Finding Your Folks: The Caldwells of Meriwether County

Judy Fowler Kilgore's picture

Since we're already here and this family was part of last week's Kempson reunion at Mt. Carmel UMC, I thought I'd just give a little light research on them since we haven't done them before. Next week, we'll discuss the Brandenburgs, another family recognized at the reunion and one which we haven't done before. The other two reunion families, Kempsons and Grays, were covered in previous column series.

As you all know, I don't research surnames outside my own family line unless they connect somehow, which both of these do. The Caldwells connect through my Boyds and the Brandenburgs connect through the Herndons, who also connect through my Boyds. The Herndons also represent a contemporary connection since my first cousin married into that same Herndon family.

As I said last week, I didn't quite get the connection of the Caldwells to the Kempsons until I ran across the Caldwell family story in the Meriwether Heritage Book written by Mrs. Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell. I had a couple of them connected through Thomas and Sarah Boyd Bell's son, James Bell, who married Elizabeth Caldwell, daughter of Robert Caldwell and Janette McLease/McLees. I will discuss these later. 

I also had found the will of Robert Caldwell, who died in 1846 in Meriwether County and, through that and censuses, was able to add all his children. Robert's executors were his son, James Caldwell, and one of my own, William Boyd, older brother of my GGG grandfather, Hugh Boyd. Robert Caldwell's youngest son, Newton Caldwell, had a son also named James Caldwell who married Barbara Ann Charity Kempson, thus making the Caldwell-Kempson connection.

The Caldwell heritage goes back to England, then to Scotland, then to Ireland, then to America in the early 1700s with their first settling in New Castle Delaware and, later, Virginia and South Carolina. Although her story has a few gaps in the lineage and it's sort of hard to follow, Mrs. Caldwell gave the first Caldwell ancestor (with descendants listed) as Robert Caldwell who had a son, William Caldwell, who married Rebecca Parks. Among William and Rebecca's children were James Caldwell, Martha Caldwell (Calhoun) and Elizabeth Caldwell (Gillam). James Caldwell married Elizabeth Forrest and had a son, Robert, who married Janette McLease (also seen as McLees and other variations) in South Carolina and moved to Georgia, settling in the Upper Ninth District of Meriwether County. Twelve children are known: Mary, Andrew, James, Jane, Martha, Joseph, Nancy Agnes, George, Newton Alexander, Elizabeth, Martha and Lucinda Caldwell.

I was surprised to learn that this Caldwell family connected directly to John C. Calhoun, representative and senator from South Carolina and a Vice President of the United States with Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Mrs. Caldwell mentioned it briefly in the Meriwether Heritage story and I also found more family information in a letter written by John C. Calhoun himself. (Google is nothing short of amazing. I found a Google book online with John C. Calhoun's papers, biography and family information.)

Calhoun's parents were Patrick Calhoun and Martha Caldwell, sister of James Caldwell who married Elizabeth Forrest and had Robert Caldwell, our Meriwether County pioneer. James and Martha Caldwell were children of William Caldwell and Rebecca Parks. In his letter, John C. Calhoun also mentions an "old aunt," Elizabeth Caldwell Gillam, his mother's sister, who lived in Newberry District, South Carolina. Elizabeth was the wife of Robert Gillam (also seen as Gilliam). Elizabeth died in 1851 and she and Robert are both buried in the Gilliam and Wallace Cemetery in Newberry County. Gillam family records are found in most of my books on Newberry County, including the two-volume cemetery book. And so, we have yet another Meriwether family with Newberry connections. If they all came in one wagon train it must have been huge.

Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell's husband, Harmon White Caldwell, was the son of Lucius Alexander Caldwell, son of Newton Alexander Caldwell and Barbara Ann Charity Kempson. Lucius married Lillie Dorothy Reynolds.

The other Caldwell descendancy I am familiar with is that of Elizabeth Caldwell, Newton's sister, who married James Bell, son of Thomas and Sarah Boyd Bell, mentioned above. Sarah was the daughter of John "Wagonner Jack" Boyd, about whom I have written several times. According to information I have received from various sources, the children of Elizabeth Caldwell and James Bell were Joseph Nathaniel, George W. (m. Martha Ann Clower), James Jefferson, William H., Nancy E. (Butler), Sarah J., Martha F. (Swygert), John Thomas, Charles P. (m. Clara Weldon), and Martin Garrett Bell. James and Elizabeth moved to Carroll County where James died in 1896 and Elizabeth died in 1927, supposedly at the age of 106. They are both buried at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Cemetery in the Clem Community, Carroll County.

There was another, very prominent Caldwell family in Meriwether, that of Creed Caldwell, but I have never been able to establish any relationship between Creed's family and the Caldwells of the Mt. Carmel community.

Also, the noted novelist, Erskine Caldwell, was born in nearby Moreland in Coweta County, but his Caldwells were not connected to those in Meriwether. Erskine was the only child of Ira Caldwell of North Carolina and Carrie Bell of Virginia, he a minister and she a teacher. They married in 1901 in Virginia and had Erskine in 1903 in Moreland. Ira and Carrie moved from the west Georgia area to Prosperity, S.C. by 1909. Erskine grew up all over Georgia and South Carolina as his father pastored churches in various areas. He attended Wrens High School in Jefferson County, Ga., where his parents taught but he didn't graduate. He was married four times and died in 1987 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Next week: The Brandenburgs.

Stories about your families who lived on Atlanta's south side are always welcome. Send stories to or Mail to The Citizen, P.O. Drawer 1719, Fayetteville, GA 30214. All letters and e-mails I receive are subject to being used in the column.

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