Grave marker launches historical quest

Published 10:26 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What began as a simple, early “spring cleaning” project has turned into a historical quest.

Thanks to the kindness of Mother Nature this past Saturday, I opted to use a rare day off from work to clean out one portion of a barn in my backyard….getting the clutter back in its place prior to the start of the yard maintenance season.

Any project of that magnitude begins with taking every item out of the barn. That’s followed by throwing out the trash; tossing unused items (which means I’ll need one of the them before the end of the week), and then neatly arranging everything back inside the barn. NOTE: The latter accomplishment will only stay that way for less than month!

While taking care of step #1 (removing all items), I stumbled across what I thought was a lost treasure.

Back when I was a child (50-plus years ago), I remember seeing a white granite grave marker bearing the name of a distant relative. All I could remember about that marker was that the person fought in the Civil War and it was laying flat on the ground at my grandparents’ (Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Thomas Joyner) home next door to where I was raised.

I had not seen that marker again until this past Saturday.

While performing my cleaning tasks, I noticed a white slab of stone propped against one wall of the barn. I immediately know what it was, but the marker’s inscription was facing the wall and it was way too heavy for me to turn around.

Luckily, my brother, Tommy, was at my home on Saturday doing some work. After I alerted him to my discovery, he recalled our now late mother asking him to move the marker for safe-keeping from the yard of our late grandparents to the barn.

Upon turning the marker around, we noted it bore the name of William T. Channell. The inscription also included: Company C, 12th NC Calvary, CSA (Confederate States of America). There was no info on the marker on his date of birth or date of death.

Now the question is….who is William T. Channell?

A couple of phone calls later, I learned from my cousin, David Joyner of Chesapeake, VA, that William was the material grandfather of my grandfather.

David said he also remembered the grave marker, saying it was ordered by one of our family elders sometimes around the turn of the 19th century. It was shipped, by rail, to Pendleton. David said he had a copy of the bill of laden for that shipment, but had no recollection of where William T. Channell was buried.

On Sunday, I performed some online research and found, on the Federal Census conducted in 1850, there was a William H. Channel (a single l at the end of the surname rather than two) living in Northampton County at that time. He was listed as a 24-year-old laborer, which means by the time the Civil War started, he would have been in his mid 30’s.

That listing also contained the names of James Channel, a 21-year-old laborer (William’s brother by chance???), and 68-year-old Henry Channel (possibly the father or of some relation to William and James?).

As far as William Channell’s military service in the Civil War, an online database from the National Park Service had him listed as a Private with the 16th Battalion, North Carolina Cavalry. That had me a bit confused as the grave marker was inscribed with info saying he was a member of the 12th Calvary.

Additional research helped solve that mystery. It seems that the 12th Cavalry was organized in May, 1863, with three companies- two from Northampton and one joint group from Bertie and Hertford counties. The unit skirmished in North Carolina, then moved to fight in Virginia.

On July 11, 1864, Companies A and B merged into the 59th North Carolina Regiment-4th Cavalry, and Company C (my great-great grandfather’s group) transferred to the 16th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel J. Wheeler was in command.

Cousin David and myself vowed to meet sometimes this year at the county courthouse in Jackson to perform additional research on William T. Channell. In the meantime, any members of today’s Channell (or Channel) family can contact me at the info below.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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