AUTHOR: Andrew Watkins

John Watkins
Born: About 1831 in Wilkes County, NC
Died: Between 1910-1913 in Swain County, NC
Father: Andrew Watkins (1796)
Mother: Talitha Matilda Lunsford (1806)
Spouse: Catherine Pressley – born about 1834 in Tennessee

William Thomas Watkins: Son born about 1853
Diana Watkins: Daughter born about 1854
Elizabeth Watkins: Daughter born about 1856
V. Watkins: Daughter born about 1858
David Andrew “Boss” Watkins: Son born October 1861
Henry Sherman Watkins: Son born about 1865
Emmanuel “Manuel” Watkins: Son born about 1867
Sarah C. Watkins: Daughter born about 1870

John Watkins was my great-great-great-grandfather. He was a Private in Company F of the Thomas Legion during the Civil War. As a result of my genealogical research, I have learned quite a bit about his life and about his experiences in the Civil War, which had been forgotten through the years among family descendants. The following paragraphs will help shed some light on his early life, Civil War experience, and life after the war. I hope this helps some others who may be looking into their ancestry or learning about those who lived during the Civil War years.

John was born about 1831 in Wilkes County, NC to Andrew and Talitha Watkins. Andrew and Talitha had 3 sons and 7 daughters. Andrew and Talitha moved their entire family of 10 children to Deep Creek, Macon County (modern day Bryson City) around 1848 when they purchased 258 acres of old Cherokee land along the Tuckasegee River (around where you can find the family graveyard in Bryson City, “Watkins Cemetery”).

Andrew had volunteered in the Cherokee Indian removal in 1838, which I believe is when he learned about the land in the area. Andrew’s children all married and raised families of their own around the area.

John Watkins married Catherine Pressley on April 20, 1853 in Jackson County, NC. John and Catherine had their own place on his father’s land for several years and had 5 children before the war; the last was my great-great-grandfather, David Andrew “Boss” Watkins, who was born in 1861.

John often gets overlooked in ancestry trees and does not get listed as the father of David Andrew. John’s older brother, David Watkins, also had a son who he named David, born 1858. This causes many people to incorrectly list John’s brother, David, as father of David Andrew “Boss” Watkins.

John enlisted with the Confederacy in Company F of the Thomas Legion on November 8, 1862. He is listed as a Private in the infantry regiment. His service records are a bit faded, but you can still read them. He enlisted in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. He is listed as 5 ft 6 inches tall with fair eyes, fair complexion, and light hair. His enlistment record shows he was born in Wilkes County and was living in Jackson County. Jackson county was formed from the part of Macon County that John’s family lived in. In 1871, this part of Jackson County would become Swain County. I also found records for his older brother David and younger brother Andrew enlisting in the same infantry regiment of the Thomas legion; however, there aren’t many other service records for David and Andrew. One of the next few roll-call records show that he was not present and was assumed to have deserted, but then the next records show that John had been captured and taken prisoner by the Union on May 27, 1864 near Franklin, NC. He was first taken to Knoxville, TN. Then he was taken to Chattanooga on June 22, 1864 where he was forwarded to Nashville, TN then up to Louisville, KY. This route followed the railroads the Union had control of. He ended up in Camp Morton, a Union prison in Indiana, where he stayed for a while. After eight months, on February 19, 1865, John was paroled in a prisoner exchange with the South. He was sent to Point Lookout, Maryland where he was exchanged on February 25, 1865. His last records state that he was received into General Hospital No. 9 in Richmond, Virginia on March 5, 1865 to recover.

John Watkins returned home to Deep Creek, Jackson County after the war. His father Andrew and Talitha most likely helped take care of Catherine and the children while he was at war. John was fortunate to have lived through being captured, taken as a prisoner of war, and making it back home to the mountains of North Carolina. He fathered three more children with Catherine after the war. John and Catherine bought their own land and moved from his father’s land to the north a few miles. An 1874 land deed from Swain County with Catherine’s name on it reveals when John and Catherine purchased 320 acres on Long Branch, in the Lands Creek area of Bryson City, including the “Burn’s Cabin Tract” of 100 acres, for $125. The next few generations of my family grew up in the Lands Creek area where John and Catherine settled. Today, most of what was John and Catherine’s land is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

John is last listed as a resident in the house of his younger brother, Andrew, in the Charleston Township of Swain County. Most likely, he died between 1910 and 1913. Catherine passed away between 1900 and 1910. I believe John is most likely buried in the Watkins Cemetery in Bryson City, but several of the oldest grave stones have no markings or are faded away. My Watkins line ran for 5 generations in the Swain County area and 8 generations in North Carolina. John is one generation that I hope will not be forgotten again. The time he lived during and around the Civil War shaped our family history and helped make us who we are.

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