The Search for Thomas Howell Craton’s Ancestry

See the end section for latest information.

Note regarding the information presented below: Much of the information on Thomas Howell’s ancestry was gathered by a professional genealogist in Georgia in 1990. While I paid a considerable sum for his research, a lot of it has yet to be substantiated. Some of the sources he gave appear to be very hard to locate, leading me to question whether some of it exists at all. While I do not wish to discredit his research, I have begun to wonder whether he simply made up some of the data in order to please a client. An example is the premise that Thomas Howell’s father was a Quaker. Quakers were meticulous record-keepers, but no information exists in their files for a William Thomas Craton ever having been a member. Several other points of interest have questionable sources cited as well. Nevertheless, since the researcher was in fact a certified genealogist, I have presented the data as he gave it to me and leave it to further researchers to endeavor confirmation of the information.

Thomas Howell Craton (1784-1870) has long been recognized as the patriarch of the Paulding County, Georgia, Cratons. Having arrived in Paulding County ca. 1840, Thomas established the family that would continue to consider this region the “old home place” to this day.

Yet the history of Thomas Howell Craton has been something of an enigma for several generations. Various accounts of his origins and migrations have been given through the years, many of them quite contradictory. His lineage, likewise, has been variously described in these disparate accounts as Irish, Scottish, and English..

Among the accounts of Thomas Howell Craton’s history is the story which I heard as a young boy and which is recorded, in large measure, in my father’s family Bible. According to this account, Thomas immigrated to Paulding County direct from County Cork, Ireland, where he was born in 1780 of unknown parentage. He was married to one Sallie Raysor and left a sister or daughter named Polly in Ireland.

A different and more widely accepted account of Thomas’s history has been handed down among Paulding County Cratons for some time and was popularized by Mary Evelyn Craton Gilmer in her book Our Heritage published in 1969. By this account, Thomas came to Paulding County by way of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, where he had lived briefly after relocating there from his original home near Abbeville, South Carolina. His wife was named Sallie Rashaw, and she died in North Carolina prior to the migration west. Thomas was born in 1780, the son of one Samuel Crayton of South Carolina, and was a direct descendant of William Isaac Crayton/Crydon, one of the landed gentry of that region. William Isaac had received land from the British Crown, although he himself was from County Cork, Ireland.

A similar account has also been handed down orally among some Paulding County Cratons with whom I have spoken. In one variation all details are generally identical with the account found in Our Heritage, except that Sallie Rashaw Craton was believed to have died en route to Paulding County and was buried at “Fish Creek, between Rockmart and Cedartown.” The individual relating this variation to me did not indicate that she held to this story herself, but this was an account accepted by some in previous generations.

With all these (and several other) varied accounts of Thomas Howell Craton’s history, which is the authentic account? Who was Thomas Howell Craton? When and where was he born? Who was his wife, and when and where did she die? Who were his parents, and where were they from? Was Thomas of Irish descent (as many in the family believe), or was he English or Scottish?

The Quest Begins

My own quest for answers to these questions began during my teen years in the 1960s. Having been brought up with the account in my father’s family Bible (which, incidentally, was written in his own hand after being related to him orally by his father, Joe Brown Craton, in the early 1950s), I was both surprised and pleased when I first obtained a copy of Mary Evelyn Gilmer’s book in 1969. Not knowing anything about our South Carolina roots, the information she presented opened a new chapter in my personal research. Discovering all this new information made me want to learn even more, and I desired if possible to take the knowledge of our family back at least one more generation to the Old Country itself in County Cork, Ireland.

When my own work on this line began, my primary goal was simply to corroborate the information in Our Heritage. While Mrs. Gilmer’s work seemed exhaustive, it did have a major flaw in that it failed to cite the sources of her information. My first task, then, was to go back and discover the sources for these facts.

In the beginning I had no doubt that I would find the sources I was seeking. The wealth of information Mrs. Gilmer had published seemed proof enough that, in spite of her oversight in failing to give citations, the primary sources confirming these data must in fact exist. I had neither the intention nor the desire to prove her data wrong, but I did need the source information in order to pursue my quest back further into the distant past.

But, like others with whom I have communicated in the years since, this search became only more and more frustrating. Unable to learn the whereabouts of Mrs. Gilmer’s private notes (which I felt would likely reveal her sources), or to discover the sources on my own which would establish a firm connection between our Thomas and the South Carolina Craytons, I began eventually to rethink the probabilities of the entire tradition.

In doing so, one of the first major discrepancies I noticed in Our Heritage regarded the date of the will of Samuel Crayton, the supposed father of our Thomas. It is this will which Mrs. Gilmer cited to establish a connection between the Paulding County Cratons and the Craytons of Greenville District, South Carolina.

In the will, Samuel mentions his son Thomas (among other children) and stipulates that it is his desire that the education of his children be directed by one Baylis Earle after his demise. This obviously is the wish of a father towards his minor children. The will clearly implies that all of Samuel’s children are under the age of 21, and given that Thomas is mentioned last indicates that he was probably the youngest of three offspring. Yet the will is dated November 1828! If Thomas were born in 1780 (as Mrs. Gilmer believed), he would already be a man of 48 years of age by the time of Samuel’s will. Even the more likely date of birth of 1784 would make Thomas 44 years old in 1828. Therefore this Thomas, son of Samuel Crayton of Greenville District, South Carolina, obviously must be other than the future patriarch of the Paulding County Cratons.

It is my personal belief, having had some experience with North Carolina records, that Mrs. Gilmer successfully traced Thomas Howell Craton back to Cabarrus County, but was unable to pursue his line further because of the difficulty of these records. Most likely she began a search through the entire region and happened upon Samuel Crayton’s will from South Carolina. Seeing the mention of a son named Thomas, Mrs. Gilmer simply made the assumption that this Thomas was the same as our ancestor Thomas Howell Craton and then traced his lineage back accordingly.

Recognizing the probability of this scenario, I believe it can categorically be stated that Samuel Crayton was almost certainly not the father of our Thomas Howell Craton. But if he was not the father, who was?

My own attempts to discover the correct lineage for Thomas Howell brought me no closer to learning his correct parentage, so in 1990 I enlisted the help of a genealogist in Georgia. The work this genealogist performed in our research resulted in a great deal of “new” information about the ancestry of our family. (I was later to learn that other branches of our family had been generally familiar with some of this information for some time.) The major portion of the information that follows is a summation of the work of this genealogist.

Who Was Thomas Howell Craton?

Thomas Howell Craton was probably born in the year 1784 in Richmond County, Virginia. (His parentage will be discussed below.) Although the year of birth is given in many places as 1780 — this date even appearing on his tombstone — records consistently indicate that the year of birth was actually 1784. The 1850 Georgia census of Paulding County, p. 118, lists Thomas Crayton as a 66-year-old farmer from North Carolina. Ten years later the 1860 census, p. 790, lists him as being 76. In the earliest Georgia census in which his name appears [1840 Cobb County Census, p. 246] he is listed as a male between 50 and 60 years of age, still consistent with a 1784 birthdate. So despite the birth year on his tombstone, Thomas most likely was born in 1784. (It should be noted that Thomas’s tombstone was erected by his descendants in 1967, nearly 100 years after his repose.)

Only one contemporary record suggests an earlier birth date: the 1870 Georgia Census of Paulding County, p. 390. This record states that Thomas was at the time 89 years of age (which would suggest a birth date of 1780 or 1781). The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that in 1870, the year of his death, Thomas was living with a daughter and her family. No doubt he was in poor health by that time, and the census information was probably given by his daughter who, as a widow, was acting head of the household. The daughter apparently simply was not fully informed about the birth year for her father. This may be assumed because all the earlier censuses, which are consistent with one another, were taken at times when Thomas himself would have provided the information.

Thomas Craton is first mentioned in the 1800 North Carolina Census for Chatham County, no. 215. He is subsequently mentioned in the 1810 North Carolina Census for Wilkes County, no. 278, and the 1820 North Carolina Census for Montgomery County, no. 78, before appearing in the 1840 Georgia census. These various county listings do not mean that Thomas was moving about, but reflect instead the changing North Carolina county boundary lines.

What little can be gleaned about Thomas’s early childhood suggests that it was rather eventful. From the study of the estate of William Thomas Craton (probable father of Thomas Howell Craton), Thomas Howell appears to have been born when his father was in his 40s. Thomas appears to have had at least one elder brother named William and a sister named Polly. From the Andrea Collection [microfilm boxes 4326 though 4360, inclusive] it is suggested that William Thomas Craton may have been a Quaker, though no records have been found among the Friends genealogy files to substantiate this. He is also shown to have been a storekeeper, and in July or August 1791, when Thomas Howell was about 5 years old, the elder Craton was murdered [Chatham County North Carolina Court Minutes, vol. 3, pp. 97, 98, 105]. Thomas’s mother served as the executrix of his father’s will. A man named James Steel was arrested for this murder but escaped from Constable Edmond Walch, who subsequently was suspended for neglect [ibid., p. 106]. Records of court proceedings regarding this crime have not yet been located (they are believed to be in storage in Raleigh), nor has it been ascertained whether Mr. Steel was ever returned to justice. It can only be surmised that William Thomas Craton was murdered in the course of a robbery, given that he was a storekeeper and, from every indication, an upstanding citizen in the community.

After William’s death the widowed Bathsheba Craig Craton subsequently sold off the estate of her deceased husband and appears to have moved into the home of Thomas’s elder brother William and his wife, along with Thomas Howell and Polly [Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Orange County, North Carolina].

It seems that an uncle of Thomas Howell, one John Craton, also was a storekeeper and at some point hired in his nephew and taught him the business. Thomas’s brother William was a farmer. When his Uncle John died, Thomas inherited the business and became a prominent businessmen in Chatham County [Andrea Collection].

Sometime around 1800, Thomas married Sarah Renshaw, the daughter of Elijah Renshaw and Esther Lyon. Although no official marriage record has yet been found, the evidence suggests that both Thomas and Sarah were 16 years old at the time of the marriage. Sarah was known familiarly as Sallie, that being a common diminutive of Sarah at the time.

Thomas, who even if his father was a Quaker never identified with that faith, is believed to have taken part in the War of 1812 as a soldier in the Eighth Regiment, Third Company detached from Wilkes Regiment, under Captain Walter R. Lanoir [Soldiers of the Many Wars, War of 1812, p.51]. A copy of his service record was requested from the government archives but was never located.

In spite of Thomas’s success as a businessman, his desire for adventure, perhaps having been fanned by stories of itinerant “drummers” (salesmen), led him at some point to sell the business to another uncle named Samuel Crayton (not the same Samuel as mentioned in Our Heritage) and set out with his wife and children for Georgia, considered at that time to be a kind of “Promised Land.” Before relocating, Thomas also sold off 361 acres of land he had inherited from his Uncle John. This property was located on the Great Road leading from North Carolina to Charleston Harbor in Berkely County, North Carolina [Andrea Collection].

Thomas’s skills as a farmer do not appear to have been equal to his talents as a businessman. Although he appears to have held his own, he never made much money from farming and in fact supplemented his income in his old age by buying and selling for the Confederate Army. By the time of the War Between the States he was much too old to serve under arms, but his sideline nevertheless put him in ill standing with the Federal troops who burned down his house. (Union soldiers also probably razed the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church that Thomas had helped establish as it is known that the church burned in 1864.) Thomas himself had to go into hiding for about two weeks to avoid capture by the marauding troops [Official Service Records of Congress of the War Between the States; Compiled Service Records; Claims Filed by Private Citizens].

Sarah Renshaw Craton does not appear to have died either in North Carolina or en route to Paulding County, Georgia, as some popular histories suggest. Rather she remained alive with her husband Thomas in Paulding County until at least 1860, when she is still mentioned in the census. She is not mentioned after the 1860 census, however, so her death evidently occurred sometime between 1860 and 1870 in Paulding County. It is believed that she is buried in the unmarked grave next to her husband in the Old Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Paulding County in the grave commonly referred to as that of a William Isaac Craton. It can be conclusively established that after the move to Georgia Thomas reserved a burial plot for both himself and his wife [Records from Clerk of Superior Court]. This is something he certainly would not have done if his wife were already buried in North Carolina or near Fish Creek, Georgia.

Of Thomas Howell Craton’s last days, much information is extant and has been written elsewhere. Other than the events noted above, no discrepancies have been found with the current information about Thomas’s last years.

Who Were Thomas Howell Craton’s Parents?

The father of Thomas Howell Craton appears to have been one William Thomas Craton, born ca. 1740 in Virginia. Not much is known of the elder Thomas (he appears to have gone by his middle name, a custom carried on by many in our line) beyond what is mentioned in the above text. He was married to Bathsheba Craig, mother of Thomas Howell [Wills Recorded 1752-1800, Orange County, North Carolina, p. 329]. Bathsheba’s family was rather prominent in North Carolina at that time. Her father, William Craig, secured a land grant in the New Hope area in 1756, and he, among others, later gave land and money to the building of the community of Chapel Hill and to the establishment of the University of North Carolina [Orange County - 1752-1952, by H. Lefler and P. Wagner, Chapel Hill, 1953; pp. 15, 148). All that is known of Bathsheba’s mother is that her given name was Margaret. The Craigs may have been Anglican, as there was a chapel of the Church of England in New Hope, where William settled his family after immigrating from Great Britain.

Thomas and Bathsheba appear to have lived at first in Virginia before moving to North Carolina. As noted earlier, William Thomas Craton was murdered in July or August 1791 in Chatham County, North Carolina.

The elder Thomas probably had at least three brothers: William, John, and Samuel. A William Craton, aged 39, appears in a census of the City of Richmond, 1782, Wardship No. 3 (p. 115), along with his wife Mary, aged 40, and three daughters: Polly, 15; Hanah, 8; and Nell, 6. (John and Samuel Craton are both mentioned in the above text.)

From the Andrea Collection we learn that Thomas Howell’s paternal grandfather was probably one Edward Craton who arrived on these shores along with his brother John around the year 1730. Edward was likely born ca. 1710 and immigrated with his brother from the British Isles. The exact ship on which they immigrated has not yet been ascertained, nor has a ship’s manifest been acquired. When such is secured, it is hoped we may be able to learn the exact point of embarkation of the immigrant ancestor.

Though the records are scanty and the connections not altogether tenable, there is evidence to suggest that the Craton family originally hailed from the Midlothian area of Scotland*. The fact that Edward and John Craton may have sailed from Scotland lends credibility to this conclusion, as well as the fact that there is a ruin south of Edinburgh of a Castle Crichton (Crichton is a variant spelling of the family name). One Craton with whom I have communicated in England knows little of his family’s history before about 1800 (the family has lived in the Birkenhead region since that time), but states that he believes his family migrated there from Cumbria and before that they came from Scotland many years before.


While many questions remain regarding the ancestry of Thomas Howell Craton, it seems reasonable at this point to conclude the following about his history:

  • First, that Thomas Howell Craton was born in 1784 either in what is now Chatham County, North Carolina, or possibly in Richmond County, Virginia.
  • Second, that his wife was Sarah Renshaw, and that she remained with him from the time of their marriage ca. 1800 until her death sometime between 1860 and 1870 in Paulding County, Georgia.
  • Third, that Thomas’s parents were most likely William Thomas Craton and Bathsheba Craig of Virginia (Samuel Crayton of Greenville District, South Carolina, being at best a distant relative).
  • Fourth, that Thomas’s paternal grandfather, Edward Craton, was most likely the immigrant ancestor, and that he arrived in Virginia ca. 1730 from either Scotland, Ireland, or England.

Latest Information

* While the Midlothian theory remains possible, more recent research (particularly DNA testing) makes it rather less tenable. Although indeed there is a line of Crichtons that originated in the area of Midlothian, Scotland, it has been learned that there are at least two other families (likely distantly related) who came from other regions of Scotland. Most anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that our immigrant ancestor (Edward Craton) came to America with a brother (possibly named John) from Scotland. Other sources suggest that he (or they) sailed to America from Ireland. In either case, current DNA appears to suggest that genetically the Cratons are more British than Scottish or Irish. This does not preclude, of course, our ancestors having lived in either Scotland or Ireland before coming to American shores, but it does indicate that our line is more genetically English (or even Welsh) than Scottish. Until the lineage can be confirmed beyond these shores, our family history in the Old World would seem to be an enigma.

If you have more information on the history of Thomas Howell Craton, please write to me. I welcome all correspondence from Cratons worldwide and do respond (however slowly) to all legitimate inquiries.

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