Say My Name

An African-American Family History

The Koonces Come to America

     The oldest Koonce ancestor I have been able to trace so far is Solomon Koonce. Solomon was born a slave somewhere in North Carolina. I’m not sure if actual German Koonce blood flowed through his veins.

      The surname Koonce is a derivation of the German name Conrad, Cunitz, Kuntz, Kunz It means “bold, counsel.” The history of the White Koonce line that owned Solomon began around 1710 with the arrival of Johann Christian Kunitsli in North Carolina. This Koonce family originated in the Palatine region along the upper Rhine River in southern Germany. The area had been at war since 1702. The people were suffering from famine and religious persecution. Queen Anne of England presented them with an option. Leave their home and migrate to England where they would be given refuge and property or stay and suffer in their homeland. Many Swiss and Germans from the Palatinate area decided to leave and migrated to England in 1708. Johann Cunitz, his wife Alicia and at least two young sons, Michael and George, were among these refugees.

      After settling in England, Johann and his family found the new living conditions poor and the promises of land just another empty one. It made the decision to move across the Atlantic an easy one. Two men offered the refugees this alternative. Christopher De Graffenreid and Lewis Mitchell of Bern, Switzerland had arranged a contract with the Lord Proprietors of Carolina in America for 10,000 acres of land between the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, the area that is now called Cape Fear. De Graffenreid and Mitchell then arranged for the transport and settlement of 100 Palatine families from England with the promise of 100 acres to each family. De Graffenreid was given the title of baron after this contract. Around 1709 or 1710, after an arduous sea journey, 92 families arrived in Virginia. This was also around the time Alicia gave birth to a daughter.

      Life did not get any better after their arrival in America. First, Mitchell was killed by the native Indians. De Graffenreid returned to Switzerland in a midst of financial turmoil without giving the titles to the land to the settlers. Instead, he decided to mortgage the land to a Thomas Pollack. The settlers traveled on foot to Thomas Pollack’s plantation along the Chowan River so as to avoid privateers and also the sand bars at the mouth of the James River. They crossed the Albermarie sound into Bath County and was relocated in May or June by John Lawson to an area between the Neuse and Trent Rivers.

      The colonist had set out with their hopes, strong religious convictions, their bibles and their long guns. However, neither their faith nor their guns were able to sustain them. In 1711, De Graffenreid returned with several hundred more settlers from Switzerland. This was the last straw for the native Indians who resented the encroachment of White people on their land. In September of 1711, The Tuscacero Indians combined forces, captured De Graffenreid and massacred a large number of the colonists.

      All of Johann’s family save one son perished in that massacre. Eight year old George was the only survivor. From an old family bible it was recorded that “Johan Cunys as a Palatine and come to America A.D. 1710 was killed in battle by Tuskaraurs Indiana at Core Creek on September 23, 1711 A.D. Age 26 years. George Koonce the soul surviving child of John Koonce died on Jan. The 28th 1778 age 73 yer. And 9 mos. And 24 days."

      Craven County, North Carolina precinct court minutes for January 21, 1712/13 state that George Koonce, orphan, was placed under the guardianship of Capt. Jacob Miller with other orphans. He was probably apprenticed to Captain Miller to pay off his family’s debts as was the custom of that time. When he came of age, George married Mary L’Earge, daughter of Jacobe L’Earge, Sr., in 1724.

      George and Mary made their home on a plantation located on the north side of the Trent River and east side of Chinquapin Creek. There they raised seven sons--John, Jacob, Michael, George Jr., Tobias, Christian and Daniel. John, George, Michael and Tobias served in the Craven County Militia in 1754. That same year, John was born to George Jr. and his wife Susannah Letty. This couple produced several more children including another George, Phillip the American revolutionary hero, Daniel, Lemuel and Christopher. Third generation John married a woman named Lucy in North Carolina. To this union was born Isaac and Alice.


Koonces Come To Tennessee

 Around 1826, possibly the year that Solomon was born, David Nunn and parson John Koonce migrated to Haywood County, Tennessee. David was married to John’s daughter Alice. Isaac Koonce also came to Haywood County around the same time. David Nunn bought and sold slaves on the side. There is a strong possibility that Nunn bought Solomon for Isaac. There is an account of David Nunn’s life written for his descendants’ family reunion. The following excerpt from that account is included below because it has some bearing on how Solomon may have been purchased.

      “How often he would tell us that he rode the road to North Carolina and back eleven times; and that the first time he went back his pappy wrote him that he had collected some money for him, and that he wanted him to come and get it. While he was there a sale came off in the neighborhood and he attended and bought two little Negro children, Mose and Sookie, and brought them back to Tennessee with him.. . .How strange this must sound to people to the present day. I must digress here to say something of the sentiment of the people of that day against the crime of slavery. Our grandmother Else was always opposed to slavery, and never willingly consented for her husband to buy a negro. They were both kind to the negroes and gave them unusual liberties, and took good care of them. It was said of Grandpappy that in order to buy negroes, he would scheme to loan money to his neighbors and when they could not pay it back, would offer purchase a negro. He would tell Elsie it was mighty hard to lose his money, and that he would lose it unless she consented to his taking a negro for it, and it said that Grandpappy would then always select one from the largest family the fellow had, and then persuade Elise that it was wrong to separate them and prevail on her to consent for him to buy the other as he was able.

      . . .Grandpappy strongly opposed secession and was always in favor of the Union.. . .And he never forgave Lincoln for freeing his negroes without compensations after, he said, he worked so hard for them.”

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