Sunday, June 3, 2012

John and Coonrod: A Tale of Two Pyles

Photo courtesy of

So in digging through my ancestors (and sometimes successfully avoiding my difficult novel), I’ve come across two somewhat famous persons of the name “Pyle” / “Pile.” Both were born in Orange County, North Carolina (about 200 miles east of where I now live). One is related to me, and the other is not.

The first, the elder, is named (believe it or not) John Pyle. He was a grandson of Nicholas Pyle, who emigrated from England to America in 1683 for the Quaker colony (Pennsylvania). Born in 1723 and educated in England as a doctor, John Pyle grew up to become a famous colonel on the British side of the Revolutionary War (Google: “Pyle’s Massacre”). But when he had a falling out with General Cornwallis, he switched sides (betrayed his country?), and became a spy for General Washington—instrumental in the Colonists’ victory. After the war, Colonel Pyle settled in Orange County, North Carolina, where he died at the age of 81. (Learn more about him here)

The second, the younger, is named Conrad Pile (or Piles, as it sometimes is listed), more likely of German than British descent. He was born in 1766, evidently, and may have fought among the Colonists—as a mercenary. After the war, he and Mary Rich tied the knot: she was about 15 and he was about 17. Conrad grew up to become a kind of pioneer, crossing the Appalachians and building a log home, and later a toll road, in Fentress, Tennessee. He acquired the nickname “Coonrod”—and a lot of wealth. He died and was buried in Tennessee at age 84. (Learn more about him here)

Care to guess which is my ancestor? You got it: Coonrod. Though I was born and raised in the North, my great-ancestor traded slaves and dealt shrewdly with Native Americans and early American settlers, amassing lots of wealth. He made a life for himself in the new world, not always (I’m sure) with the best of intentions or outcomes. Then his wealth was lost during the Civil War. Two of his great-grandsons fought on the Union side; another of his grandsons was “a Confederate sympathizer.” But before that war, my branch of the family had already moved out West. According to one researcher, two of Coonrod’s sons, Jacob and Daniel, “were close and moved together to Indiana in 1818, then to Illinois in 1827, where they prospered.”

This bit of trivia just confirms again my deep-rooted interest in stories about “the rest of us”: people who don’t make the epic decisions that shape world politics, but whose lives and decisions are meaningful and dramatic enough without that.


  1. What an interesting discovery...100 years from now - i wonder what your decendants will find out about you!

    1. Hopefully something half as interesting - though I have my doubts. (I've never owned a long-rifle, for instance.)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...