The History of the Berry Family

Although Berrys have been on American soil since the 17th Century, it appears that the forefathers of Captain Thomas Berry did not arrive in the Colonies until the 18th Century. Early records show that James Berry, Thomas Berry’s great-great grandfather was living in Virginia in 1750, having come there from Northern Ireland several years before. Records indicate that he was married to Elizabeth Enfield, a name that was passed on through the generations. From this first Berry, we see a long line of Jameses and Thomases filling the pages of the Berry history. The Berry’s move from Augusta County, Virginia to Washington County, Virginia, and in 1798, they move to Montgomery County, Tennessee.

Let’s pick back up with the lineage with Thomas Berry, Captain Thomas Berry’s grandfather. Thomas married Elizabeth Walker, daughter of William Walker and Mary Weir, in Rockdale County, Virginia in 1788. Thomas and Elizabeth had six children, including James Enfield Berry, who was born in Washington County, Virginia on April 5, 1790. Thomas died in Blount County, Tennessee in 1805. Elizabeth lived to age 70, dying in Mississippi in 1836.

James Enfield Berry moved to Blount County, Tennessee with his parents in 1798. He married Rebecca Crawford McChesney in that same county on August 13, 1818. Rebecca was the daughter of James McChesney and Sarah Wilcox Crawford. James Berry worked as a merchant and postmaster in Maryville, Blount County, Tennessee. He and Rebecca had seven children, of whom Thomas was the second. The family moved to Chattanooga in the late 1830’s, and James served as the city’s first mayor in 1840. Rebecca died August 24, 1841, in Chattanooga, and is buried in the Citizens’ Cemetery there.

In 1843, James Berry moved to Summerville, in Chattooga County, Georgia and married for a second time to Araminta McLester on November 2, 1843. According to the 1850 census, James and Araminta were living in Jacksonville, Alabama with their young son Josepha, along with William and John, the two youngest sons from his first marriage. James died in 1857 in Jacksonville.

Thomas, who had lived at home with his family until around 1840, was eager for new challenges and opportunities. From 1847 to 1848, he served in Company D of the Battalion of Georgia Mounted Volunteers during the Mexican War, obtaining the rank of First Lieutenant. In addition, he traveled to California for the gold rush in 1849, staying there for approximately two years. There is no documentation about his activities from 1850 until 1860.

On April 10, 1860, at the age of 39, he married Frances Margaret Rhea in Cherokee County, Alabama. Frances was the daughter of Lewis L. Rhea, a wealthy plantation owner, and Martha Holloway Rhea. Thomas and Frances lived on a plantation in the Turkeytown area, a few miles east of Gadsden in Cherokee County (later Etowah County). Less than one year after he and Frances married, Thomas rejoined the military. He enlisted in Company A, Thirty-first Regiment, Alabama Infantry on March 3, 1861. Thomas served, initially as first lieutenant and eventually as captain. During the war, he was appointed assistant quartermaster and was responsible for procuring supplies for the army. He was with his company when they surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, but was paroled a few days later and returned to Alabama, where he continued serving in the capacity of assistant quartermaster.

After the war, the Berry family moved to Rome. In 1866, Thomas purchased his first property in Floyd County, a home on Howard Street (now Second Avenue). In July 1871, he purchased the property now known as Oak Hill. Jennie and Martha were born during the years that the Berrys lived in Alabama. The other children, Bessie, Thomas, Lila, Laura, and Frances, were born after the family moved to Rome. Thomas and his brothers, James and John, were partners in Berrys and Company, a mercantile business and cotton brokerage. Thomas withdrew from the business in the early 1880s, after suffering a stroke. Thomas Berry died on January 18, 1887.