Genealogical Notes on Ezekiel Polk

 

Genealogical Notes on Ezekiel Polk

References:

  1. The Polks of North Carolina and Tennessee, Mrs. Frank M. Angellotti
  2. "Ezekiel Polk, his son John and grandson John", Olde Mecklenburg Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol 11 Number 2, 1993

Ezekiel Polk was born in Cumberland County, PA near the site of present day Carlisle on December 7, 1747. He married first in Mecklenburg County, NC about 1769 to Maria Wilson, daughter of Samuel Wilson and sister to the wife of Major John Davidson.

He married second to either a Bessie Davis or Polly Campbell, sources differ. Most likely it was the latter and she was the sister of John Campbell, who married Ezekiel’s daughter, Matilda Golden Polk.

Ezekiel Polk was married for a third and final time to Sophia (Neely) Lennard, daughter of James Neely in Maury County, TN around 1812 or 1813. With her, he fathered four children while in his 60’s.

Ezekiel Polk came to Mecklenburg County, NC with his parents, the youngest of eight children around 1850. There he grew into manhood, became a surveyor and acquired considerable property. He served as Mecklenburg High Sheriff in 1763, Justice in 1768 and Mecklenburg Clerk of the Court in 1769. He was a Justice in Mecklenburg County in 1772.

He was the Clerk of Tryon County from 1770-1772, and then sometime before 1775 he moved across the border and settled in York County, SC, west of the Catawba River. He was a delegate to the South Carolina Provincial Congress in 1775 as well as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Twelfth Regiment of the South Carolina Militia, for the New Acquisition District, a district largely settled by the overflow from Mecklenburg Co. In 1775 the Provincial Congress of South Carolina established the Council of Safety and authorized the organization of three regiments of troops and on 18 June 1775, Ezekiel Polk was made Captain of the Second Company in the Regiment commanded by Colonel Thompson.

Some sources say that Ezekiel Polk was a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and at least one version of that document includes his name. It may have been deleted (along with others) because of his religious beliefs that conflicted with the devout Presbyterians among his neighbors and family. More on that later.

According to Dr. Alexander’s History of Mecklenburg County, NC, Ezekiel Polk’s home was directly in the path of Cornwalis’s Army when they invaded the region in September 1780. In order to save the burning of his home, destruction of his property and suffering of his family, Ezekiel Polk was forced to take British protection, which was merely understood to have been for the purposes stated, without implying any pledge of sympathy or service.

He was in command of this company of Rangers in the "Snow" campaign against the Tories in the back district. About the time when the British abandoned their attempt to take Charleston, the Indians and Tories on the western frontier began to make raids and massacre. Colonel Thompson’s Regiment with that of Colonel Neil was sent against them. In three months they were victorious and the troops returned to York County, SC and were disbanded.

After Cornwallis’s retreat from Mecklenburg County, NC; Ezekiel Polk did not return to York County, SC where his property had been confiscated by the enemy, but made his home on Sugar Creek in Mecklenburg County, NC. After Sumter was made Brigadier General and was authorized to raise regiments in South Carolina to cooperate with General Greene, one of these regiments was placed under the command of Ezekiel Polk.

Although the Polks were highly respected, prominent people, the attitude of several members of the family toward religion was far different from that of the Knoxes. Ezekiel Polk was a champion of free religious thought and was considered by some people to be an atheist. (Perhaps the tragic death of his first wife, Maria, and the subsequent loss of six infants by his second wife produced in him a profound disillusionment. In the Polk graveyard, his own crude verses carved on a child’s tomb testify to his abhorrence of the then prevalent belief in infant damnation.)

"Years of quarreling followed between the Polks and the religious leaders of the community. In a time when deism was threatening to engulf the country, discussion was vehement in Mecklenburg and from accidental circumstances embittered in Providence. Ezekiel Polk and his neighbor, Ezra Alexander, organized a debating society and Polk contributed a circulating library containing the works of deistic writers. Only the valiant fight led by the Presbyterian Ministers and by Wallis, in particular, defended and secured the position of the church and the authority of the Scripture."

The following startling statement is found on page 78 of Alexander’s History of Mecklenburg County, NC:

"Of Ezra and Charles Alexander (signers) diligent enquiry has revealed nothing that is satisfactory about them, from the oldest citizens. One informant was under the impression that they lived within the bounds of Providence Church and were neighbors of Ezekiel Polk and like him were atheists. If this is true, they probably emigrated with him to Tennessee, carrying with them their circulating library of infidel literature and were a good riddance to their fellow citizens."

"Partly as a result of the religious argument, old Ezekiel Polk decided in to leave North Carolina and settle in Tennessee where he had acquired large tracts of land by the purchase of land warrants from Revolutionary War soldiers. In 1790, Governor Blount appointed him Justice of the Peace for Tennessee County and by 1806 he is known to have been living in Williamson County, as is shown by a deed of gift of 300 acres of land on Carter’s Creek to his daughter, Matilda, wife of John Campbell. In 1811, he was a member of the grand jury formed to "inquire into the body" of Maury County, TN.

In 1820, he moved with his sons Samuel and William and his sons-in-law Col. Thomas Jones Hardeman and Thomas McNeal and their families and founded the first white settlement "Old Hatchie Town" in Hardeman County, TN which was named for his pioneer son-in-law. The town of Bolivar was later formed through the donation of fifty acres of land from Colonel Polk and William Ramsey. Each donor was to receive one choice lot. Ezekiel built his home west of Bolivar.

Several of the Polk children went to Tennessee with their Father, but the Samuel Polks did not leave until 1808 when James K. Polk was 11 years old. Tradition claims that James K. Polk inherited his Mother’s morally rigorous character and as President, he never enjoyed the surroundings of gaiety and pleasure."

In 1821, Ezekiel Polk, age 74, composed his own epitaph and requested that it be "carved on durable wood and placed upright at my head, and a weeping willow planted at my feet." He died three years later on 31 August 1824 and fulfilling his wish the marker was erected above his grave in the Riverside Cemetery at Bolivar, Tennessee. The Polk Cemetery in Bolivar was designated in October 1845 to be "forever a family burying ground."

Epitaph of Ezekiel Polk

"Here lies the dust of old E.P.

An instance of Mortality;

Pennsylvania born, Carolina bred;

In Tennessee died in his bed

His useful days he spent in pleasure;

His latter days, in gathering treasure;

From superstition lived quite free

And practiced strict morility

To holy cheats was never willing

To give one solitary shilling

First fruits and tenths are odious things,

And so are bishops, tithes and kings"

During the campaign of 1844 when James K. Polk, E.P’s grandson was running for President, Edward Polk, his half uncle hurriedly removed the marker from his father’s grave and replaced it with a stone monument. Polk was not a church member (and neither was Clay) and the family did not wish to provide inspiration for the charge of heathenism.

 Epitaph of Mary "Maria" Polk

Here unalarmed at Death’s last stroke

Lies in this tomb Maria Polk

A tender Mother virtuous Wife

Resigned to every Scene of Life

Truly pious without parade

Where want appeared she lent her aid

To heaven Courts did repair

May those she loved all meet her there

Supported by the Hope of a happy Death and a glorious Resurrection to eternal life she bore a tedious and painful illness with a truly Christian Fortitude. The last Exercise of her feeble voice was employed in singing the 33rd Hymn of the 2nd Book of Dr. Watts composition. Her mild and gentle spirit was dismissed from its earthly mansion on the 19th day of November 1791, in the 45th year of her age.

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