census records in White County, TN. Also, by process of elimination, Wilhelm is the most likely father of James Elrod because the descendants of the other male NC Elrods are pretty well documented. Anyone have any information that might confirm or negate James Elrod’s relationship to Wilhelm?

    Again, I really enjoyed reading this excellent article.


    Larry Elrod

  • Larry Elrod:

    I meant to add in my previous comment that I don’t think Christoper Elrod was the first Elrod child born in America. My information, including records of Holy Trinity Church, show four other children born in New Castle County – Jeremias, Robert, Agneta, and Elizabetha – before Christopher’s birth in 1721. I believe Jeremias Elrod was the first Elrod child born in America.


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