Born in the Second District
Bill Durrence recounts his family history in the Southeast Region of the U.S.
Dad, Wilbur Henry Durrence, Sr., was born in 1917 and died in 1974. He was from Claxton, in Evans County, about an hour west of Savannah. Because in my lifetime our extended family has always been of modest means, I assumed it has always been that way and that our family had no connection to the large plantations or slave ownership before the war.
Dad’s first cousin, George Durrence, was a school teacher and then, for many years, the superintendent of schools in Evans County. Many years ago he got interested in tracing our family history, long before Alex Haley and the “Roots” phenomena. He did a book on that and I’ve had a copy I for years, but never paid much attention to it. This weekend I started working back through our grandfathers.
Dad’s father, our grandfather, was William Henry Durrence, who was born in 1867 and died in 1945. He was married to Mary Katherine Kirkland, 1886-1969. They had 7 children; Dad was the third child, the oldest son. The book says he was a farmer, but does not have any more details. I remember Dad talking about how they had a very large farm, but lost it in the Depression. Kitty and I knew our Grandmother, but Grandfather had died before we were born. In trying to connect these folks to a historical timeline it was easiest to use the various wars in our history. Grandfather, just two generations from Kitty and me, was born just two years after the Civil War and died at the end of World War II. He would have been growing up during Reconstruction when the south was going through all the turmoil after the war.
His father, our Great Grandfather, was Thomas Alfred Durrence, 1831-1893, married to Elizabeth Grice, 1838-1922. He would have been almost 30 when the Civil War started, and could have been a soldier, but the book doesn’t say. His wife lived through the Civil War as a young woman, into the 20th Century, through World War I and into the Roaring 20’s. He was a prosperous farmer and a large landowner, and in 1886-1887 he was a state representative. They had nine children.
Our Great, Great Grandfather was Jesse Durrence, 1784-1865, married twice. His first wife was Rebeccca DeLoach who died before 1820, and they had 7 children. His second wife was Elizabeth Sands, 1802-1875; we are descended through her and they also had 7 children. By 1828, the tax digest of Tattnall County showed he owned almost 3500 acres of land and the 1820 census showed he owned 16 slaves.
Technically, he was born before the origin of the United States. After the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, the states were a loose confederation, which was not working out too well. So they had a Constitutional Convention (several actually) and wrote the Constitution we have today. That was adopted in 1789, making that the official date for the creation of the United States as a political entity the way we know it today. He would have been 5 years old then, and lived until the end of the Civil War. He is only 4 generations back from me and Kitty, 5 for Micki, and connects us to the founding of this country.
His father, our Great, Great, Great Grandfather, was William Durrence, 1755-1808, married to Elizabeth Williams, 1755-died sometime after 1820. He lived during the Revolutionary War, and was a soldier in the war. He and his wife were born in North Carolina and were there in 1777, but by 1782 were in Georgia, in that same area just west of Savannah. The county names change some over the years because initially they were few and larger, but later broken down into more, smaller counties, but there are several copies of different land grants to him for large parcels from the state governor. Records show that in 1801 he had four horses stolen by Indians, so it was still a pretty wild area then.
Maybe one of the reasons I’ve always felt such a close connection to this area is that our family has been in southeast Georgia since about 50 years after James Oglethorpe founded the original colony in 1733.
William’s father, our Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather was Samuel Durrance (different spelling) who lived in North Carolina, 1680-1756, so we’ve been here at least since the early days of colonial settlement in the southern part of the country. The first permanent settlement in North Carolina territory was in 1653, when a group of settlers from Virginia came south to occupy a section on the north side of Albemarle Sound. His will was probated in Tyrell County, NC, on November 21, 1756, and mentions 3 sons—Welcome, William, and Francis—and his wife Elizabeth Durant Durrance.
There have been several spellings of the last name (Durance, Dorrance, Durrance, and Durrence) and there is an island in Albemarle Sound in North Carolina today still called Durant’s Island, probably connected to the family somehow from way back then.
The first census in the US was done in 1790, and there were no Durrances in the North Carolina records so we must have all been dead or gone to Georgia by then.
That’s as far as George’s research went, but we were clearly established in colonial America. Some family lore indicates we were originally French Hugenots and our name came from the Durance River in Provence in southern France. Just before the Revolutionary War many Highland Scots people arrived in North Carolina, because the protestant Scotch-Irish had been banned from Catholic Scotland, so it’s also possible we were from there.
Pictured: A birth receipt from Candler Hospital. 1947