Frontier Aspirations: Cinderella, Charnelcy, Narcissa – and “Harriethusie”?

When the large family of Elijah Bettis Jr. decided to move west in 1805, they were among the richest residents of Moore County, North Carolina.  Elijah Jr. was recognized as a “trained medical doctor” (more on that later,) and either he or his son Elijah III was keeping company with the elite of Moore County in the Pansophia Lodge of Masons.

But at the same time, the true gentry of the lowcountry were beginning to move west into Moore County.  In these eyes of those new arrivals, the Bettises were still merely yeoman farmers, whose backcountry manners did not allow them to associate with the better sort of people.  An agent attempting to sell a large house in their neighborhood described it as “remote from all suitable society.”  A few years after they left, a local writer exulted that “The Society on Deep River is respectable the old Settlers  have given way to men of property Decency & Character.”

Arriving in the remote southeast corner of Missouri, Dr. Bettis’ three sons transformed themselves into the leading citizens of a town that they themselves had founded.  The family was close-knit; both of the sisters who had migrated with them named their first three sons after their brothers, Elijah, Ransom, and Overton, rather than after their own husbands.  But the brothers did not return the compliment. Their daughters received fancy “literary” names: Cinderella, Charnelcy, and Narcissa.  And then there was “Arthurey” or “Harriethusie” Bettis, born in 1824, whose parentage is unknown but who may have been Overton’s illegitimate daughter.  “Arethusa” is the name of a nymph in Greek mythology and the title of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, still almost unknown at the time of Arthurey’s birth.  Although it is unlikely that any Bettis ever read a line of Shelley, somewhere on the frontier they had crossed paths with someone with a classical education, and borrowed some of it.

The opening of the trans-Mississippi frontier gave settlers like the Bettises a chance to redefine themselves, to stake a claim to a higher social status than their former communities had allowed them. The names of their daughters were one way of asserting that status, to establish that not only were they finally respectable, but that some of them had actually read a book.

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2 Responses to Frontier Aspirations: Cinderella, Charnelcy, Narcissa – and “Harriethusie”?

  1. Janell Nickols November 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    Is anythng known about the origin of the name, “Charnelcy?” I have been researching the name, as it was my aunt’s name. Family legend had it as meaning “no name” in some Native American language. Charnelcy Bettis (b. 1821) appears to be the first in my family, with numerous others following in the Chilton, Huddleston, Rubottom, and Gabriel families. They are all in my family tree. In fact, I have only found a few that are not in my family, and they were named after the Charnelcys in the family! Any help that you might provide regarding the origin of the name would be greatly appreciated!

    • Carla Rabinowitz November 25, 2016 at 11:18 pm #

      That’s really interesting! I just assumed that it fell into the category of “pretentious names meant to demonstrate social status.” (You probably know that she also appears as “Charnelia” in at least one place.)

      You may also know that at the time she was born, the Bettis family was living near Indians of a couple of different tribes, including Delaware and Cherokee and possibly also Shawnee, and that at least some of the Bettises and their neighbors had a lot of contact with them. Ezekial Rubottom, for instance, is said to have fixed the guns of the Delawares, and to have been a big favorite with them. The mother of Mary Kelly Bettis, who married Ransom, is also said to have been a Delaware, and when her father Isaac Kelly moved down to the Current River he traded with the Cherokees. There are interesting correspondences between names of families connected with the Bettises – Payne, Vann – and names that appear later on among prominent Cherokees in Indian Territory. But, like your legend about Charnelcy’s name, it’s all just guesswork, so far anyway. A lot of things on the southern frontier were kind of blurred. If you want to pursue the search, Cherokee and Delaware historians would be a good place to start. Let me know if you find anything!

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