Chapter VIII

Nicholas ("Danger
Nick") Combs

With this gentleman we close our little disquisition on the children of old Mason Combs, of Stafford [Co, VA]. He was born probably in Caroline County, Virginia. According to John S. Combs, his grandson; he was a hundred and one, two or three years old when he died (1838). John S. was nineteen at the time, and his brother, Andrew, was about thirty-five. "Danger" married Nancy, daughter of Thomas Grigsby, probably in old Frederick (Warren) County, Virginia, about 1770-1775. The Grigsbys were among the earliest pioneers to come to the Shenandoah Valley [VA], having come in as early as 1732. Nicholas was thirty-five to forty when he married Nancy, and may have been previously married. (1)

A Virginia census, 1783, lists a Nicholas Combs in Shenandoah County, Virginia, with "three in the family". If this Nicholas is identical with "Danger Nick", the census data would indicate that there was only one child in the family at the time, since "Danger's" wife was living, and had children after that date. However, it is known that "Danger" had at least two children at the time: Nancy (or Alicia), and "Chunky Jerry", three or four years old. But the enumerating of the early "marshals" was sometimes careless and questionable, and the date of 1783 could be in error. As we have seen, "Danger's" father, old Mason, lived for several years in what later became Shenandoah, and later Warren County, four or five miles above Front Royal [Warren Co, VA].

Another Virginia census, 1785, shows that Nicholas had moved farther up the South Fork of the Shenandoah [River], or rather into what is now called (Powell's) Fort Valley, on the present Passage Creek; it is in the extreme eastern edge of the present Shenandoah County, about ten miles from Woodstock [Shenandoah Co, VA]. Nicholas is listed with families known to have been living in this locality at the time. In the census of 1783 he


was living just above Front Royal, then Shenandoan [Shenandoah] County, but now Warren [Co, VA]. The census of 1785 lists four in his family, which is correct. It is not known when Nicholas migrated to the Holston [River] Settlements, in Tennessee, but it was shortly after 1785. Old Andrew Combs says (Dickey Diary) that he lived there "quite a while". From mention of the New River among his grandchildren, it may be that Nicholas lived on that river a-while [sic] before moving to Kingsport [Sullivan Co, TN]. John and one or two of his brothers were living there (Montgomery County [VA]) in 1785. At any rate he was at Kingsport several years before coming to Kentucky. A family tradition is that "Bird-Eye Nick", one of his sons, was sixteen when the family came to Perry [Co, KY]. If "Bird-Eye" was born in 1792-'93, as the census lists indicate, his daddy came to Perry for good, then, about 1808. (2)

The following statement was made (Dickey Diary) by one of the granddaughters of "Danger", Mrs. Margaret Combs Lewis, mother of Judge L.D. Lewis, of Hyden [Leslie Co, KY]: "My father, Nicholas ("Bird-Eye"), told me that when grandfather first came to Perry, he ("Bird-Eye") went to Carr to get some wheat to sow, from old William Cornett. He had no wheat, but had half a bushel of rye, which my father brought home. My grandfather sowed it, and when the gain was in the milk they mashed it and cooked it, so scarce was breadstuff." (Aunt Margaret refers to "Danger's" final removal to Perry with his family). And so, old "Danger", like the others, must have come in the spring; and he was doubtless preceded by practically all of his nephews, by his son "Chunky Jerry," and by William Cornett. Aunt Margaret also corroborates the statement of John S. Combs as to her grandfather's age when he died, saying that she was nearly grown at the time; she was born in the 1820's.

At Kingsport "Danger" lived on Long Island [Sullivan Co, TN], a part of which is now inside the city limits of Kingsport, which is situated at the forks of the Holston [River]. Andrew Combs says (Dickey Diary) that his grandfather went back there a number of times with his son, "Chunky Jerry", after moving to Kentucky; that he himself had been there. "Danger's" visits to Kingsport were probably for the purpose of seeing some of his kinfolks, among whom were the families of his younger brothers, William and Mason, Jr., who were living in the region. (3)

In Perry County Nicholas settled several miles below Hazard and the mouth of Lott's Creek, in the "bend" of the Kentucky River, where the community of Combs now is. He was an ambitious in-


dividual, a hard worker, as Andrew Combs says, always reaching out for more land. He patented and patented on the River, and finally patented most of Lott's Creek. With the exception of Mason and Nicholas, his nephews, of the "eight brothers", he owned more land than any other Combs that ever came to Perry.

There is conflicting opinion as to the exact locality where "Danger" first settled. Some say it was just below Combs, on the other side of the River; others, that it was in the lower end of Combs, on the hillside; still others, that it was in Combs. Anyway, it seems certain that he spent his declining years with his son "Bird-Eye," who lived on the point above the highway where Will Brewer now lives, a little above the mouth of Meadow Branch. The old house is still there (1947). "Danger" was buried on the Lorenzo Combs place, further up Meadow Branch.

In the Introduction I have explained why Nicholas was called "Danger." He would "fight in a minute," says Andrew, but he was kind and generous. A Combs tradition in the mountains has it that his brothers and nephews shunned him because he was a Tory during the Revolution. They say he slunk off and lived to himself, on Long Island after the war. They sometimes called him "Nick, the Tory". He died in 1838, around a hundred years of age. At least one of "Danger's" children, Nancy (Alicia) was born before the family came to Kingsport. "Bird-Eye" Nick, Rebecca and Samuel were born in Kingsport (Census of 1850). According to Mrs. Margaret Combs Lewis, one of "Bird-Eye's" daughters, "Danger" had only five children, although long gaps between the birth of some of them might indicate that he had some children who died young.

Alicia married Rev. Richard Smith, supposedly in Kingsport, about 1793-'94. Migrating from the Holston [River] country, he came to Perry, and settled on Lott's Creek. He was a rugged individual and forceful character. Andrew Combs, in the Dickey Diary, makes the following appraisal of him: "Old Richard Smith married Nancy (Alicia), my aunt. He was a Baptist preacher. He would drink liquor and fight. He whipped a bully and got his nose and ear bit off. He was a blacksmith. He could not be whipped . . . . . . . . . . The Combses were usually tall." Alicia was born most likely in old Shenandoah (Warren) County [VA]. (4)

Jeremiah ("Chunky Jerry"), the oldest son, was also born in old Shenandoah, 1780-'81) [sic]. His first marriage was to Nancy (Cythia) Sumner, and the second to Sallie Grigsby. He lived on Walker's


Branch, at the mouth of which creek is the present Walkertown [Perry Co, KY], a suburb of Hazard, and died there in 1853. It is from one of "Chunky's" sons, John S., that we may fix approximately the date of old "Danger's" first coming to Kentucky, and at which time he probably took up land in Perry for the first time. Says John S. (in the Dickey diary): "He (Chunky," [sic] "Danger's" son) was not grown when he came here." The date was probably about 1796. This may seem to conflict with Margaret Lewis' statement (same diary), above, as to her father, "Bird-Eye Nick" Combs; but again, it seems certain that "Danger" did not permanently settle down with his family in Perry until around 1808. He is known to have "commuted" a number of times between Kingsport and Perry County.

At this state in our story Jeremiahs begin to become confusing, especially when four of them are contemporary; Jeremiah (b. 1779-1780), son of "Danger Nick"; Jeremiah ("Long Jerry", b. (1781-1782), son of the Revolutionary veteran John; Jeremiah (unidentified, b. in Tennessee 1786-'87), moved to Madison County, Arkansas; and Jeremiah (b. 1788-1789), most likely a son of Nicholas of Breathitt [Co, KY], one of the eight brothers. The dearth of Johns among the children and grandchildren of "Danger Nick" lends color to the tradition that Old "Danger" was a persona non grata to his brother John and his eight sons, because of his Tory leanings; brother John probably served in the Revolution, and we know that his son John was a soldier in that war. I list the numberous [sic] Jeremiahs, Nicholases and Johns in a later chapter. (5)

Nicholas ("Bird-Eye") was born in 1792-'93. He married Elizabeth ("Betts"), daughter of John Combs, of Lincoln (Boyle) County [KY], and lived at the mouth of Meadow Branch, on the River, below Lott's Creek. Samuel, born 1799-1800, married Nancy, daughter of William Cornett, the Revolutionary veteran, who lived on Carr's Fork. He first lived on First Creek, then moved to the Middle Fork of Buckhorn Creek, near the sight of old Witherspoon College. In 1842 he moved to Owsley County [KY], near Booneville, and lived on the "sag farm." (""Bird-Eye" Nick had the smallest and blackest eyes that anyone ever gazed into." -Meredith Combs, Owsley County).

The longevity of "Danger" Nick and some of his descendants is remarkable. Mrs. Polly Combs Dobson, daughter of Andrew Combs, is said to have been more than a hundred years old when she died, in 1947. Harrison Combs, one of "Chunky's" sons, died in 1945, at


ninety-nine. "Tight Jerry" Combs, a "catch-as-catch-can" son of "Chunky," died below Hindman [Knott Co, KY] in 1935, aged 97-98. He was in Sherman's "March to the Sea". "Bird-Eye" Nick died at 99-100.

Locally the ages of the old folks have been exaggerated, in almost every instance. One must turn to the Federal Census records for the facts, although the early "marshals", or enumerators sometimes made mistakes. The enumerators occasionally took hearsay for facts, or consulted a neighbor in the absence of a man or his wife. Nor are all the names listed under the parents (beginning with 1850) necessarily the children of said parents; since it is a matter of listing the family as a unit, sometimes nephews, nieces, grandchildren or illegitimate children are included. As to ages, one may usually arrive at the facts by comparing the data of two or three Census years. When people reach the eighties and nineties, exaggeration of their ages is all the more noticeable. A good example is that of "Tight Jerry" Combs, whose age varied from a hundred and six to a hundred and nine when he died.

Good or bad, old "Danger" Nick Combs left numerous progeny; and both the Revolution and the Civil War have been over for a long time. Let the dead past bury its dead. At this point it will be well to keep in mind an important fact, but confusing, because of the recurrence of so many duplicating given names. In Perry and Breathitt Counties there were three Combs lines, all related: the descendants of John Combs (father of the "eight"), of "Danger Nick," and of Boyle County [KY] John.

For the sake of "Danger Nick's" descendants, I add a word about the family of Samuel, who moved to Owsley. Oswley [sic] was formed in 1843, (part of it from Perry), and there was a considerable movement of Combses down that way. Washington and Bonaparte, two sons of Mason, one of the "eight brothers", and others, moved there. Some of Samuel's children: Wiley lived in Breathitt, and owned the old "cut-off mill" on the River. Robert C. lived on Lost Creek, Breathitt; he was a Confederate soldier. Rev. Daniel Garrett was the first school teacher in the new county of Owsley. He was a minister in the Christian Church. Nicholas moved to Clay County [KY], and was killed there while digging a well. Rachel's husband, Abel Pennington, was an officer in the Union Army. He was killed in the battle of Wild Cat [Clay Co, KY]. Mary, who married E.R. Begley, was the mother of Judge W.E. Begley, of London, [Laurel Co] Kentucky. William lived and died near Booneville. To recapitulate, "Danger's" children follow, in order of birth.


Nancy (Alicia), m. Rev. Richard Smith
Jeremiah ("Chunky Jerry"), m. Nancy (also known as Cythia) Sumner; Sallie Grigsby
Nicholas ("Bird-Eye"), m. Elizabeth ("Betts"), dau. of John Combs, of Boyle [Co, KY]
Rebecca, m. John Williams
Samuel, m. Nancy, dau. of William Cornett, 1819. (6)

Data on the descendants of Rev. Richard Smith as listed in the General Table at the end of this volume, were compiled by Ky. State Sen. H.H. Smith.