Root Hog or Die – The Legacy of the Caperton Family
Now see – just when you ‘ll had given up on me I turn up again just like the weeds that are now popping out of my garden.
Even though I haven’t been posting – I have been quite busy. Over the holidays Julia’s story was published in print form. It’s now available as paperback print book. Julia’s story is self published to keep the price low, which means I had to fore-go some important things like a real editor! If you are interested in purchasing this book it is available at the link below.
Julia’s Story – Print Version – $7.99 – any profits from the book will be donated to help maintain the Caperton Cemetery in Speedway
For the post today, I thought I would add the first chapter of the book. Please remember that some of the information in the chapter are my conclusions and may not be correct!
The Caperton Legend
Most remarkable family legends are filled with truths – partial truths – myths based on partial truths and topped off with a bald face lie or two just to add a little bit of excitement. The remarkable legend of the Caperton family is no different. While the European origins fall into the partial truth and possibly the bald face lie categories, the true legend of the Capertons’ once the family arrives in Virginia is well documented and needs no embellishment to compose a thrilling and adventurous account of this courageous pioneer family.
It is speculated that the original Capertons’ were a prominent family of Huguenots originating in an area called Capebreton, Aquitaine France. Capebreton is located on the south west coast near the border of Spain. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the beautiful coastal area was called home to many French Protestants. Indeed, given it’s location to Spain and the multitude of shipping ports, Capebreton was a magnet for international culture and travel at the time. In today’s world, Capebreton is known to be one of the finest destinations in France for surfing, water sports, and exquisite seafood.
Late 17th century France had a one hundred and fifty year history of various religious wars and uprisings between the Catholic majority and the Protestant minority. There was a brief period of peace when the Edict of Nantes was signed in 1589, giving the Protestants some freedom to worship and own land, but this edict was deeply resented by the Pope and most of the Catholic population. There were almost two hundred thousand Protestants in France during 1685, when the Edict of Nantes was revoked. These people had to evacuate their homelands quickly leaving much of their wealth and most of their possessions behind.
Historians believe the Protestant Caperton family, escaped demise by fleeing from France to England. Baptism records show the family remained in England for about a generation soon relocating to Northern Ireland and Southern Scotland. Researchers also speculate the original surname of the Caperton family was not Caperton at all. Some, who are pursuing the lineage, believe the family may have adopted the name of their ancestral home and used it for a surname when they arrived in England. It was a common practice in the 17th century to choose a surname based on the area you came from or based on your occupation. It is very possible that the first English Caperton signed an official document stating his name as John of Capebreton.
However, historians rarely agree on anything that does not show absolute proof. There are fables that tell of a family named Clapperton who first went to Canada then migrated south. This is an unsupported claim without documentation however; there were many people in the Clapperton line with the name of Hugh, which was an uncommon name on this side of the Atlantic at the time.
Other Caperton family legends tell the tale of a John Caperton who was charged with murder in Ireland. The lore states that John, the oldest son of our earliest known patriot Honest John Caperton (b. 1705), was accused of murdering a prominent Irish official and had to flee the country. That does leave one to wonder how “Honest” John really was! There are no known documents to support this theory yet in the Caperton line, the early generations adhered to a strict naming pattern, usually naming the first son after the oldest brother or father. As far as we know, Honest John’s first son was Hugh, which does seem to break the naming pattern. Tradition holds that the oldest son should have been named John. Of course, all traditions have exceptions. Many 18th century children were named after their richest relative with the hope that if something happened to the parents they would take in the young namesake and raise them as their own. Yet, this story of murder and flight just isn’t logical. If our Honest John was born in 1705, and we know he arrived in the colonies in 1725, that doesn’t allow enough time for him to produce a son who would have been old enough to murder an aristocrat. However, it does have the makings of a grand legend.
There is an almost identical and proven story from another prominent Huguenot family who held close ties with the Capertons’- the Lewis family. John Lewis, father of the famous Colonel Andrew Lewis, fled with his family from County Donegal, Ireland after killing his proprietor in a dispute over a large increase in rent. In fact, the rent increases known as Rack-Rents – sent thousands of Ulster Scots to the colonies between 1725-1729. John was hailed as a hero by his neighboring Protestants and escaped by ship to the colonies. John Lewis was welcomed in America as a hero. To show an example of how one person’s dystopia can easily become another person’s utopia, the Irish criminal John Lewis quickly became High Sheriff of Augusta County Virginia. His son Colonel Andrew Lewis is known as the hero of the battle of Point Pleasant. Hugh and Adam Caperton fought side by side with Col. Lewis as part of the Virginia militia during that battle. It is the opinion of this author that the story of murder and escape attributed to the Caperton family was indeed the story of their close friends, the Lewis family and erroneously passed along as a legend throughout the generations.
There is a final piece of lore about our trustworthy ancestor, Honest John. The designation of “Honest” is listed among several land records, and is written as family lore from many Caperton researchers. We don’t know what made him more honest that any of the other frontier settlers – who knows maybe he told George Washington to spill the beans about his cherry tree! However, it is speculated that he was known as honest in his trade dealings with the Indians, and a good neighbor within his community. That could explain why the Caperton family in Monroe county, was never harassed by the Indians when families all around were sometimes living in terror fearing Shawnee raids.
On a humorous note, the Caperton family was known to have a longstanding rival with another local and prominent family having the surname of Beirne. Andrew Beirne was by far the wealthiest man in the county. Mr. Beirne also took a lot of pride by having the fastest horse in Monroe County. So what was the name of this horse? Honest John of course. Is it possible that Andrew named his horse after his rival or was he somehow sending a not so subtle message to the Caperton family?
The most interesting piece of lore this author has come across was found in an old edition of Harper’s Magazine. In 1972, the editor of the magazine Mr. John Fischer wrote an article about his mother and grandmother. The article is titled “Women’s Lib and the Caperton Girls”. Mr. Fischer’s mother was named Georgia Caperton. She and John descend from the line of Adam Caperton, brother to New River Hugh. Within the article, the author tells a bit about the young life of his mother, aunts and ancestors. In particular, he gives of the description of a family crest that was in the childhood home of his mother. The crest, she claims, depicted the heads of three boars and had some Celtic writing that no one in the family could decipher. Georgia Caperton claimed that the foreign words meant “Root Hog or Die”.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a city girl at heart. The closest I have ever been to a hog or boar would be from a petting zoo and even then, I would stand at a distance. Being a city girl most of my life, it took a bit of research to understand the meaning of these words. It is believed the origin comes from the early Appalachian frontier describing a custom, common to the settlers, for turning their hogs out into the woods during the winter or when times were hard so they could root around for food. The saying is used as a figurative expression that translates to fend for yourself or suffer the consequences. In other words, Caperton family young and old, male or female, you are going to be self-reliant or you will pay the price!
Who knows if this coat of arms is real? However, after researching the early Caperton’s for over a year now, my opinion is that there really could not be a motto that more accurately describes the first few generations of the family in America.
Around 1850 there was a very popular song written by George W.H. Griffin. One can only imagine the young Caperton children and their cousins singing it while they walked to the stream with buckets in hand to fetch water or as they climbed up to the top of a tree to pick the best-looking apples.
I’m right from old Virginny with my pocket full of news
I’m worth twenty shillings right square in my shoes.
It doesn’t make a bit of difference to neither you nor I.
Big pig or little pig, Root, hog or die.