Early Va./Ky. Meachams -- Meacham River

On Meacham River

[Oct. 4, 2000]

"William Meacham was probably born between 1720 and 1725 and lived in Virginia, reportedly on Meachon River, a stream probably named for the Meacham family."

This statement is found on page 2 of Clarence Mitcham's book Meacham Mitcham Mitchum -- Families of the South published in 1974. When I first read this I was fascinated with the idea of a river named after my early Virginia ancestors, and dreamed about going there one day to stand on the spot where William Sr. made his home some 250 years ago. I began to make a few initial inquiries about the location of this river today or in the past. There were a number of candidates, the one with the best pedigree being Mechum's River in Albemarle county. Problem is, William never lived there. As far as we know he was born and lived the first half of his life in Caroline county, Virginia, which unfortunately does not have a Meachon or Mechum or Machumps river or creek. Apparently, this was another bit of genealogical folklore, based on some grain of truth, that became embedded in the literature.

It was a surprise however to find the following in the notes on William Sr. made by Ida Meacham Strobridge (d. 1932):

"[these quotation marks appear in her original notes] He was born, probably, between 1720 and 1725. He lived in the state of Virginia -- it is said, on "Meachom River" -- a stream probably named for the Meacham family. Prior to the Revolutionary War, he removed to Chatham Co., North Carolina." Another authority says that "at the close of the Rev. War, James, Joseph, and William Meacham Jr. removed from Meachom River in Virginia ..."

Clarence Mitcham used this text verbatim. It is a pity that Strobridge did not identify these "authorities," as it is difficult now to know who they might have been; Charles Mayfield Meacham in his 1902 article on Meacham genealogy provided the physical description of William Sr. which was copied by Strobridge in her notes and appears verbatim again in Mitcham's book. But Charles M. says nothing of a Meachom River; Clarence must have misread or mistyped the m' making it into Meachon River.

Whoever these "authorities" were, they evidently linked William Sr. to Meachom River, thinking he must have been the first Meacham to settle in Virginia. Charles Mayfield certainly leaves the impression that William Sr was one of the earliest ancestors of the clan that "came first to Virginia" and then moved to North Carolina and Kentucky. Since Charles Mayfield makes no mention of Meachom River, I believe the folklore sprang up sometime between his article in 1902 and the 1920s when Strobridge made her notes.

According to the book The History of Albemarle County in Virginia by Rev Edgar Woods, page 21, Mechum's River was named for George Mechum, who owned land near the head of the river. This name might have come from Mechum's Depot on the river, which Woods says "was anciently known as Jarman's Mill and afterward as Walker's Mill." There are a number of 19th century references to Mechum or Mechum's River; e.g on May 4, 1862, Jackson's troops boarded the train "at Mechum's River Station, near Charlottesville, for the trip west over the Blue Ridge." The earliest reference seems to be 1733: "On a stream known as Mechum's River, Michael Woods entered more than 1300 acres of land in 1737 and, on the same day, he purchased the 2,000 acres which had been patented to Charles Hudson two years previously; the latter boundary was on the headwaters of Iva Creek."

There is also a Meacham Creek in Middlesex county, likewise not far from the home of a Meacham. Christ Church Parish Register records the marriage of William Stiff to Sarah Meacham in 1751. The Stiff homeplace overlooks the Rappahannock River near the bridge connecting Middlesex to Lancaster County. Meacham Creek is nearby; it is not clear when this name was first used. It is also sometimes written as Mechunk Creek, and this could be significant (see below).

In Hanover county, there is a stream called Mechum's or Mechumps Creek. One of the earliest churches in that area was Mechumps Creek Church, built in 1701. However, in Hanover County - Its History and Legends one finds the following:

"Machumps Creek takes its name from the Indian whose sister was the young wife and great darling of Powhatan. Machumps went to England and on his return was shipwrecked on the Bermudas. While there he slew Namon-tack, son of Powhatan, in an altercation. This Namon-tack had been to England and was presented to King James 1. (Stith's History of Virginia, p. 115). Machumps is shown to have been at Governor Dale's table. (Sams' Conquest of Virginia, p. 74). He is also quoted by Alexander Brown. (Genesis of the U. S. I p. 185.) It is thought that "Mechunk" creek in Louisa is named after Machumps, brother-in-law of Powhatan. So also with Mechum's river in Albemarle County."

It is possible therefore that ALL the Mechum rivers and creeks in Virginia are named after Machumps, although the one in Albermarle does have the best case for genuinely being named after a Meacham. Clearly, none of these streams have anything to do with William Sr of Caroline county.

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