blue ridge

WHITTINGTON TREE (The Williams Branch)

There is always a healthy debate as to the origins of a family name coming into the American colonies. The chronicles of historians and genealogists can trace a single family name in our lineage to various locations in Europe. The Williams family name (Nancy’s Great Grandmother) is prominent in the history of the Whittington family. The family of ‘Buck Spike’ Williams lived among the Cherokee in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Carolinas.

The Williams family, their neighbors and kin (Osburns, Montgomeries, Sullivans, Stilleys and Tates) were all major players in the growth of the American frontier and the establishment of the principles of democracy in America. To the north, in New England, the Parker family, Bruens, Slaymakers, Wetherills and Delanos were leaders in the development of their respective church and capitalism. Family fortunes would follow. While the previous five families would take root in New England and move west, the Williams family, Quakers, would begin in Pennsylvania and move south. To help you visualize the ‘Buck Spike’s’ place in the family tree I have provided the following Whittington Family Tree information. Hit your back button to return to this page.

In establishing ancestral links one encounters the inevitable hurdle of time and place. The British destroyed a number of courthouses during the Revolutionary war, as did the Yankees as they marched through the south. As the courthouse went up in smoke, so did census records and property deeds. Immigration records also become confusing as a name as common as Smith, Davis or Williams can have a number of common first names attached as well. Which John Williams, William Davis or Robert Smith is my relation? Author Sam Williams indicates his family surname links to Wales. The account of Reverend Deward Williams (same family) traces the origin to Northern Ireland. Either could be plausible.


Legend, handed down by word of mouth, from one generation to the next, links Phillip ‘Buck Spike’ Williams to the founder of Rhode Island: Roger Williams. It has been suggested that a nephew or grandson of the Reverend Roger Williams links the Carolina mountain family with the Rhode Island founder. There is no concrete evidence to either support or refute the claim. Records do show that a John Francis Williams of South Carolina married a woman from Rhode Island at a point on a timeline that jives with the establishment of the Williams family name in the Carolina colonies. Transportation and communication along the colonial seacoast was well developed, especially among the mercantile class. Intermarriage between the colonies, mainly through the seaports, was common. Roger Williams was descended from a long established lineage in England.

There is a need among human beings to trace their heritage to famous names in history. Those who find it necessary to link back to Roger Williams will continue to seek out the supporting evidence. That is a healthy endeavor. One cannot overlook the fact that those researching the family name have already uncovered a larger than life character in Phillip ‘Buck Spike’ Williams along with a cast of characters who forged the future of a great nation. A great deal of evidence, found in documents and recorded in history, reveals that ‘Buck Spike’ Williams and men and women like him, were living a life equal, in luster and lore, to that of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.

It appears that Phillip Williams’ colonial roots begin with William (John) Williams of Marionethshire, Wales. William John Williams was born circa 1640 and married Ann Reynald (Reynolds). The Williams family arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania from Wales in 1683 on the ship, Morning Star. They were accompanied by their four children: John, Alice, Katherine and Gwen. Williams was an original purchaser of property in Merion (now Delaware County, PA) and Goshen (Chester County) from William Penn. William John Williams and wife Ann Reynald Williams both died shortly after their arrival in the colonies. Their son John was 13 years old when his parents died and his sisters were all younger than he. John inherited his parent’s properties when he was of legal age. No verifiable information exists as to where he and his sisters lived or with whom they lived prior to reaching adulthood.

At age 27, John married Ellen Klincken, who had recently arrived from Uttenkirk, Germany. They were united in a ceremony at a Germantown Friends Meeting in 1696. Records indicate that John sold the Merion and Goshen properties in 1697. Their son, Anthony Williams was born (1711) in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, and married Sarah Shoemaker in 1735/36. It is within these decades prior to the birth of Phillip that record keeping breaks down and conjecture begins.

Phillip Williams was born on February 10, about 1753 in the 96th Military District of the Carolina colonies. This district encompassed some of the territory located in present day Tennessee, South and North Carolina. In all likelihood Phillip was born in either a Lower Cherokee Town in South Carolina or in Watauga, an Over Hill Town now located in Tennessee. (Guion Roll) It is assumed his father, James Williams, was an Over Hill trader. Research in the South Carolina colonial records reveal that a “John Williams, master trader to the Cherokee”, was trading in the Over Hill Cherokee towns (including Watauga) in 1751. ‘Over Hill’ or ‘Beyond the Blue’ were terms referring to the lands beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains of Carolina. Author Williams reports that, “This same John Williams operated out of the new frontier town of Augusta, Georgia as a mercantile base. A 1752 complaint to the Governor of South Carolina reads:

” At Wettongo, there is a Georgia Trader, Mr. John Williams, who has brought rum to sell and says that he will send or go for more which will make a great deal of disturbance…”

“Wettongo” was the Cherokee Over Hill town also spelled Wettogo or Wataugo. Whether this was Phillip’s grandfather John (a carpenter from Charleston) or one of James’ uncles is not known. With a strong family interest in Indian trade, it is likely that Phillip’s father James was also a trader prior to his arrival in Big Creek (now Hawkins County) Tennessee, in 1776.

Birth and courthouse records were a luxury in the mountains of colonial America. Most pioneers did not have the time or inclination for formal record keeping except when land or a will was involved. Many of the families coming to the colonies were fleeing religious persecution, and the government’s intervention and threat to their very lives. A bureaucracy was the last thing they wanted to find when they settled into their home in the hills. A Bible may have been used to record a marriage and birth, but the Bible moved with the family as it ventured further into the wilderness and into the heart of a new frontier. Thus, one had to rely on oral history and the memory of elders when seeking to answer the question, “Where did I come from?”

While much debate has taken place, there seems little doubt that those who descend from Phillip ‘Buck Spike’ Williams are of Native American ancestry. But where does that line begin? Family accounts abound and many point to one person: a Cherokee woman by the name of Floating Cloud. That name is a translation of the woman’s Cherokee name revealed in a highly valued historical account authored by Estelle S. Rizk in 1961. Her work, No More Muffled Hoof Beats was based on interviews with Thornton Kennard. Genealogists have spent years trying to determine if Floating Cloud was the wife of ‘Buck Spike’ or his mother (and wife of James). There is good reason for the confusion.

Evidence seems to support the argument that Floating Cloud was Phillip’s mother. In a classic example of the ancient art of passing along the family history we have the following family account.

“In the late 1800’s a great-grandmother Nancy Jane Williams Compton (daughter of Jefferson Brooks Williams and sister to Martha Williams Kennard), told her daughter, Dora Evalyn Compton that Phillip’s father took the daughter of a French Fur Trader and Cherokee chief as his wife.”

Thus, Floating Cloud was a one half Cherokee. If Phillip was her son he was one quarter Cherokee. These fractions were important to any descendant who wanted to stake a claim to Cherokee property and the rights to any oil profits that Phillips 66 drained out of the Cherokee properties in Oklahoma.

If Phillip’s father, James, traded in the Over Hill villages he certainly had the opportunity to meet the daughter of a Cherokee chief and father this son, Phillip. Whether Phillip’s mother also gave birth to succeeding children of James is not known. The accuracy of this information is challenged by the Reverend Deward C. Williams in his book, Cumberland Mountain Kinfolks. The Reverend Williams had been told that Phillip’s mother was “a French Woman.” As the French and British had both been heavily involved in fur trading and trapping in the Appalachian mountains it is very possible that both of these stories lead to one and the same person: Floating Cloud. She could have easily have been the daughter of a French fur trader and Cherokee woman. As early as 1630, it was being recorded in England, France and Spain that European men were hunkering down with “savage women.” They must not have been too savage.

Phillips career as a Cherokee warrior preceded his career as colonial soldier. Documentation of his journey before the Revolutionary War, is again reliant upon family legend. The death notice of Martha Williams Kennard appeared in the Carter County, KY Herald in September 29, 1927 and read as follows:

“Phillip Williams (grandfather of her father Jefferson B.) was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, led many Indian tribes against other tribes of Indians who sought to destroy them and his mother was a full blooded Cherokee, which gave him quite a little bit of knowledge of how to wage the Indian battles. Because of his chicanery, and his ability to get by without being caught, he was generally known as ‘Buck Spike’, meaning that he could not be captured.”

Other evidence found in family lore also suggests that Phillip’s

“nickname could have been the common Cherokee name, Galigina, (Buck) specifically a spike buck (young male deer just getting his antlers) because he, Phillip, could slip through the woods unobserved. Great-Great Grandson, Greeley Williams of Marble City, Oklahoma in a government document, reported that he had always been told that Phillip was one quarter blood Cherokee and educated to be a chief.”

But why do some suggest that Floating Cloud was the wife of Phillip? Again, we rely on hearsay evidence based in fact and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. We do know that Williams had a long and illustrious career as both a Cherokee warrior and soldier of the American Revolutionary army. Military records reveal that he was “captured by a tribe in the Illinois Country” and it is believed that he was adopted into that tribe as he met and married a young woman by the name of Running Fawn. Phillip and his wife left the tribe and returned to Tennessee and eventually Kentucky. His wife is buried at his side in a Volga, Johnson County, Kentucky cemetery. She is identified on the tombstone as “Ann”. In 1986 a senior citizen, Ernest Williams, reported that “Annie was supposedly a full blood Indian from the Great Lakes and her Indian name was Running Fawn” Phillip’s first child, Mary, was born in the 1781 in the North Carolina hills later known as Tennessee. In 1781 the western boundary of North Carolina extended to the Mississippi River. If Ann Running Fawn was the mother of Mary Williams, we can only assume that Phillip was captured and made a member of the “Illinois Country” tribe in years prior to 1781.

Reference material includes:  1)Sam Williams, Printer’s Devil, Etter Publishing Co.,1979, p. 197.    2)Deward C. Williams, “Genealogy of Three PK’s”   3)  Guion roll testimony and claims.   4) Oral history of folks like Phillip’s 98 year old neighbor Mrs. Mahala Turner in 1908, Vanceburg, Kentucky recorded by various Williams family members over the past century.