Biographical Sketch of John Nuckolls

by Phil Norfleet


John Nuckolls was born on 23 October 1732 in Louisa County, Virginia (VA).  His parents were James Nuckolls and Elizabeth Duke.  About the year 1756, he married Agatha Bullock, sister of Major Zachariah Bullock in Dinwiddie County VA; John and Agatha had a total of 15 children.  In about 1767, John Nuckolls and his family removed to  South Carolina, settling in the northern part of that Colony, in the area between Thicketty Creek and Pacolet River.  At the time, this area was thought to be a part of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and the earliest land patent granted to Nuckolls was issued by the Governor of North Carolina.  An abstract of the first land patent issued to Nuckolls is as follows:

Patent Number 135, dated 28 April 1768, issued to John Nuckolls for 400 acres on both sides of Thicketty Creek, adjoining Stephen Jones's line and David Robertson's line; tract was surveyed on 8 August 1767.  Zachariah Bullock, Joab Mitchell and Stephen Jones were chain carriers.  [See Mecklenburg County NC, Patent Book 23, page 205.]  Comment: - Zachariah Bullock was John Nuckolls's brother-in-law.

In 1768, Tryon County was formed out of part of Mecklenburg County and Nuckolls's property was thought to lie within the boundaries of this new county.  Indeed, John Nuckolls was appointed as an under-sheriff for Tryon County, North Carolina in July 1770.  [See Tryon County NC Court Minutes, 1769-1779.]  

In March 1772, Nuckolls was arrested by John Mayfield , a constable of Craven County South Carolina, on the orders of a Craven County SC justice of the peace, Thomas Fletchall.  In February 1773, Nuckolls brought suit against Mayfield and Fletchall in Charles Town claiming a wrongful arrest.  Full particulars of this case are given in the biographical sketch for John Mayfield; however, an excerpt of Nuckolls's complaint is as follows:

" ... on the 15th day of March in the year of our Lord one Thousand seven Hundred and seventy-two and for a long time theretofore was living and residing within his Majesty's Province of North Carolina and under the Authority, Power and Protection of the Laws, Statutes and Customs of the same province and was always ready to answer and able to acquit himself of all Accusations, Complaints and Prosecutions whatsoever that would be made or promulgated within the said province ... said Thomas and John well knowing the Premises and that the said John Nuckolls do live and reside within the province of North Carolina ... Yet the Thomas, then being a Magistrate or Justice of the Peace for the County of Craven and District of Ninety Six in the said Province of South Carolina ... made out a ... warrant directed to the said John Mayfield then being a Constable of the said County of Craven in the District and Province aforesaid, requiring and commanding the said John Mayfield to take into his safe custody and keeping the said John Nuckolls and to bring him before the said Thomas then and there to answer certain Complaints preferred against him ... the said Thomas who after detaining the said John Nuckolls a long time in Custody and Confinement without any legal reason and Justification for so doing; did oblige and compel the said John Nuckolls to enter into recognizance for his appearance at Charleston at the next Court of General Session of the Peace Oyez and Terminer ... to be held for the said Province of South Carolina at Charleston ... said John was forced to attend at a very great expense and trouble without being Convicted of any offense whatsoever ... The said John Nuckolls saith he is greatly Injured and hath sustained Damages to the amount of Five thousand Pounds Current money of the said Province and there upon he bringth this Suit, etc. ... "

The court records that have survived do not indicate the resolution of this lawsuit, although I think that Nuckolls probably lost.  In June 1772,  the official provincial boundary line between North and South Carolina was finally established by an official Government survey.  Nuckolls's property was now clearly shown to be within the boundaries of the Province of South Carolina.  

During the Revolution, John Nuckolls strongly supported the Whig Cause and achieved the rank of Captain in the Rebel Militia.  On 11 December 1780, Nuckolls was murdered by a group of Tories at McKown's Mill.  Nuckolls was buried in what is now known as Dawkins Cemetery, on Whig Hill.  Several other members of his family are also buried there, including his son John, Jr. and his grandson, William T. Nuckolls.  For more details concerning John Nuckolls's ancestors and descendants, I have prepared a short genealogical report, based upon secondary sources, that is available at the following hyperlink:

Link to Nuckolls Family Genealogy Report


Extract re Nuckolls from the Book by Reverend J. D. Bailey

The following is an extract from the book entitled History of Grindal Shoals and Some Early Adjacent Families, by Reverend J. D. Bailey; pages 75-83, the book was first published in about 1900.  

Some three and a half, or four miles northward from Grindal Shoals, stand a dilapidated old mill, known as the Dawkins’ mill, on Thicketty creek. Following this stream up for some distance one would come to a large area of bottom lands containing five or six hundred acres. At the upper end, on the east side of the creek, rises a dome-like hill some fifty feet above the creek level. Its western slope juts out, promontory like, for several hundred yards into the meadow below. This is Whig Hill. On its top signs of an ancient habitation are yet seen. Artificial embankments and scattered brickbats are in evidence; also blades of flags, once deftly cultivated, are still struggling among the pines and broomsedge. Hard by is the family graveyard, still well kept which dates back to 1780.

In 1455, Civil War, of thirty years duration, broke out in England, known as the War of Roses. The house of York led one faction and the house of Lancaster the other. The emblem of York was the white rose, that of Lancaster, the red rose. One family that sided with York in that long struggle was named Nuckolls. After many years, some of this family emigrated to America and settled in Virginia. The white rose was brought over and planted at the new home. In 1732, John Nuckolls, the subject of this sketch, was born. Attaining his manhood, he married Miss Agatha Bullock in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, who had been well brought up, was splendidly educated, and was an adept in artistic needlework, etc. Major Zechariah Bullock, who after­wards settled on Pacolet, about three and a half miles above Grindal Shoals, was her brother.

In 1767, John Nuckolls bade farewell to his Virginia home, put his wife, children and all their belongings on horses and turned their faces towards Carolina. Arriving at Kings Mountain, they ascended to the summit of that noted peak and made a cup of tea. The cups, saucers and spoons used on that occasion are now in possession of Samuel Littlejohn, of Jonesville, S. C., who is a great-grandson. While here a daughter, Susan, who afterwards married Charles Littlejohn, was born. As soon as circumstances would permit, the journey was continued until Whig Hill was reached, where a halt and settlement was made. The famous white rose was brought along, and we suspect that not many days elapsed until it was planted where it was destined to grow for three quarters of a century. Whenever a member of the Nuckolls family went out to build a home for themselves, a scion, or cutting was taken from this rose bush, and with the most scrupulous care, it was planted and cultivated as a precious heirloom of ancestry. It grew at different places until the time of the Civil War when it became extinct. The natural inference is that as rapidly as conditions would allow, comfortable buildings were erected, the forest felled and converted into fruitful fields. In a short time considerable property was accumulated, including several Negroes. Thus by indomitable energy and industry, John Nuckolls was making his Carolina domain more and more productive and beautiful, when the storm of the American Revolution burst upon the country.

Though of English descent, he at once threw himself wholly into the cause of Independence; in fact he became such an unflinching and uncompromising Whig that the hill on which he lived was called Whig Hill. Whether the name was given by friend or foe, we know not, but be that as it may, it was a compliment that lives to this day. As to the battles he was in and the service he rendered, unfortunately, we know nothing; but we feel safe in saying that whenever and wherever, duty demanded it, John Nuckolls was equal to the occasion.

The greatest suffering inflicted on the Whig settlements was by thieving Tories, with which the country was infested. One of these gangs, commanded by Patrick Moore, made their headquarters at Fort Anderson, or Thickety Fort, on Goucher creek. Another was down on the Enoree. From these points they would sally out and seize what they wanted to carry off, and destroy the balance. Whig Hill was not immune to these depredations. A number of raids wore made, but perhaps the most noted one was made in 1780. They made a clean sweep. The only bed left for the youngest child was a sheepskin used for a saddle blanket. It was, probably, at this time when they were shooting stock, breaking up furniture and ripping open feather beds, that Mrs. Nuckolls, woman-like began tongue lashing them. One of the dastardly scoundrels struck at her head with a saber, and throwing up her arm to ward off the blow, received a wound, which left a scar that she carried to her grave. On another occasion the raiders came and "Aunt Agathy," an old colored slave, grabbed the axe and placing herself behind the front door, threatened to kill the first one who tried to enter. Not one of the contemptible cowards made the effort. It is said that there is a bond between the descendants of Mrs. Nuckolls and those of “Aunt Agathy” that grows as the years go by.

Owing to the nature of the service in upper Carolina, the patriot soldiers could get off and visit their homes until necessity arose when they would come together again at some appointed place. Early in December 1780, John Nuckolls thus visited his home at Whig Hill.  Finding the meal tub empty he, in company with his little son John, went to McKown's mill on Broad river at, or near the Ninety-nine Islands. It is said that in those days millers provided a room, either in the mill, or their own house, to accommodate customers when they were detained over night. McKown was a Tory, and being acquainted with Nuckolls, saw his opportunity. Pretending that he could not grind for him until the next day, with apparent kindness, he gave him the room for a lodging place. Night coming on McKown went out and gathered a band of his ilk, and they came to the room where Nuckolls was quietly sleeping. Arousing him they said, "We've come for you." He knew what that meant. He asked permission to awake his son, so he could give some messages for his people at home. They refused and said that if he awoke him, they would kill him also. They took Nuckolls a short distance from the mill and prepared to shoot him. He asked that they would give him five minutes in which to pray. This was granted, and he prayed aloud. After he had uttered a few petitions, a villain by the name of Davis said: “If he continues praying that way much longer we will not be able to kill him,” and fired a ball through his head. The body was thrown into a hole where a tree had blown up and some brush was placed over it.

Some months afterwards an old woman in the neigh­borhood found his bones. They were gathered up by his family and taken to Whig Hill and buried. The grave is encased in hewn granite slabs three feet high, and is entirely, covered with a marble slab, three feet by six. This slab contains the following inscription:

In memory of John Nuckolls, Sr., who was murdered by the Tories for his devotion to liberty, the 11th day of December 1780, in the 49th year of his age.


Rest noble patriot,

Rest in peace

The prize you sought

Your country won.


Some three summers ago the writer, delivering a speech on Whig Hill: said something like this: "After all who would not covet such a death? Dying for the cause of liberty; dying addressing the Creator in such pathetic tones as to touch the feelings of a heartless murderer. O, John Nuckolls, dost thy sainted spirit hover about us? Noble husband, father, hero, martyr; we have assembled on this place of thine earthly habitation to honor thee," etc.

Not many months after Nuckolls death, Davis, his murderer, with some others, were lurking in Thicketty bottoms, near Whig Hill; where they were secreting plundered booty, consisting of cattle, horses, valuables, etc Some alert Whigs caught them and to Davis and a few others, their just deserts were soon meted out to them. Going to the house of Mrs. Nuckolls, the Whigs asked for pick and shovel saying that they were going to settle her some new neighbors. She said she “hoped they would be good neighbors.”  They told her that they “would guarantee them to be quiet ones.”

Davis reaped what he sowed. He deliberately shot Nuckolls and soon after he was shot in like manner, and both are buried near the same spot.

Between the years of 1782 and 1785, Mrs. Nuckolls married again to Joshua Petty. It has been said that he was her “overseer,” but be as it may, it seems to have been a fortunate marriage. He was as much loved by the children as if he had been their real father, which is not usual. He managed the farm so as to increase the property and gave the children the best education possible. There were no children by the last union.

Agatha, (spelled Agnes on her tombstone), Petty, died October 27th, 1815, in the 72nd year of her age. Her last husband, Joshua Petty, died February 6th, 1816 in his 65th year.

The children of John and Agatha Bullock Nuckolls were fifteen in number, viz: Richard, born January 23, 1757, was a Revolutionary soldier and died in Charleston; Zachariah and Elizabeth were twins, born August 5th, 1760, and died in infancy; Frankie, born October 11th, 1763, married Spencer Morgan; James, born January 9th, 1765, date of death unknown; Nancy, born June 6th, 1766, died in infancy; Susannah, born December 30th, 1767, died August 17th, 1858 in her 91st year, married Charles Littlejohn; John, born November 12th, 1769, died November 15th 1801, married Nancy Thompson; Henry, date of birth and death unknown; Agnes, born February 10th, 1771, married William Goudelock; Sarah, born December 23rd, 1773, married 1st a Brown, 2nd John Murray, 3rd Henry Thompson; Mary, born May 17th, 1775, date of death unknown; Catherine, died in infancy; William and another Nancy were twins, born September 15th, 1776. Nancy married General Elijah Dawkins and died May 25th, 1861.

To have stood on the Whig Hill, on a summer day more than a century and a quarter ago, the scenes that greeted the eye and the sounds that greeted the ear, would have been sufficient to charm the most fastidious epicure of nature. The silver stream of Thickety threading its way between banks embellished with the primitive verdure of the Creator's lavish hand; vast fields “arrayed in living green” of the waving corn; hills and dales crowned with a forest which was an undisturbed growth of centuries, wild fruits and flowers in great profusion; all this surmounted by a dome of azure blue, from which poured floods of golden sun light painting everything that it touched with a color peculiar to its self. Such a panorama would bedazzle the eyes of a Raphael, or any other great painter.

Some of the sounds heard would have been the weird chants of the black mama, the chatter of piccaninies, the gee-haw of the plowman and the loud notes of the slavery-time yell. The bark of the squirrel, the gobble of the wild turkey, the warbled notes of hundreds of different birds accompanied by the rustle of the passing zephyrs, would form an orchestra whose strains would be as sweet as harpers harping with their harps. The stalking of the deer, the barking of wolves, the hooting of owls, the piping of frogs and the hoarse notes of the whippoorwill would have been the inharmonious chorus for the entertainment of those passing a sleepless night .

John Nuckolls Jr.

John Nuckolls, Jr., was a son of the martyr-hero, John Nuckolls, Sr. He was born November 12th, 1769. He accompanied his father to McKown's mm and was quietly sleeping when the murder of his father was tak­ing place.  After the Tory raids on the home at Whig Hill,  John and some of his sisters would mount horses and go out in search of their stolen property. At one time they went as far as Lynch's creek and brought back some stolen Negroes. They also Went over to Laurens county and found some of their stock, which they drove home. In one of their searches they entered a house and saw some of the fine needlework of their mother's hanging in the room.

Such were the trying times through which the patriots and their families had to pass, and the bravery shown by the boys and girls was unsurpassed.

John Nuckolls married Miss Nancy Thompson, daugh­ter of William Thompson, better known as “Gentleman Thompson” who lived where Thicketty station on the Southern Railway now is.

Two children were born of this union, William T. Nuckolls and Malissa.  Malissa Nuckolls was married to Maj. William Norris, June 20th, 1822. John Nuckolls, Jr. died November 15th, 1801.

William T. Nuckolls 

William Thompson Nuckolls was the only son of John Nuckolls, Jr., and was born February 23rd, 1801. He married Susan Dawkins, a daughter of Gen. Elijah Dawkins, who was his first cousin. They had no chil­dren. He was a man of rare intellectual attainments and was elected to Congress the same year that his age made him eligible under the constitution. There is a tradition that John C. Calhoun, when passing through the country on his way to Washington, called on Nuckolls and asked him to ride a day in the stage with him in order that he might enjoy a long talk, as Calhoun considered him to be a remarkable man, richly endowed by nature and his mind well stored with valuable information. He died September 27th 1855, having been a great sufferer for some time before his death.

The home of William T. Nuckolls was near the present Asbury Methodist church, and is now owned by Mr. John D. Jefferies. The mansion built by Nuckolls was burned shortly after his death, and the building now occupied by Mr. Jefferies was erected by Mrs. Nuckolls. It is a square, barn-shaped building, two stories high, with four chimneys, two on either side, all going up on the outside of the structure. These are the chimneys that were erected to the building that was burned. It is said that it is here, where the last sprig of the white rose, so famous in the Nuckolls family, ever grew. It remained until the Civil War.

It is rather singular that a family of such wealth and prominence as that of the Nuckolls, should entirely dis­appear so suddenly. The name of a living Nuckolls has long since been unheard of in this part of the country, except a few Negroes who have descended from their slaves. Mrs. Nuckolls died September 2nd, 1856.

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