John Toliver
of Wilkes County, NC

John Toliver, presumed father of the "Five Toliver Brothers" of Wilkes Co., NC, was born abt. 1725 (rough estimate), probably in Virginia. The only thing known about him is his name, and even that is subject to debate (see notes, below).

Possible children of John Toliver:

  1. Moses Toliver was born before 1750, maybe in Fauquier Co., VA; reportedly died 1815 en route to Indiana.  First appears on the 1774 Tax List of Surry Co., NC.  On June 3, 1778, he entered a land claim for 100 acres on Mulberry Creek in Wilkes Co., NC.  (Wilkes Land Entry Book, No. 158.)  On Oct. 27, 1782, he and his wife Elizabeth conveyed these 100 acres to Abraham EDINS.  (Wilkes DB A-1, p.254.)  They then moved to the South Fork of the New River in the vicinity of Dog Creek.  (See Wilkes Co., NC, DB D, p.392; Ashe Land Grant No. 966.)  Moses and his family reportedly left for Indiana in 1815 and Moses died on the way.
  2. William Toliver was born before 1750, maybe in Fauquier Co., VA; d. 1824, Warren Co., TN; m. (1) Susannah, (2) Juda DENNY BALTRIP, a widow, bef. 1805. William Toliver first appears on the 1771 Tax List of Surry Co., NC. In 1778 and 1779, he entered claims for land in Wilkes Co., NC, on Harris' Creek and the south fork of the Roaring River. (Wilkes Land Entry Book, Nos. 152, 817, 1244.) He moved to Warren Co., TN, bef. 1812 when he appears on a tax list. See W. Wayne Rogers, Greener Pastures: From the Tidewater to Texas and Beyond (1996).  Children: Zachariah Toliver (c.1785), Nancy B. Toliver (1785), John Toliver (1786), Charles Toliver (c.1789), Jacob Toliver (c.1790), William Toliver (c.1798).
  3. Sarah Toliver, b. 1755-1765, VA or NC; d. ? in Coffee Co., TN; m. David HICKERSON. They lived in Wilkes Co., NC, until abt. 1812 when they moved to Franklin Co., TN, which later became Coffee Co., TN.
  4. +Jesse Toliver, b. 1756, Fauquier Co., VA; d. Mar. 4, 1838, in Ashe Co., NC; m. Martha Frances "Franky" STAMPER, daughter of Jonathan & Rachel STAMPER, Apr. 1782, Wilkes Co., NC (b. Feb. 14, 1767; d. 1850-1860).
  5. +John Toliver, b. abt. 1764 in North Carolina; d. 1862, Alleghany Co., NC; m. Tabitha HOWELL, daughter of James HOWELL, around 1784 (b. 1765; d. 1845).
  6. Lucy Toliver, b. 1765-1774, probably in NC; d. 1832 in Lawrence Co., IN; m. William MAXWELL, abt. 1786 (b. 1755-1765; d. 1820-1830 in Lawrence Co., IN).
  7. Charles Toliver, b. 1765-1774, probably in NC; d. 1832, Lawrence Co., IN; m. Susan EDWARDS, daughter of David EDWARDS, Sr., & Elizabeth MORRIS (b. 1765-1774; d. 1840-1850); bur. Freedom Cemetery, Lawrence Co., IN.  On July 28, 1791, Charles Toliver purchased a tract of land on the Little River & the mouth of Bledsoes Creek in what was then Wilkes Co., NC (later Ashe, later Alleghany Co., NC). (Wilkes DB B-1, p.393.)  Jan. 1, 1798, granted 100 acres in Wilkes Co. adj. his own land & Vial Creek. (Land Grant No. 1576.)  Listed in the 1800 census of Ashe Co., NC, and 1810 census of Surry Co., NC.  Moved to Lawrence Co., IN, in 1815.  Will dated 1832 in Lawrence Co., IN.  Daughter Thursey Toliver Way was interviewed by the Lawrence Co., IN, Farmer's Guide on Feb. 26, 1916, when she was 103 years old.


John Toliver is the presumed father of the five Toliver "brothers" (Moses, William, Jesse, John, and Charles) who appear in the records in Surry County, NC, in 1771.  The Brothers had two "sisters", Sarah Toliver who married David Hickerson, and Lucy Toliver who married William Maxwell.  Nothing is known about the mysterious father of the "Five Brothers."  Jesse Toliver's family Bible, which is preserved in his Revolutionary War pension file, has the name "JOHN TOLIVER, J." (Jr.?) written at the top of a page over the name Jesse Toliver, followed by a list of Jesse Toliver's children.  This seems to suggest that Jesse Toliver's father was named John Toliver.  However, there is still a lot of speculation and debate about the origin of the Five Brothers.

The first record of the Toliver family in western North Carolina is the Surry County tax list of 1771, which shows two Toliver households: JOHN TOLIVER, with one "poll" (i.e., one adult subject to the poll tax), and WILLIAM TOLIVER, four polls.  Some researchers believe that William must have been the father of the "brothers."  Three years later, the tax list of 1774 records the presence of JOHN TOLIVER, WILLIAM TOLIVER, MOSES TOLIVER, and JESSE TOLIVER, one poll each.  During the 1770's and 1780's, we find Jesse, Moses, John, and William Tolliver (Toliver, Tollafaro) living in the vicinity of Mulberry Creek, Roaring River, and Round Top Mountain in Wilkes County.  (Wilkes County was formed from Surry County in 1777.)

A land entry in Wilkes County dated June 3, 1778 (Entry No. 159) states that JESSE TOLOVER entered 300 acres on Mulberry waters on both sides of road leading from John ROBBINS, Sr. over to Roaring River Settlement, "being improvement JOHN TOLOVER, SR. now lives on."  This entry implies that there were two John Tolivers in Wilkes County (an older and a younger) who needed to be distinguished in the records.  The elder John Toliver could have been Jesse's father.

Some researchers have identified Jesse Toliver's father as Dr. John Taliaferro who lived on Fisher's River in Surry County, NC, but this is unlikely.  Dr. John Taliaferro was a Baptist minister and physician originally from Caroline County, VA.  (See The Heritage of Surry County, Vol. I (1983).)  Jesse Toliver was born in Fauquier County, VA, according to his Revolutionary War pension application, and his family moved to the James River about 30 miles above Richmond (i.e., probably Goochland or Cumberland County, VA) before migrating to North Carolina.

The 1956 book by Sherman Nell Watson, Richard Taliaferro (1762-1836) His Ancestors and Descendants, claimed that the "Five Brothers" were sons of Charles Taliaferro and Ann Kemp of Essex County, VA.  But Charles Taliaferro died in 1721 and could not have been the father of any of the "Brothers," who were born in the 1740's to the 1760's.

A DNA study conducted in 2003 by the Taliaferro DNA Project found a genetic match between descendants of four of the "Five Brothers" (Jesse, Charles, William, and Moses).  A descendant of the fifth brother, John, did not match the others.  However, John, Jesse, and Moses did consider themselves to be brothers, proven by a declaration that John Toliver filed in 1856 in support of a Revolutionary War pension application by the widow of Capt. Samuel Johnson.  In the declaration, John refers to his "older brothers" Jesse and Moses Toliver (more…)  It is possible that additional descendants of John Toliver need to be tested to verify the DNA results.  If the results are valid, then John Toliver must have had a different father than Jesse and Moses.

None of the Five Toliver Brothers matched anyone from the Taliaferro family of Virginia, which rules out out the Taliaferros as ancestors of the Toliver Brothers, at least in a direct male line.  It is possible that the Tolivers could be related to the Taliaferros through a female line, such as a child born out of wedlock who took the Taliaferro (Toliver) name.  Although it is difficult to speculate about the actual relationhip between the Tolivers and the Taliaferros, it is true that the Toliver family of Wilkes and Alleghany County occasionally spelled their name Talifer, Talifero or Tollafaro rather than Toliver, and there is even an example of the exact spelling Taliaferro in an 1867 deed involving the heirs of Jesse Toliver's son Solomon Toliver (Alleghany DB 3:336).

So, the Five Toliver Brothers continue to be an intriguing source of speculation, conjecture, and debate among their descendants.  Was their father John or William?  Did they really come from Fauquier County, VA?  Were they really brothers, or perhaps cousins?  Were they related to the Taliaferros of Virginia?  We may never known all the answers to this riddle.