The surname Kerfoot (or alternately spelled Kearfott), like many other surnames, was a locational name and would have meant “dweller at the hill-slope at the foot of the hills (or valley)” or simply a family who lived at the foot of a hill or in a valley. Surnames such as Kerfoot were used by those who lived near some landscape feature like a hill, valley, tree, etc.
As with most early surnames, there were spelling variations including: Kyrfytt, Kearfott, Kerfut, Carefoot, Carefoote, Cearfoot, Kerfoote and Kearfoote, just to name a few. There was one instance of the same soldier, William Kearfott, whose name was spelled three different ways on the historical register of Virginians in the Revolutionary War – Carefeet, Karfatt and Kerfoot.
A quick search at Find-A-Grave yielded these surnames: Carefoot, Carefoote, Kerfoot, Kearfoot, Kerfott and Kearfott. The most reliable records regarding the first Kerfoot to land in America appear to be those researched in Kerfoot, Kearfott and Allied Families in America (KKAFA). The history of that family is taken from that volume and summarized below.
According to KKAFA, there were at least three family branches in North America – one in Virginia in the mid-1700’s, one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1818 and another one in Canada around 1820. These three branches are believed to have migrated from Ireland. Earlier colonial records indicate the presence of a Thomas Kerfitt (1624) who came over as an indentured servant and Elizabeth Kerfoote (1637), another indentured servant. “Margaret Kearfoote, of Wigan, (Lancashire) spinster, bound to Ezekiel Parr for 4 Yeares” appears on the ship Concord’s passenger list in 1638.
One record indicates “Thos. Buttler, Son of Wm. Butler, (bound) to Ganther Carefoot for 4 Yeares.” According to KKAFA and at the time of that research, no additional mention of Ganther Carefoote was found – no land or grant records in Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania from 1701 until William Kerfoot bought a plantation in 1763. From William Kerfoot onward the records appear to be the most reliable and considered by many as the founder of that family in Virginia.
It has been presumed that William Kerfoot immigrated to Virginia from Ireland, bringing with him his wife and three sons. The first evidence of his presence in Frederick County is shown on a deed for 192 acres of land along the Opequon Creek – the name on the deed was William Carefoot. The Kerfoots, along with the Glasses, Allens and Vances were named as the earliest settlers of this region of Virginia in A History of the Valley of Virginia by Samuel Kercheval.
William Kerfoot’s house was said to have been:
… sturdily built of logs after the fashion of pioneer dwellings, with doors and blinds of strong batten work made of double layers of wood strongly fastened with hand wrought nails. The strength of the doors suggest that they have been constructed with an eye to defences again the Indians who remained a menace to the settlers for some years after 1750.
The Kerfoot family were of the Baptist faith, although it is not known if they practiced that faith before arriving in America. When the Kerfoots settled in that area, Indian attacks were not uncommon. According to KKAFA, the Church of England relaxed its standards to allow what the termed “dissenters” to populate the Shenandoah Valley. Quakers came from Pennsylvania and a group of Baptists came from New Jersey and persecution ensued:
A particular victim of the Church’s wrath was the Rev. James Ireland, an eloquent and power Baptist preacher who performed the marriage ceremony for many of the Kerfoots during this period. It is related that the English authorities decided to “eliminate the Baptist from their midst” and that a Mrs. Sutherlin bribed her negro servant to poison the Ireland family. William Kerfoot, a member of Ireland’s congregation, was active in finding the poison and in securing the perpetrators of the attempt for trial. Ireland recovered only to meet imprisonment and fresh attempts upon his life.
This served to make the Baptists more determined to defend their faith and the right to worship as their consciences dictated. The Virginia branch of the Kerfoot family have largely remained true to the Baptist faith with family members serving in various leadership capacities within the denomination and local churches.
William and his wife Margaret had seven children: George, William, Samuel, Margaret, Elizabeth, Sarah and Mary. His name appears in court records, including law suits, at various times up until his death in 1779. His son George had preceded him in death in 1778.
In the first version of his will, William gave land to his remaining sons William and Samuel and ordered that the part of his plantation where George’s widow lived be sold “at publick vendue and the money arising by the sale thereof to be equally divided between my four daughters Margaret, Elizabeth, Sarah and Mary and each of them to have an equal share of my stocks as before mentioned and also an equal share of all my Household goods.” Samuel also received William’s “negro boy, Will” as part of his inheritance. About four months after the first will was signed, William revised his will and, instead of selling the land she lived on as stipulated in the first will, he changed his mind:
Peggy Kerfoot, widow of my late son, George, decsd, in consideration of natural love and affection and for the better enabling her to support her children and also for the sum of £1500, current money, a tract of land whereon the said Peggy now lives and all my other lands on that side of the Opequon, notwithstanding any will or bequest heretofore made.
It appears that his daughter Margaret perhaps never married or was married somewhere else other than Frederick County. Elizabeth, married twice, had no children. Sarah had eight children, two of them unmarried. Mary was the youngest daughter who married Arthur Carter, he from a prosperous Quaker family that had migrated from Bucks County, Pennsylvania to the Shenandoah Valley. Mary and Arthur had fifteen children – five died in infancy, however.
George’s children did quite well. Son John was one of the most prosperous farmers and land owners, his sons and daughters well provided for. His daughter Catherine married George Lewis Ball, whose family were ancestors of both George Washington and General Robert E. Lee. Descendant John David Kerfoot migrated to Texas, but upon hearing of the war between the states returned to his native Virginia and joined Lee’s Northern Virginia army. After the war he helped his father restore the plantation and then returned to Texas to later become mayor of Dallas.
Farther down the branch line, descendants of George Kerfoot served in World War II – one fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and saw the flag hoisted at Iwo Jima, another was a doctor in a Japanese prisoner camp, who on August 1, 1945 “observed an enormous white cloud in the distance which rose to tremendous height.”
The spelling of surnames was so varied and uncertain in colonial times, but the gravestone of William Kerfoot’s second son’s gravestone is inscribed with “William Kearfott” and thus his descendants use that spelling. As noted above, records indicate various spellings of his name even on Revolutionary War records.
William married Mary Bryarly after the war ended and they had two children, William and Mary, before Mary died shortly after the second birth. His second marriage produced no more children. William Kearfott was perhaps the wealthiest of the three brothers, as evidenced by the taxes he paid on his various properties. William died on February 4, 1811.
His granddaughter Evaline Kearfott married Nickolas Coday, a cousin of Colonel William F. Cody, a.k.a. “Buffalo Bill”. His descendants fought and some died in the Civil War – one lived in Richmond and was a close friend of General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. Of course, as it happened many times during the Civil War, families were divided in their loyalties. William’s son took his family, except for one son who was already a successful surveyor in Virginia, to Ohio. The Ohio Kearfoots fought for the Union and those who were still in Virginia for the Confederates. The two sons of John Piercall Kearfoot (who remained in Virginia) made their way through Union lines to visit their father only to find a Union solder already there – their first cousin from Ohio.
Samuel had two sons, William S. Kerfoot and Samuel Kerfoot II. William served during the War of 1812 and remained in Virginia. Samuel, however, migrated to Kentucky in 1820 and in 1824 married Margaret Ann Lampton, sister of Jane Lampton Clemens and mother of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.
His descendants became more adventurous and continued to move further west. Great-grandsons Marion Munroe Kerfoot, George Henry Kerfoot and John Samuel Kerfoot participated in the “Oklahoma Run” in 1889 when the “Cherokee Strip” was opened for settlement, thus becoming pioneers of the Oklahoma Territory. They opened dry-goods and grocery stores and were among the founders of the town of El Reno.
Thus the descendants of William Kerfoot of the Shenandoah Valley became part of the fabric of America – they fought wars, built prosperous businesses, became doctors, ministers and educators, and were witnesses to world-changing events.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!