Our family were Virginians, settlers in what is called the North Neck of Virginia, comprising what is now Stafford, Fauquier, Lowder, Prince William, Clark and Frederick Counties. The origin of the family is not known. It has been lost in the obscurity of the past, as indeed what family’s has not.
All of the name in America can be traced with reasonable certainty to this origin in Virginia.
We will briefly look at the reasons for the settlement. The greatest part of this territory had been granted to certain followers of the British Kings in payment for debts or other services performed. These were called the proprietors, and in turn, acting in the role of real estate agents, settled their lands by means of "quit rents". This was a system in which they granted farms to the immigrants in return for an initial payment, and an annual rent usually of very modest proportions. Thus, this rent system is a reminder of the old feudal system of the Middle Ages in which they retained some interest in the land, due to the quit rents.
To be sure, there are traditions that have come down in the family relative to the origin, and some of these we will discuss. One tradition is that the name O’Rior (pronounced O’Rear) which was a branch of the O’Carrol family of County Tipperrary, and which migrated to County Cork, and there became members of the McCarthy family.
Then also, there is a very persistent tradition in the family, that they were of French Hugeunot origin.
The location of the original plantation in Stafford County was very close to Brent Town. Brent Town was a fort established in the middle 1600’s by James Brent and Colonel William Fitzhugh who probably first attempted to settle their lands with Catholic refugees from Ireland, and when that failed, with French Huguenots. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 removed the protection of religious freedom in France. Although a few families were settled, both of these ventures were failures.
It is also a strange coincidence that when John O’Rear took a grant of four hundred acres from Lady Catherine Fairfax (Proprietor of the Northern Neck) on August 30, 1711, it was the same day, and in the same area as a group of grantees of obviously French origin, namely Louis Reno, Reinhardt de Lafayolle, Louis Tacquett, and Clement Chevalle. Those all located near the traditional site of Brent Town in 1711. They may have been settlers from Mannakin Town near Jamestown, on the James River in Powahatan County. (Settled in 1701.) However, the Mannakin Town settlers have been listed, and none of the above appear in that settlement, so they may have been remnants of the Brent Town settlers in 1688.
The only material evidence of the origin of the family exists in the old sword by tradition brought to this country, which bears the mark of the crown, and cipher of King Charles of England. King Charles I, we know from history was a Catholic monarch who was supported largely by the Catholic Irish, but was defeated and was finally executed by the followers of Oliver Cromwell. At that time, the remnants of his Irish army were given the choice of emigrating or being executed. Many went to France and Spain, and were in the service in the army of those respective countries. Inasmuch as this happened in 1650, the O’Rears may have spent a generation in France, and came to America with the Huguenots in 1701.
Another tradition of the family is that John O’Rear came to this country in 1650, and settled in New Jersey, later migrating to Virginia. (See sketch no. 3.)
In religion, all of the O’Rears from colonial days were Protestants, and were members of the dissenter sects, mostly Methodist.
According to a history of the North Neck of Virginia the inhabitants of this area were mostly farmers, or planters. They were divided into two groups, the Chotankers and the Tuckahoes, most of these being of English stock. The Chotankers were generally considered to be more well to do people and the Tuckahoes were the small yeoman class of planter, although size of plantation was no real determinative. Although of a different ethnic origin (Irish and French) the O’Rears by association and intermarriage would have been considered Chotankers. One major difference in the two classes was in the matter of servants, the Chotankers generally using Negro slaves, and the Tuckahoes using bonded white servants from the British Isles. These bonded white servants were in some cases political prisoners such as from the Battle of Flodden Field who were given the choice of being executed or deported as bonded servants. Most took the latter course. Some also were freemen who bonded themselves in order to pay for their passage to America. Many of the bonded servants were convicted felons. The Tuckahoes used them because they were considerably cheaper than the Negro slaves. The Chotankers looked down upon this practice because eventually upon serving their time, these servants became freemen, and members of the community. Upon being freed, many of them formed bands of robbers and murderers, who roamed the countryside, stealing livestock and burning the settlers’ homes. The great home of the Lee family in nearby Westmoreland County was burned by one of these bands, and Stratford Hall, birthplace of General R. E. Lee, was built with royal monies granted to the Lee family in compensation for this. The Chotankers could not foresee the Yankee imperialism of 1861-1865, and the events succeeding it. The O’Rears used mostly Negro slaves, though there is a record that John O’Rear (No 26) also had bonded white servants, probably used as house servants.
The original grant of 400 acres was divided equally between John and Daniel O’Rear, grandsons of the original immigrant. On his portion, John built Cloverfield about 1742, which remained standing until it burned in 1935. John’s brother Daniel, had only two children, John and Daniel O’Rear. His son Daniel disappears with no evidence of descendants, although there is some evidence that he moved to Frederick County, Virginia, where a Moravian missionary mentions him in his travels there, about 1740. We can only assume he had no children, or perhaps this family perished with many others in the indian Wars about that time. Daniel O’Rear’s other son, John, evidently sold his lands on Cedar Run in the early 1700’s. The Court Minute Book of Prince Williams County records in 1755, "John O’Rear, the younger, acknowledges deeds and releases and receipt endorsed to Thomas Harrison." and Thomas Harrison’s will in 1744 leaves: "To my son Benjamin, the old plantation, mill, and land belonging, which I purchased of my father on Cedar Run below the mouth of Darrill’s Run and the land I purchased of John O’Rear adjoining the aforesaid land."
Various old records indicate that this John (No. 26) relocated near Thomas Marshall’s home, in Northern Fauquier County. Due to the destruction of the old county court records during the War Between the States, by troops quartered in the Court House, the old deed records of this date are missing. In the year 1779 John moves to Wilkes County, North Carolina, settling on the Little River, a branch of the New River. His son Daniel tells of this move in his application for a pension for Revolutionary War service. He appears on the tax list of Wilkes County of 1782 with 1,116 acres of land, and was granted patents for 320 acres, and 150 acres. His application for a pension for Revolutionary War service says, "In the month of October, 1780, while a prisoner as above his father’s house was attacked and robbed by the Tories. His discharges and parole were in his father’s trunk, which was taken, and in that way, all his discharges were lost."
Daniel also tells of the move in 1790 to Hancock County, Georgia. Two of John’s other sons, John and Benjamin, also appear in the early Indian wars in Georgia. He had a large family. Of his sons we have record of: Jeremiah, John, Daniel, Robert, Benjamin, and possibly Enoch. Jeremiah apparently moved to Randolph County, North Carolina, where he appears in the U.S. census of 1790. We have no records of any descendants. John’s son, Daniel, we know, moved to Hancock County, Georgia, and then on to Bledsco, and from there to Franklin County, Tennessee, in 1822,. His descendants later moved to Walker County, alabama, and thus be became the forebear of most of the O’Rears of Walker County. John’s sons John and Benjamin apparently removed with him to Hancock County, Georgia, and most of the former’s descendants moved to Texas prior to the War between the States, and the latter died in Hancock County in 1802. He had a grandson, Elisha, who was a Confederate officer and was killed in battle in Franklin, Tennessee in 1864.
For convenience in identification of the family, I have grouped the descendants of John O’Rear (No. 26) of Hancock County as the Georgia branch. In general, the movement of the family, like all settlers in the original thirteen colonies, was westward, and the O’Rears in the states of Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas are mostly descendants from this branch of the family.
Returning to the descendants of John O’Rear of Prince William County, Virginia, we find that he had seven sons, namely: John, Daniel, William, Jeremiah, Enoch, Benjamin, and Jesse. He also had three daughters: Mary, Elizabeth, and Margaret. Three of his sons, Jeremiah, Jesse, and Benjamin first moved to the Shennandoah Valley about the time of the Revolutionary War. From a history of the Catlett family we learn that the Catletts and the Nevilles were friends of Lord William Fairfax, who induced them to move to Frederick County, and inasmuch as Jeremiah and Benjamin married daughters of John Cattlett, this no doubt influenced their decision to locate here. Benjamin and Jesse have descendants living there today.
Jeremiah and all of his family moved to Kentucky before the turn of the 19th century, settling first at Boonesborough , in Madison County. The family later moved to Clark County, onto land patented to them.
The descendants of Benjamin and Jesse O’Rear I have grouped as the Virginia branch. Some members of this family moved west to Missouri and Ohio.
Of the three daughters, Mary married first James Chamberlain, who was a Revolutionary War soldier, and later Jeduthury Blackerby. Her descendants later moved to Bracken County, Kentucky. Margaret married a man by the name of Jamieson, and lived in Culpepper County, Virginia. Some of her descendants also moved to Montgomery County, Kentucky about the turn of the century. Elizabeth did not marry.
As was common in those days, most of the early members of the family had large families, and due to circumstances, it was necessary to move westward to available farmlands. After 1800, all the migration was westward. The branches became intermingled in the states further west, and the geographical grouping is no longer applicable.