An American Family History


Renfro Family

  also spelled Renfrow, Rentfroe, Rentfro, Rentphrow, Ranfrow  

Joseph Renfro was born about 1700. He married Mary Randolph.

Joseph and Mary's children may have included:

Joseph Renfro (1733)
Mary Renfro (1734)
Susannah Renfro (1737)
James Renfro
John Renfro (1744)
William Renfro (1755)
Joshua Renfro (1767)
Mark Renfro (1758)
Hannah Renfro (1749).

Joseph Renfro was a lieutenant in the French and Indian Wars.

Five sons of Joseph Renfro were officers in the Revolutionary War.

In June 1780, Joseph died in a raid.


The Cherokeewere indigenous people who lived in the southern Appalachian mountains. European Americans called their towns in eastern Tennessee, the Overhill Towns. The towns included Chota, Tellico and Tanasi.

In 1776, the Cherokee planned to drive settlers out of the Washington District. The settlers were warned and stopped the first attack at Heaton's Station. The second attack was stopped at Fort Watauga. In response to these attacks, the militia burned Tuskegee and Citico.

In 1780, while the militia was away at the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Cherokee raided the setttlements. When the militia returned, Colonel John Sevier's men defeated the Cherokee at Boyd's Creek and destroyed most of the remaining towns.

from Kingsport Times News, November 22, 1964

"Silver In Them Thar Hills?"
By L,. F. Addington
Times-News Correspondent
Glamorgan, Virginia

. . . 200 years have thus far failed to reveal Swift's fatal secret that legend says brought sudden, violent death to six men and left the finder crazed. John Swift's story has been told and re-told in song and print until it has become a legend.

The single proven fact is that John Swift did exist, and did live in this mountain country in the mid-1700s. He was said to be a freebooter--mountain talk for a person having "some connection with pirates on the seas," and why he came to the hills has been lost in time.

But come he did, and he supposedly had several silver mines in the vicinity of Pine Mountain at Pound Gap.

Shawnee and Cherokee Indian legend has it that a mammoth cave runs through this portion of Pine Mountain. The area of the mountain above the cave rang hollow when their horses traveled over it, so the Shawnees called the place "Hollow Mountain." The cave was sacred to the Shawnees, for somewhere back in the mists of time they hid their women and children there from the Cherokees during a big battle.

The Shawnees lost the battle, but saved their families. Adding fuel to the big cave legend is the fact that the first road surveys through here called the road up Elkhorn Creek to a gap in Pine Mountain "the road from Pikeville to Sounding Gap."

Then Swift's eyesight began to fail, so he ordered the treasure buried and the small entrance to the cave stopped up and hidden. He went to the home of his lady friend, Mrs, Joseph Renfro at Bean's Station, Tenn., to rest.

Fearing total blindness, he later took four white men and two Shawnees to the Hollow Mountain to remove the silver. That's where greed overcame John Swift. He took his scalping knife and killed all six men. Then, crazed by his crime, he rode out of the wilderness and back to Mrs. Renfro.

The lady wheedled the story out of him, and was so shocked at the killings that she ordered Swift from her home. He left, but he also left his journal and a map with Mrs. Renfro. Fearing scandal, the lady hid the Journal and map and never mentioned them for many year. But she kept the documents, along with directions for finding the treasure cave. Swift? He went completely blind and could never find his silver cavern again, although he spent a lifetime searching for it. Neither has anyone else, although many there are who have tried.

A pirate attacks and robs at sea. A privateer is a pirate with a commission from a government. Buccaneers were pirates in Caribbean in the 17th century.

Slavery is an immoral system of forced labor where people are treated as property to be bought and sold. It was legal in the American Colonies and the United States until the Civil War.

In the name of God, Amen: I, Joseph Renfro of Bedford County, and colony....

I give and bequeath to Mary, my dearly beloved wife, her or my bed and furniture, my riding horse and her saddle, likewise the best Negro wench, likewise her third part according to law so long as she continues a widow.

Also I give to my beloved son, James...

Also, I give to my beloved son-in-law Moses Renfro, living, and his deceased wife...

and an equal share of my Negroes after my decease to my son Mark Renfro...

Also I give to my beloved son Mark Renfro, the north side of the land on Black Water which I now dwell on, likewise his equal part of my Negroes.

As I have in the last part given or bequeathed to my son Joshua Renfro, an entry south side of Black Water equally to be divided across according to their lines.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this fourteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two.

Signed, sealed and published.
Joseph Renfro.

At a court held for Bedford Co., VA, March 25, 1776, the within last will and testament of Joseph Renfro, Gentleman, deceased, was proved by the oath of James Hunt, Administration was granted to the three older sons, James Renfro, John Renfro and William Renfro, whereupon they, together with John Talbott and Charles Lynch, Gentlemen, entered into and acknowledged their bond in the penalty of three thousand pounds for the due and faithful administration of the said decedent’s estate and performance of his will.


Stephen Renfro, Sr. was born about 1707 in Virginia. His father was William Renfro.

He married Esther Van Bibber.

Esther Renfro (1739, married John Looney, son of Robert and Elizabeth Looney),
Stephen Renfro, Jr. (1736)
John Renfro
Elizabeth Renfro (1745, married John Looney, son of Robert and Margaret Looney)
David Renfro (1744).

After Esther died, Stephen married Margaret Rhea Looney. She was the daughter of Matthew Rhea and the widow of Robert Looney.

Stephen, John and Stephen, Jr. signed the 1777 petition of Holston men.

In 1782, Steven Sr. and Jr. received land warrants in Sullivan County.

The Holston River flows from Kingsport to Knoxville.
map by Kmusser

from The National Gazette 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
17 Jul 1821, Tue  •  Page 3

On Sinking Creek, Va. the 26th of February last, Esther Looney, consort of the late John Looney, in the 82nd year of her age, after a short illness. She was the first white female born in Botetourt County, west of James River.


Joseph Renfro was born about 1767 in Virginia.

Joseph's children probably included:

Absalom C. Renfro (1794, married Levicy Tipton),
Frances Renfro (1796),
James W. Renfro (1795),
William. C. Renfro (1796),
Malinda Renfro (1804, married John K. Ensor),
Paulina Renfro (1806),
Henry Carty Renfro (1809),
Joseph B. Renfro (1811),
Margaret Renfro (1815), and
Evalina Elizabeth Renfro (1819).

About 1824, several members were excommunicated from the Sinking Creek Baptist Church. The church split over who was to baptize Fanny Renfro. The excommunicated included Joseph Renfro. They went to Boones Creek Baptist Church.

At the time of the 1830 census, the family was in Carter County, Tennessee. The household consisted of:

a man between 60 and 69 -Joseph
a woman between 30 and 39
2 men and a woman between 20 & 29
a boy between 15 and 19
2 girls between 10 and 14
an enslaved woman between 24 and 35
2 enslaved boys and girl under 10

In 1850 Joseph Renfro (b. 1767) was living with Henry C. Renfro in Carter County.

Joseph died on March 19, 1853.




In the name of God amen, I Stephen Renfrow of Knox County and State of Tennessee, being of sound and perfect mind and memory and blessed by God, do this Nintheenth day of December 1802 publish this my last will and Testament, 

that is to say,

first I do hereby set free my Negro winch Jean and her forth child named Will on account of singular service performed to me. 

2. I give and bequaith to the Lawful heirs of John and Stephen Renfrow my beloved sons both deceased an equal share with Elizabeth Looney, Ester Looney, also Moses Looney son of my beloved wife. 

3. My Plantation and all my Personal and Real estate to be sold to the highest advantage and divided amoung the Legatees after the decease of my Wife, and further that it may be fully understood the Heirs of John and Stephen Renfrow be considered as two Heirs, and their Heirs to receive there shar[e] or fifth part of said estate when they are of full age from the Executioner, all Debts and Funeral expense being paid off. 

4. And lastly I do const[it]ute appoint, and ordain Moses Looney son of my Wife to be my whole and sole Executor of this my last Will and Testament in witness whereof I Stephen Rentfrow have set my hand and affixed my seal this 19th day of Decemr. 1802.

Signed sealed published and his declared by Testater in presence Stephen Rentphrow
of us Jno Adair
and Wm. Sample. mark



Colonial Maryland
Colonial New England
Colonial Virginia & West Virginia
Quakers & Mennonites
New Jersey Baptists
German Lutherans
Watauga Settlement
Pennsylvania Pioneers
Midwest Pioneers
Jewish Immigrants

©Roberta Tuller 2020
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