Saturday, July 9, 2011


WATSON / WATTS 
FAMILY HISTORY
*The following represents roughly 15 years of research from myself and other genealogists, to whom I am incredibly indebted, along with the magic of DNA, which has matched Watson & Watts families from around the United States.


Ancient Origins
With the help of modern DNA analysis, ethnic origins dating back thousands of years can now be accurately determined.  The Watson male DNA type is R-L48.  For people with this DNA type whose ancestry lies in the Scottish Lowlands, the most likely ancient origin is in Denmark.

The 1st wave of immigrants into Scotland with this DNA type were the Angles, a tribe from southern Denmark & the Danish islands who conquered the Scottish borders & Lothian in the 7th century.  Their Anglian language gave Scotland many words like "bairn" (child), which translates directly from the Danish "barn".  Their culture is often considered a hybrid between the Norse Scandinavians (Vikings) & the West Germanic peoples (Saxons).  Some of the more Norse elements of their society included the use of runic writing for magical purposes, massive ship burials for kings, dragon heads on the front of warships, the Norse pantheon of gods including Odin, and heroic literature about Denmark & Sweden.  In the semi-legendary histories of the Scandinavian peoples, they are referred to as the co-founders of Denmark, said to be descended from the hero-king Angul, who was the brother of Dan, father of the Danes.  During the early medieval period (10th century), they were given as a gift by the English crown to the Scottish crown as a sign of goodwill and a desire for peace.  Thereafter, they were referred to as the "English living within the Scottish Realm" by the Kings of Scotland.  Their language & society defined the Scottish Lowlands as a culturally-distinct region from the Highlands throughout Scotland's history, even to the present.
The migration of the Angles (yellow) from Denmark into the Scottish Lowlands. Their kingdom of Northumbria stretched from York in England to Edinburgh in Scotland

Typical Dragon Head used by the Angles on their warships
The genetic origins of the Scots, showing the Angles in the southeastern Lowlands

Modern Interpretation of Anglian Warriors 

Runic inscriptions of the Angles 
Along with the Angles, the second major wave of R-L48 DNA into Scotland came with the Danish Vikings in the 9th century.  They were essentially the same ethnic group as the Angles, the only difference being that they invaded Britain at a later date.  By 1014, King Cnut of Denmark had conquered all of England, establishing the North Sea Empire of Denmark, England & Norway.  By the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066, Danish influence in the Scottish Lowlands & the north of England was firmly established, in cultural, linguistic, and ethnic terms.

The North Sea Empire of Danish King Cnut, including the Scottish Lowlands



Early Modern History
By the early 17th century AD, the Watsons were living primarily in the Scottish Lowlands & the north of England, where they can be found to this day.  The surname Watson has historical importance with the “Border Reivers”—a group of Anglo-Scottish warriors who defended their territory against the kings of England & Scotland, preferring to be completely independent of either country.  While it is unknown if our family descends directly from the Border Reivers, it is likely that we are at least related to a few.  With the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, Europe and the British Isles were torn apart by war.  Atrocities were committed by all sides, and Protestants even fought other Protestants for control of territory.  By the time of King James I (1566-1625), the Anglo-Scottish border region had become a hotbed of lawlessness and rebellion against the Church of England.  A brilliant tactician, James decided to kill two birds with one stone—he sent the Border Reivers across the sea to Northern Ireland, thereby emptying the border of rebels, and at the same time, gained skilled Protestant soldiers against Catholic Irish rebels.  As the Watsons were Presbyterians, they settled in County Cavan, Northern Ireland before 1700, where the first named Watson in our line was born, Christopher Watson.  Once in Northern Ireland, families like the Watsons faced terrible warfare against the Irish, persecution by Church of England landowners, frequent famine, and expensive rents.  (Their reputation for rebelliousness & a lack of decorum also didn't help to endear them to the authorities.) As a result, 200,000 people in Northern Ireland decided to try their luck in the 13 Colonies between 1710-1775, and the Watson family made the trip before 1750.

Modern Reenactment of Lowland Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters 

Landscape in the Scottish Lowlands 

Migration of Lowland Scots to Northern Ireland

County Cavan, Ulster, Ireland 

Modern History
In the 13 Colonies, families from Northern Ireland with origins in the Anglo-Scottish border region became known as “Scotch-Irish”, even though “Ulster Scots” is a more historically-accurate term.  The Scotch-Irish became famous for their close-knit families, self-reliance, frontier lifestyle, and musical tradition, which had a profound impact on American culture.  Like the rest of the Scotch-Irish, the Watsons settled first in Pennsylvania, landing at Philadelphia before 1750.  From there, 2 major branches of the family split, one heading west to Adams, York, and Lancaster counties, Pennsylvania, while the other went south to Richmond, Virginia with Josiah Watson (1748-1828).  Our direct line followed the Great Wagon Road from York County, Pennsylvania with John Watson (ca.1728-1803).  Along with several other Watsons from York County, John settled in Rutherford County, North Carolina and recorded his will there.  These Watsons were Presbyterian and lived at the border of the Appalachians and Piedmont in western North Carolina.  John’s son, John Watson Jr. (ca.1756-1842), was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina, and resided in the Nantahala wilderness by 1830.  According to family records, he also went by “Old John Watts”, and was said to be about ½ Cherokee on his maternal side.  Since the only Watsons who switched their name to Watts came from North Carolina (the Cherokee homeland), it seems that the name Watts was a tribute to their known Cherokee identity, and that one of John’s female ancestors was a Cherokee Indian. 
The Great Wagon Road used by the Scotch-Irish 

Fall Stream in the Appalachian Mountains 

While our line was in North Carolina, the other major Watson branch had moved west from Richmond, Virginia into Kentucky, eventually settling in Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas.  This line became Missionary Baptists primarily.  Our direct line from John Watson Jr. (ca.1756-1842) descends from two brothers, Levi Watson (1792-1862), and our line, Eli Watson (1795-1875).  Both brothers had explored and purchased land in northeast Alabama before 1819, when Alabama officially became a state.  The majority population of that region at the time was Cherokee, Creek, and other Native Americans, which seems to support the argument of our family’s mixed ethnic heritage.  Moreover, war records from other Watsons of the period describe them as dark-complexioned, with brown eyes and brown hair, and a judge determined in the 1890s that our family was “of Cherokee descent”.  By 1830, the entire family (including John Watson Jr.) had settled on Wills Creek, in modern Attalla, Alabama.  Their original land plot was deeded to Levi Watson and remained in the family’s possession for over a century.  (Today it’s located on a golf course).  After arriving in Alabama, Levi & Eli decided to join the Methodist Episcopal Church, and even gave money and land to construct churches.  Methodism quickly outpaced Presbyterianism along the frontier, as Methodist ministers required less formal education, and their message of forgiveness attracted converts who were troubled by austere Calvinism.  While Levi’s family continued west to Arkansas, our direct line from Eli remained in Alabama.  Eli was the first to use Watts in U.S. census records, though he still used Watson interchangeably.  Eli’s son, Daniel Dodson Watson/Watts (1820-1901) was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina before the migration to Alabama.  By the time of the Civil War, Daniel joined the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment and fought at the Battle of Chickamauga, where he was hit in the groin during a charge led by John Bell Hood and disabled for life.  One of Daniel’s sons, James Britton Watts (1844-1907), fought in every major battle, including Gettysburg, and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. 
Daniel Dodson Watson/Watts (1820-1901)

Chickamauga Battlefield 

James Britton Watts (1844-1907)


Daniel’s younger son, and the next ancestor of our direct line, was Daniel Oscar Watts (1867-1951), the first Watts to reside in Haleyville, Alabama.  He was known as Oscar, Osco, and Papp, and began the tradition of using the middle name “Brittin” in honor of his brother, James.  After the Civil War, James continued west to Oklahoma and helped found Watts Community, where he was a Mason and supported a local school.  Oscar remained in Haleyville, Alabama until his death.  His son, Huey Brittin Watts Sr. (1910-1994), was the first Watts born in Haleyville, Alabama.  He married Elma McNutt and is buried in Union City, Tennessee.  His son, Huey Brittin Watts Jr. was born in Haleyville, Alabama.  He is a Marine Corps veteran of Korea, a lifetime employee of CSX, and an avid gardener.  He married Nell Mayhall, daughter of Walter Mayhall & Cloa Thomas.  Huey and Nell lived in several cities in the southeast, including Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Atlanta metro area.  They have two children, Rita (Watts) Lemons, and Perry Brittin Watts.  Rita is a schoolteacher, wife of Tony Lemons, and mother to Mark and Andrew Lemons.  Perry worked as a lifetime employee of Delta Airlines, is an avid Disney fan, married Chris (Henderson) Watts, daughter of Billy Henderson & Frances West, and is the father of Matthew and Zachary Watts. 

Modern Surname Distribution:
Top 5 Cities in Britain: 1.Newcastle, England  2.Glasgow, Scotland  3.Edinburgh, Scotland,  4.Aberdeen, Scotland  5.York, England
Top 5 Nations Worldwide: 1.Australia  2.Great Britain  3.New Zealand  4.United States  5.Canada
Top 5 States in USA: 1.Alabama  2.Arkansas  3.North Carolina  4.South Carolina  5.Tennessee
Distribution of Watsons in Britain