John Richards: Piedmont Pioneer

It is the small things, like Father telling me of the sea he traveled and his home, Deutschland. He said it had rich farmlands much like where we lived. A river ran nearby his home. He took me with him as he fished from banks of the Catawba. He would say his name which sounded like ‘Richards’ but it was not the same. It has been so long ago the memories fade… yet I cling to them. When Father died, I wept and sat in the cabin for weeks waiting on him to return. But he never came. As time passed I forgot what his faced looked like. Mother stopped talking about him. Even the sound of his voice was lost to me.


One of my first memories was of that awful day when Father did not come home. I was playing with my favorite toys, two carved horses that my grandfather had made for my father when he was a little boy living in the old country. With sticks from the forest I had made a fence and barn. I sat close to the fireplace where it was warm. Lizzie was asleep in her cradle. Mother had a venison stew on the hook and it was gently bubbling over the fire; the smell filled the room and I was hungry. It was time for Father to be coming home. A knock came at the barred door. It wasn’t Father because his knock was special. My mother wiped her hands on her apron from the bread dough she was kneading, smiled at me reassuringly, and carefully opened the door. We did not usually have callers this late in the evening. I walked over to Mother and grabbed her skirt, peering out from behind it at the two men who stood there. They were our neighbors, Jacob Forney and William Fronebarger.

These two men lived on the next farms over between Leeper’s Creek and Killian’s Creek. They and my father helped each other on their lands. When they came to our cabin they would pick me up and everybody laughed. They would ruffle my hair and call me ‘little man.’ Sometimes if I was lucky, Mr. Forney would bring us a tin of honey from his bee hives. Mother would let me dip my finger in it and have a sweet taste before she put it on the shelf.

This visit was different. I started to smile but stopped when I saw their wide-eyed faces, streaked with blood. I remember their speech was excited and quick. They were speaking in *Deutsch not as the English do. They were talking about the Cherokee who come down from the mountains. Father had told me about them. I always stayed close to Mother and him; he told me they might hurt me or worse steal me away and I would never see them again. This had happened to many children over the years who lived on neighboring lands. I was afraid of what the men were saying. I held tighter to Mother. Mr. Forney said, “Jean, we were searching for stray cattle when we saw them up ahead. Hendry talked us into trying to evade them instead of shooting them, but their lookout spotted us. Those savages were on us before we could get away. There were about a dozen warriors in the raiding party, all painted up and hungry for the kill. They wanted our cattle and scalps.

We tried to make a stand but, in the end, we had to make a run for our lives; within minutes Hendry took several arrows. He was unable to walk; I threw him over my shoulder and tried to haul him back to safety. In the end there was nothing that could be done for him. I carried him for miles with my clothes soaked with his blood, he convinced me to leave him. He was all but dead. I gave him my musket and hid him well. I told him to stay quiet and told him we would return to fetch him as soon as we could. He was faint. I heard shots as I headed away. Some of the Cherokee had muskets too and knew how to use them. If we had stayed we all would have died. We made it to my fort. I’m sorry, Jean. When we went back later and found Hendry, he was scalped and dead. We buried him where he lay. I’ll take you there at first light.

As I stood there, neither of them seemed to see me. They looked dirty and were smeared with blood. The smell of sour sweat, blood, and gun powder was strong. I didn’t want them to pick me up; I wanted them to stop talking. I had never seen them so angry. Their hands were torn and scraped; they waved them as they talked and beat their fists against the logs of the house as they described my father’s death. Mother dropped to her knees, rocking back and forth; she began to wail, calling Father’s name…

Lizzie woke and cried in the cradle. I felt like I was in a bad dream and I knew Father would wake me up soon, hold me, and tell me everything would be all right. The bad dream wouldn’t stop. I was four-years-old. The year was 1757. It was my first taste of death.


As an adult, I look back on how that event shaped our lives. We no longer were a family of four. Mother could not run the farm without help. Father’s Last Will and Testament left everything to me as I was the only male heir. There was a problem, I was a minor. The Will named Grandfather Killian, as executor and guardian of all minor children. By law it was required for a man to be our guardian; Mother could not be a landowner. She remained our caregiver. It would be my responsibility to make sure that Lizzie married well and was taken care of in life. With my father’s death for Mother, Lizzie, and me, life ended as we knew it.


Andreas Killian was mother’s father, a wealthy German immigrant who lived on the Mecklenburg side of the Catawba River. It was safer there as the Cherokee usually did not cross the river into that area. It was agreed that we would go live with him on his lands. I remember my mother’s tears. She was sad for so long. I clung to her and Lizzie; I too was sad but also knew I must look out for them. Things were different; understanding of what was to come was beyond my imagination. All I knew was I missed our home but most of all my father. Now we were surrounded by many people all the time. My grandfather was a tough man that smiled rarely. As an orphaned boy, I did not find a loving and doting grandfather. During the brief years in that household I found solace in my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The quiet peace and joyous laughter of the cabin on the Richards’ farm and lands was lost until I would return as a man…

Three years after my father’s death, in 1760 my mother, Jean Killian Richards was re-married to William Lawing. I was seven-years-old. I was ease-dropping the day when I first began to understand that my mother may remarry. Mr. Lawing came to my Grandfather’s home. He was new to America and had received a large land grant in Anson County. He and Grandfather had business dealings and so were not paying attention to a quiet, attentive boy nestled down in the hay in the barn. They spoke in the language of the *Pennsylvania Dutch.

Grandfather said, “Follow me; I will show you the horses, some of the finest stock in the area.” Mr. Lawing, “I have no doubt. You are known for your quality steeds. That is why I have come to you.” Grandfather replied, “Yes, ’tis true and cattle as well. All is in good order. My price is fair and firm.” Mr. Lawing, “That it is, sir. But I also have interest in another matter.” Grandfather turned slowly on his heels and looked squarely at Mr. Lawing, “What do you mean, sir?”

Mr. Lawing began somewhat nervously, “It is well known that you have a daughter, Jean who is a widow and has two small children.” Grandfather raised his bushy eyebrows, “Yes, William?” Mr. Lawing began to explain, “Well sir, I have arrived in America only a short while ago. I am without wife or family. I have met your daughter at various neighborly affairs and find her quite pleasing. I am asking your permission to approach her about marriage. I am an honorable man of some financial means and could care for her and the children properly.” Grandfather gave a rare smile and cleared his throat, “Well sir, I do agree that she needs a husband. She is accustomed to the finer things in life. *Hendry Richards took good care of her and except for his unfortunate end, made her a good husband. I adore my grandchildren and expect them to be treated as your own. You are a man of some means and I believe we can reach an agreement as to this proposal, if Jean agrees. The final say will be hers.” Mr. Lawing appearing relieved, “Yes, Mr. Killian, I understand. If it is well with you I will make arrangements to call on your daughter and make a proper marriage proposal to her.” Grandfather and Mr. Lawing shook hands as I had seen men of honor do to solidify an agreement.

And thus, a new chapter of our lives began. I would be reared in Anson County on the Mecklenburg side of Killian’s Creek surrounded with the best things that money could buy. I would be well-known as the grandson of Andreas Killian and the step-son of William Lawing, both prestigious men. Even though not as safe and luxurious, I longed for my home on Killian’s Creek on the Lincoln County side of the Catawba where I had lived with my father and mother. I pledged that one day I would return. My father’s faint but powerful memory drew me to his lands and my beginnings.

*Hendry Richards is an Anglicized version of his true name assigned to him when he boarded the ship in England. It is known that by 1750 he was in North Carolina serving on the NC 1750 Anson County Militia. His true name was lost as soon as the ship manifest was compiled. His origin is Palatinate, Germany. Y DNA testing is the only hope of ever knowing this Richards’ family true surname.

*Deutsch (German): Many Germans originally settled in Pennsylvania. They traveled the Old Wagon Road to Virginia and the Carolinas. Deutsch was Anglicized by the English to the more pronounceable form, Dutch. The Deutsch soon became known as the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch.’

Rita is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker ; graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a Psychotherapist, Storyteller, Genealogists, Family Lover, & Overcomer.

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