Notes on Ezekiel Polk
"Ezekiel Polk, his son John and grandson John",
Olde Mecklenburg Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol 11 Number 2, 1993
- The Polks of North Carolina and Tennessee, Mrs. Frank
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
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 Ezekiels 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 60s.
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
According to Dr. Alexanders History of Mecklenburg
County, NC, Ezekiel Polks home was directly in the path of Cornwaliss 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 Thompsons 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 Cornwalliss 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
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
childs tomb testify to his abhorrence of the then prevalent belief in infant
"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
The following startling statement is found on page 78 of
Alexanders 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
"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 Carters 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 Mothers 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.Ps grandson was running for President, Edward Polk, his half uncle hurriedly
removed the marker from his fathers 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"
Here unalarmed at Deaths 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.