Keeping up with the Napiers – Part 1

Even though the people involved in this post are more appropriate for my Black Nashville blog, I’m deciding to post it here because this project has been a highly complex task for me for which I am really having to use my research & analytical skills.

I have previously posted a little bit of the background, but essentially, I’ve been helping a couple of people who have roots in Alabama try to figure out their Napier connections and possible association with James Carroll Napier. A month later, we still do not have a conclusive chain of association, but the trail is slowly coming together.

This is the challengeTom emailed me as his family history indicates his ancestor, Sophia Napier Watkins was a niece of James Carroll Napier (hereafter referred to as JC) . Sophia Napier Watkins was from Lawrence & Colbert counties in Alabama while JC was born in Dickson County, TN and lived in Nashville (Davidson county) during his lifetime.

Here’s a TN-AL map that shows the various counties. For reference, Alabama lines up with central Tennessee.


The first thing that I had to do was further map out the family tree of JC to look for any possible connections to Alabama. My research found that he was the grandson of a wealthy white man of Dickson County, TN who was big in the iron industry, Elias Wills Napier (hereafter referred to as EW). I learned that the white Napier line goes back to the Napier family from Virginia. Without going into the details, EW’s family was spread throughout Dickson, Hickman and in some part, Davidson counties of TN. The family tree I have for JC along with a collection of census records and other misc documents and sources does not seem to suggest that he had any siblings that could have fathered Sophia’s father (her mother is known). However, there is a slight chance that if JC’s father William Carroll Napier (hereafter referred to as WC) fathered children early in life (like around age 15/16), he in theory could have had a son that would have been old enough to be Sophia’s father (if he in turn fathered a child at around age 15/16). We still aren’t really sure about this. But, I have been focusing on seeing what connections there could be that may put JC, WC or Elias in/near/around where Sophia was at in Alabama.

One tidbit I learned early on in the research was that Elias W. Napier had land in Alabama. His will indicates this much. It was not until tonight however that I feel like I have a good clue as to where — looks like he may have an association with Franklin County, AL (which, if you look at the map is adjacent to both Lawrence & Colbert counties, for there is an Elias W Napier enumerated in Franklin County, AL in 1830 and JC’s grandfather Elias appears to be missing from enumeration in Dickson County, TN in 1830 where I would have expected him. I have looked in the households of 5 of EW’s brothers in Dickson County, TN in 1830 and he wasn’t living with any of them – none of the ages/genders match.

Over in Lawrence County, Tom’s family was owned by a Dr. John Smith Napier (hereafter referred to as JS) was the major Napier slaveholder in Lawrence County, Alabama. A tax assessment document of JS’s shows the members of Tom’s family as slaves of his and names match the names that had been passed down through his family oral history. In my research, I learned that JS and EW were very distant cousins. JS’s grandfather Champion Napier, was a 3rd cousin to EW. Seems quite distant to me, however…..

  • I read that JS received some of his medical training in TN (JS was not from TN, he was from VA)
  • JS has a daughter whose middle name is Araminta and EW has a niece named Araminta. I so far do not have any indication that Araminta was a family name, so I wonder if this was more of a personal closeness among families?
  • Sophia had a brother named Thomas and EW had a brother, son and grandson named Thomas. Understandably, Thomas is a common name and this may not mean anything but I’m trying to look at the clusters

I need to next see if I can pinpoint exactly where in Franklin county EW may have been for it is plausible that EW’s land could have been very near JS’s land given the proximity of the two counties. If that turns out the be the case, that would make an even stronger case for connecting JC to Sophia somehow.

And, to add to the mix, EW’s son, WC married a woman named Jane Elizabeth Watkins; she was the daughter of the white slaveowner William Watkins and one of his slaves. Watkins is also the surname of the man that Sophia Napier married. I have not looked at the white Watkins family too extensively yet, but there is slave owner named Watkins in Franklin County, Alabama in 1850 & 1860. Could this Watkins be associated with the Watkins that EW would have known?

A lot of theories could be developed from what I know at this stage. One that I currently fancy is that JC had a sibling ended up on EW’s property down in Franklin County and may have fathered Sophia who ended up just across the county line on JS’s property.

If you aren’t tired of reading yet, here’s one more tidbit to close with. About two weeks after being contacted by Tom, I had another researcher email me to say that his family’s oral history had always held that his ancestor was either a daughter or some other relative of JCs. This particular ancestor does not show up in the “documented” family tree of JC — so perhaps there are several unaccounted for Napiers out there? I have a lot of work ahead of me to figure it out, but honestly, I feel that if we keep looking and keep researching, we may just one day find an answer.

In Part 2, I’ll share my other Napier mystery. There may be a chance that Sophia had a brother named Johnson and one of Johnson’s descendants is trying to verify the associations between JS and another cousin of his, John Wesley S. Napier of Marengo County, Alabama. I should point out that both Tom and Anna (the descendant of Johnson) have been sharing quite a bit of family history and information with me and make me feel like family!

More to come later…

Comments (8)

  1. Anna Williams

    You are doing a great job as always,I know you will get it together. J S is still in the running as being John’s father since he was there in Alabama so early. Anna

  2. Allum

    Very interesting. I wish there were more people out there researching my line. I would love to make connections like this. However, it seems as though my cousin and I are the only ones.

  3. Tom McKnight

    Hi Taneya,
    Hope you had a good Easter weekend. Thanks for the new blog details. Blogging is new to me so I’ve got to get used to it. I did save it as a favorite so I can keep track with lates developments.

    The issue of JSNapier’ movment via Lawrence County AL and Franklin County AL (which split into two- Franklin and Colbert, was annexed again, the split again representing today’s administrative structure is exacerbated by courthouse fires – either accidental or deliberate as the case and traditon as conveyed may be.

    In any event based on your above inputs and our collaborative bits and pieces (and by the way, consider yourself FAMILY), remember when I sent information about JSNapier’s move from Lawrence County to Franklin County AL?

    The info, based on a strategy to find as much through Probate Court records (Moulton – Lawrence County AL Archives as possible) reads as such: August Term 1856, Page 297 -Commissioners Court

    “An election was held for the purpose of electing a member of this court to fill the vacancy by John S. Napier removed to Franklin County where as Edward R. Stanley was duly elected a Commissioner of Roads and Revenue for Lawrence County AL to fill said vacancy”

    This may be the beginnings of a significant piece of information that places JSNapier in Franklin County AL and in geographic proximity with Watkins plantation owners, also at one time in Lawrence County AL. For background the Watkins had plantation holdings in Lawrence County AL (located not far frm the Thomas Jefferson Foster plantation- (Lawrence County – Town Creek/Red Bank area). In any event it’s possible that Napier’ and Watkins both had holdings in Franklin County AL prior to Emancipaton.

    Point Number 2 was something I picked up on a Missouri website listing, if I recall Robert Earl Napier’ birth and surprisingly enough listing a place of birth of Tom Napier as Tuscumbia AL (Franklin County) along with of course Mother’ (Hattie/Harriet (Williams) Napier place of birth (Missouri). I found this extremely interesting as it seems to place Tom Napier in Franklin County. Remember his estimated birth year is 1847 (+or-).

    Point 3. I came across marriage information between a Seaton Napier who married Parthenia Ellitt (or Elliott) Jan 7, 1868 ( I believe this was in Lawrence County AL).

    Now the interesting thing here is that my Great Great Grandfather Rev. Fred W. Watkins (I), the Cherokee and Mariah (maiden name unknown from Va.) had two son’s – (who I suspect are twins – Seaton and Spencer Watkins); along with my Great Grandfather (Rev. Fred Watkins (II), and Delia (who married Rev. Thomas Donley), Peter and Rush W. Watkins. Refer to the Watkins Family Ancestry organigram that you have.

    Seaton and Spencer are not common names and are important in the generational and lineage search. It seems to me that their names are coming from the Napier side of the family.

    While I’m at it, now let me now list all of the 13 children’s names of Great Grandfather Rev. Fred W. Watkins (II) and Great Grandmother Sophia (Napier) Watkins. Ref: Squigly Wigly list.

    1. Fred Watkins (III) – (moved, lived and died in Louisiana)
    2. Walter
    7. Mary or Mariah
    8.Chanie (Chaney) – (Not Jenny or Jennifer but Chaney)
    9.Rosa Belle
    10. Sophia (another Sophia) – “Aunt Dutta”
    11. Ella Victoria
    12. Hattie Missouri (named after Hattie/Harriet Williams Napier (Tom Napier’ wife-Pleasant Hill Missouri)
    13. Sallie Mae

    (Aunt Sallie Anna also wanted to be referred to as the following: Sallie Anna Louisiana Mariah Watkins Saviglio). This is trail and a half. Someone took this naming and identy search issue seriously.

    Anyone one of these names are being passed down from the Napier and Watkins side of the family.

    I hope some of this is helpful and continues to flag the openings and possibilities.


  4. Anna Williams

    Taneya,Eliah was really kind to his negroes in his will.I don’t know if this mean anything but I have a Tom Napier who was born in Tenn.around 1842 and was from Morengo County Alabama,He was from eithier John WS Napiers plantation or Richards plantation,also John WS Napiers son JC owned slaves over in Morengo.I will send you some information in a while. Anna

  5. Debbie Wood

    Great blog and lineage work. My line of Napiers are the early Virginia lines, Ashford Napier of Franklin Co VA and William Alexander Napier of Pittsylvania; then from his daughter. But I’m interested in all Napiers.

    I add onto my family tree every Napier I can find – none from Alabama yet. If you find the parents of William Carrol Napier, I’d like to connect them to my tree, with your permission of course. Please let me know what you find.

    Take care,

  6. Anna Williams

    Taneya the Tom Hawkins you mention in one of your blogs,is that my Tom Hawkins because if it is I can give you some information on him. Anna

  7. Anna Williams

    Debbie the Napiers we are talking about are early Vir.Napiers also.Ashford Napier was Catherine Napiers father,Catherine married her first cousin Robert and moved to Morengo County Alabama.John WS Napier was her son she also had a son named Richard.John WS Napier had many slaves of which one of them was my ggrandfather John Napier or Nappier.John WS Napier was his father. Anna

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