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Alpheus Miller, Union soldier, whose first wife, Sara Ann Phillips, died early in life, is pictured
with his second wife, Margaret Tow Miller.
Photos courtesy of Bonnie Steelman

Originally published: 2013-07-08 11:06:38
Last modified: 2013-07-08 11:07:22

Descendants of the Revolutionary War

by Sherrie Norris

History will come alive when the descendants of William and Mary "Polly" Aldridge (Eldridge) Miller gather on July 20 at Stony Fork Baptist Church, not far from where their ancestors lived and are buried.

Bonnie Steelman of Deep Gap, who refuses to let the Miller family saga be forgotten, is organizing the reunion.   

Steelman is a noted historian who has researched her family tree at least seven generations back to the family patriarch, who moved into the region in the late 1700s. 

"We get together every two years," Steelman said, "to fellowship, tell stories, enjoy lunch, share information, pictures and documents -- and what we know about how the Miller family came to be scattered all over the United States."

Attendees come from as far away as California and the state of Washington, she said, with many still in Watauga County.

The family's story started when William Miller came from England and worked for wages to pay for Polly's fare to America. 

"Whether he came from England or just passed through on his way to America from Germany, we haven't been able to prove just yet," Steelman said. "Many researchers believe he was German. We know that he made his way to Pennsylvania, where many of the Germans settled."

Documentation from Miller's son, David, indicate that his father came to North Carolina from Pennsylvania and lived with the Jersey Settlement in Rowan County before coming to Holman's Ford in Wilkes County. From there, he came to Ashe County in 1783, currently known as the Meat Camp community of Watauga County.  

In the "History of Watauga County" Steelman said, Preston Arthur wrote that William Miller arrived in this area with Ebenezer Fairchild and Nathan Horton. 

"We think there is a connection between the Hortons and the Millers," she said. "Apparently, when William returned to spend the winters in Wilkes County, David stayed here with the Hortons." 

According to Steelman's research, William and Mary Miller were charter members of Three Forks Baptist Church in Boone, which was organized in 1790. 

"There are land records in Ashe and Wilkes counties of his land dealings," she said. "Sometime between 1825 and 1830, they moved back to the Wilkes County area known as Lewis Fork, and are presumed to be buried in that area."

A memorial marker was erected by their descendants at Lewis Fork Baptist Church in the late 1980s.William Miller is credited with being a patriot of the Revolutionary War, Steelman said. 

"A voucher from the archives in Raleigh confirms his service for the American cause by driving wagons to take supplies to the battlefields," she said. 

He also obtained a land grant. "To get that, he had to swear allegiance to the American cause," she said. "They wouldn't have given land to someone fighting for the British."

William and Mary were the parents of several children, including Henry Miller, who married Polly McNeil, (daughter of the Rev. George McNeil, who came to America from Glasgow, Scotland); Joseph Miller who married Nancy Bingham; little is known about Alfred Miller I; William Jr. married Rebecca, "whose maiden name we think was Baird," Steelman said. Mary was wed to John Brown and Virginia married a McNeil.

William's son, David Miller, married Elizabeth Norris. 

"When all of us get together, many stories arise," Steelman said. "Some of the descendants tell how their family kept pushing west -- looking for fortunes -- and many tell of their family's hardships on their long journeys from Watauga County to Texas."

Some stopped along the way "long enough to grow crops," said Steelman, "and then, pushed on. And, some of them had children during the journey West, too."

Other stories of interest, she said, included that of sacrifice experienced by William Jr.'s son, Alfred, and his wife, Jane, who had six sons in the Civil War, most of whom eventually went west.

"Five were Confederate soldiers and one was a Union soldier," Steelman said. 

"Can you imagine what it must've been like when one of the Confederate sons came face-to-face on the battlefield with his Union brother?" she said. 

Several of the soldiers, she said, married in this area into the Phillips and Greene families before leaving for Texas.

Two of the brothers, Calvin, who fought for the Confederate Army, and Lee, who was too young for battle, stayed behind with two of their sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth. 

"One sister, Rebecca, married Payton Phillips, whose grandfather for which he was named, was a great bear hunter who died during the Smallpox epidemic in 1836," she said.

 "We also know that David (Miller) served in the legislature, known as the House of Commons at that time," Steelman said. "We've been told that he rode his horse all the way to Raleigh and back during his multiple terms. His brother, William Jr., also served in the legislature and died in Raleigh while serving in that capacity."

With seven generations separating her from William Miller, Steelman said, it was her mother's love for history, and her ability to relate stories that sparked her interest in researching her genealogy. 

"I loved to hear mother tell about her ancestors," Steelman said. 

One story of particular interest to Steelman was about her maternal great grandparents, Margaret Miller Triplett and Darby Triplett.

"They had seven children who died during the I800s diptheria epidemic in the Deep Gap area," Steelman said. "The children got sick, one by one, and all died within two weeks. At that time, they didn't know what caused diptheria, so they burned the house down and moved away."

Eventually, the couple had three more children, which included Steelman's grandmother, Bertha Triplett who married Albert Greer. 

"My grandmother (Bertha) had seven children and died at the age of 27 with what the doctors called 'galloping TB,' because it acted so quickly. Luckily, none of the children got it," she said. 

Steelman takes great pride in her heritage and continues to research her lineage. She has been an active member of the National Society of the Daughters of American Revolution, the Daniel Boone chapter, for many years, and is also a member of the Colonial Dames that meets in Hickory every three months.

She invites all descendants of the Miller family to the reunion, which will begin at 10 a.m. with lunch, catered by Woodlands Barbecue, served at noon. 

Those who wish to do so are encouraged to bring a favorite dessert and its recipe to share.

For reservations, call Steelman at (828) 264-1572 before July 10.