The Corn Family has a long history in Transylvania County, as well as neighboring counties. It is said that more Baptist preachers have descended from their first American ancestor than any other family in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. The first Corn of this region to immigrate to America was Matthew Peter Corn, along with his wife Mary Elizabeth “Molly” Noel. It’s been said that Corn came from Germany and Noel from Ireland, though there are no ships records to show country of origin or exactly when they made the journey to the New World.
One of their sons, John Peter Corn, is generally recognized as the first Corn to settle in western North Carolina, and is considered a common ancestor for all Corns in this region. John Peter was born in Albemarle County, Virginia on March 15, 1757. John Peter served under General Washington at the encampment at Valley Forge and retired from service a few years later. He lived in Virginia for the entirety of his young life, and married Hanna Elizabeth Parr on May 24, 1782. They had seven children in Virginia before moving to the piedmont section of North Carolina in 1794. They finally settled in what would become Henderson County in 1810.
John Peter and Hanna had fifteen children, and their first child Adam Jefferson (1783-1871) and their eleventh child, Noah Parr (1802-1874) were the first in the family to become preachers. Adam Jefferson was a “traveling preacher” who served church communities in Transylvania, Polk, Henderson, Buncombe, and other counties. He was known for ministering to the Cherokee and is said to have walked to their community to achieve his ministry. Adam married Mary Wade Carter and had several children, the third being John Heatherly Corn (1813-1875) who also became a preacher. John Heatherly was known to describe himself as a “hard shell Baptist with a head so hard the Devil couldn’t crack it.” An amusing story of his passionate preaching tells that once when he got excited about a topic of his sermon, someone shouted out, “Watch out! Corn is getting hot and is going to pop!”
Noah Parr and wife Elizabeth Capps’s second child named Adam Jefferson Corn (1827-1900), as well as their ninth child Benjamin Franklin “Doc” Corn (1837-1904) also both became preachers. This Adam Jefferson Corn was associated with the Little River Baptist Church.
At this point in genealogical research, it becomes challenging to track the number of preachers from this family, in part because they had a tradition of passing down exact names to nephews or nieces without always acknowledging them as junior, the third, and so forth the way that would happen with direct lineage. This brief sampling of the legacy of ministry in the Corn Family is just the beginning; as the generations branch out, more ministers than can be here described originate from this prolific family. Their legacy of faith and service lives on in their descendants.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.