The Balkcom families of the towns of
Sayre and Erick in southwest Oklahoma in the 1900’s are descendants of
James E. Balkcom, born in 1807 in North Carolina, and Mary (Polly)
(unknown surname, probably Murphy), born in 1814 in North Carolina.
James’ parents are not known, but it seems likely that James is a
descendant of Alexander Balkcom of Providence, Rhode Island.
Alexander was born in 1630, possibly in America or possibly in Sussex
County, England. By 1664 land records show that he was in
Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Alexander’s children settled around
Attleboro, Massachusetts, and at a descendant of these children,
Baruch Balkcom, migrated to coastal North Carolina in the mid-1700s. The
primary source describing the family of Alexander Balkcom is A First
Book of the Balcombe Family, by Frank W. Balcomb (c 1942).
The first official record found so far
of James is in court records of Sampson County, North Carolina in 1827:
"Appointed Matthew White for the road from the Duplin County line to
Lisbon Bridge with the following hands to work: Rebecca Pridgen's hands,
Moses Pridgen's hands, Wm Pridgen, Abram Blanton, Moses Blanton, Jonas
Green, Thomas Coggin, James Evans Jr, Bryan Lee and hands, George
Alderman, Alfred Taylor, Samuel Ward & hands, Willie Balcomb,
James Balcomb and Nathan Johnson and hands."
All able-bodied men were obligated to road and river work in their area, so
the appearance of "Willie", probably Wiley, and James together means they
lived near each other or in the same household. This Wiley was born
in Duplin County, and is believed to be a descendant of the original
Alexander Balkcom above.
In around 1835, James and Wiley moved their families
about 450 miles south to Lowndes County, Georgia, near present-day
Valdosta close the the Florida border. James and family appeared
in the 1840 federal census of Lowndes County with James' household
consisting of an adult female, probably wife Mary (Polly), and five
children under age 5, two males and three females. Wiley and his
family lived nearby, Wiley having sold in 1832 much of his several
hundred acres of land in Duplin and Sampson County North Carolina that
he had inherited on his father’s death in 1803. Another nearby
neighbor was Daniel Murphy, probably related to Polly Balkcom and also
from North Carolina.
in 1835 was not quite still a
frontier. It was an original state, admitted in 1788, but inland
it was more sparsely settled than the Carolinas. Georgia in
contentious dealings with Indian tribes as well as with the federal
government developed aggressive
land distribution policies designed to attract settlement, and was unique
among the states in that it conducted land lotteries. These began in 1805
and continued until 1832, with the earlier ones intended to distribute
land of the Creek and Cherokee Indians. Almost 3/4
of the land in present-day Georgia was distributed for permanent
settlement under this lottery
system. James Balkcom, Wiley Balkcom, and Daniel Murphy may not have qualified for lottery since they were not Georgia citizens,
although military service could have qualified them.
And, Lowndes County where they located was not part of the 1832 lottery.
So although they likely did not get free land, Georgia land was cheap and
attractive and by then presumably more fertile than their Duplin County
land. Another factor in
migrations to the south at the time was the promise of profitably growing
cotton inland throughout the South, with invention of the cotton gin,
while tobacco was at the same time declining as a commercial crop due to
oversupply and declining land fertility. Land speculation was also rampant, and often settlers in new regions were
attracted by marketing or by the reports of those who had already
It’s reasonable to assume that the Balkcom and
Murphy families made the move to Georgia in ox-drawn wagons, since
that was the main transportation used in family moves at the
time. It’s conceivable that by that time railroads were an option, but
that may have been out of the reach of individual families with household
Around 1845, after farming in
Georgia for possibly 10 years, the James Balkcom family moved about 250
miles west to Dale County, Alabama, in the southeast part of the state.
By 1847, Wiley and family had also moved there. Both Wiley and
James bought land in the county, with James’ land in 1860 valued at $1500
and Wiley’s at $2000. Both had several hundred dollars worth of “personal
property”, much of which was made up of livestock. Living adjacent to
James and Mary in 1860, probably in a house on their land, were Daniel and
Brantley Balkcom, the sixth of
twelve children of James Balkcom and Mary Murphy, was age 12 in 1860 and
attending school. Within five years, at age 17, he would marry 18
year old Rose Ann
Brannon from adjacent Henry County. Their son John Ira Balkcom would be the one
who in around 1901 moved with his wife Ida Lucinda (Baldwin) and young
daughter Mae to Texas and later Oklahoma.