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Answers to Your Questions About the WHARAM Family of Virginia

Q. Who established the Wharam family in Virginia?

A. James Oldham Wharam.

Q. Where was he born?

A. On a farm, at Moor Lane, a short distance west of the village of Netherthong, Yorkshire West Riding, England.

Q. Where is that?

A. A rural area, in the north of England. It is generally situated between the cities of Leeds, Sheffield, and Manchester. The nearest large town is Huddersfield.

Q. What is it like there?

A. It's a lot like Buckingham County, Virginia, where many members of the Wharam family live today. There is farming, mining, and manufacturing; rivers, creeks, and canals; and a railroad. Key differences are most of the homes in Yorkshire are built of stone, the farms are smaller, and they raised a lot of sheep.

Q. When was James Oldham Wharam born?

A. 7th August 1837.

Q. Who were his parents?

A. John Wharam and Sally Hinchliffe Oldham.

Q. Who were his grandparents?

A. Charles Wharam & Ann Hudson and Hinchliffe Oldham & Lydia Hinchliffe.

Q. Did he have any brothers and sisters?

A. He was the eldest in his family; he had two younger sisters (that we know about), Lydia Ann and Elizabeth.

Q. What did the West Yorkshire Wharam family do for a living?

A. They lived on a farm and were primarily engaged in the raising of sheep and the manufacture of woolen cloth. The boys would tend the sheep, the girls would clean and card the wool, the mother would spin the wool, and the father would weave the cloth on a loom. The wool cloth would sometimes be softened in local creeks. The bolts of cloth would be carried by pack animals and sold in nearby market towns. English records indicate that James Wharam’s father and both grandfathers were "clothiers," the name for makers of fabric.

Q. Does the name "Wharam" have a meaning?

A. Yes. It is a Saxon name, perhaps with some Viking influence. Most interpretations indicate that it means "angle," "bend," "enclosure," "sheltered area," and the like.

Q. Are there a lot of Wharams in England?

A. No. It is a rare name. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, there are many more Wharams in the United States than in England.

Q. Where are the Wharams in England today?

A. Most of the Wharams live in either East Yorkshire, near Kingston-upon-Hull (most frequently referred to simply as "Hull"), or West Yorkshire, between Huddersfield and Barnsley, and also in Sheffield.

Q. Is it known where these two Wharam lines originated in Yorkshire?

A. The oldest available census records indicate that the Wharams in East Yorkshire were clustered in and around the village of Hessle, just west of Hull. The Wharams in West Yorkshire were clustered in and around the villages of High Hoyland and Clayton West.

Q. How old are High Hoyland, Clayton West, and Hessle?

A All three place names, along with Netherthong, are referenced in the Domesday Book of 1086 commissioned by William the Conqueror.

Q. Are there any places in England named "Wharam?"

A. No, but there are two villages with the name "Wharram," namely Wharram-le-Street and Wharram Percy, both within a few miles of each other in North Yorkshire (a short distance north of the border with East Yorkshire). Wharram Percy is a deserted Medieval village (with several building ruins) owned by the National Trust. There are no roads to the deserted village - it can only be reached on foot. Wharram-le-Street is on the B-1248 and consists of just seven buildings. The meaning of Wharram-le-Street is "enclosure in a kettle-like valley by the Roman road" [source: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names]. In the same vicinity, there are also places (not villages) named Wharram Grange Farm, Wharram Percy Farm, and Wharram Percy Wold.

Q. Are families with the names Wharam, Wharram, Wareham, Warham, and Wereham the same?

A. Probably not. Wareham, Warham, and Wereham are not of Yorkshire origin, being found instead in the south of England. There were no people named Wharram found in records of either Wharram Percy or Wharram-le-Street. The origins of the Wharram family tend to be clustered around the village of Fridaythorpe in East Yorkshire (south of Wharram Percy and Wharram-le-Street). The family name Wharam is found in both West and East Yorkshire, but the Wharram family name is almost exclusively in East Yorkshire.

Q. There is also a James Wharam born 1837, but in the East Riding of Yorkshire, near Hull. Is this the same person?

A. No. That James Wharam remained in England and is apparently unrelated.

Q. Are there any other spellings?

A. There are numerous misspellings. For example, one Virginia census record shows the surname of James Oldham Wharam as "Worms." Some Yorkshire and Virginia records incorrectly record the name as "Wareham."

Q. What is the pronunciation of Wharam?

A. There are two primary pronunciations. For both, the emphasis is on the first syllable, and the second syllable tends to be pronounced more like "um" than "am." For one pronunciation (A), the first syllable rhymes with "bare, care and fare" with "r" enunciated in the first syllable only. For the second pronunciation (B), the first syllable rhymes with "bar, car and far" with "r" enunciated in both syllables. In West Yorkshire, most Wharams use the "A" pronunciation. Wharram tends to be spoken with the "B" pronunciation (using both "r’s"). In Virginia, and elsewhere in the USA, both "A" and "B" pronunciations are used, sometimes within the same family line.

Q. When did James Wharam come to America?

A. He ran away from home when he was 12 years old, in 1849.  By that time, his family may have moved from West Yorkshire to Manchester.

Q. Why did he run away from home?

A. One story is that some older relatives had already come to America, and he wanted to follow them. His parents would not let him go because he was too young. He got mad about this and decided to run away from home. Another story is that economic conditions in England were deteriorating. The home woolen industry on the family farm was being replaced by large factories in the cities where living conditions were very poor. Also, at the time that he ran away from home, cholera and other epidemics swept the area.

Q. How did he get to America?

A. Oral family history indicates that he stowed away aboard a ship bound for America (this was probably at the port of Liverpool). He was discovered hiding on the ship, and he was made to be a cook’s helper in order to earn his way. This story has not yet been verified by paper records, although a ship manifest would not show a stowaway.

Q. Where did the ship land?

A. No one is sure. It may have been Baltimore, Maryland. His name has not been found on any ship passenger lists.

Q. Where did he settle, and how did he get there?

A. He settled in Buckingham County, in central Virginia. No one is sure how he managed to get there. Perhaps he followed other people he met on the ship. There are no known documents in the period between 1849 and 1860 that help to trace his movements.

Q. Did he find any relatives in America?

A. Oral family history indicates that he was never able to contact any of his family for the rest of his life. English records do indicate that his parents and sisters do not appear in the Netherthong area from 1851 forward. It is not yet known if they moved away or perished in one of the epidemics that swept the area. It is known that one of his grandfathers, Charles Wharam, died alone in a local work (poor) house. It is also said that he could never locate any other kin in America.

Q. Where was he is 1860?

A. Census records indicate that he was a farm hand on land belonging to Hayes Whitlow in Buckingham County.

Q. What happened in 1861?

A. Civil war broke out. James Oldham Wharam volunteered at New Canton (Buckingham County) and was enlisted as a Private in Company C (known as the "Travis Rifles") of the 44th Regiment of Virginia Infantry.

Q. Why did he volunteer?

A. Although born in England, by this time he had spent more than half of his life in Virginia. Virginia was being invaded by Union troops.

Q. Did James Wharam fight to preserve slavery?

A. Census records indicate that the farm where he worked had no slaves, and no one in the Whitlow families on adjacent farms owned any slaves. However, Buckingham County did have a large number of slaves. At that time, the majority of the county’s population was black, and the region was known as "The Black Belt.".

Q. What happened to James Wharam during the Civil War?

A. He fought in many of the largest engagements of the war, including the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Cross Keys, Port Republic (where he was wounded), and 2nd Bull Run. He was promoted to Corporal August 1, 1862, and he was later made a Sergeant. He was wounded through both lungs on August 24, 1864 at a skirmish in Shepherdstown, (West) Virginia, near the Potomac River. He was captured by Yankee troops, but left for dead because of his terrible wound. But he survived and was sent to a Union hospital.

Q. Was James Wharam with General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox?

A. No. A story has been passed around that he was, but it is not true. The remnants of his company were with Lee at the end, but after his wounding and capture, James Wharam spent the last eight months of the war in hospitals and at three prisoner-of-war camps. He was finally transferred and released at Farmville, Virginia, on April 24, 1865. He walked 30 miles back home with no food and water.

Q. What did James Wharam do after the war?

A. On December 7, 1865, he married Maria (Mary) Elizabeth Robertson, who later became known as "Grandma Dolley." Her nickname was "Dolley" because she was a very small woman. Her parents were Jeffrey and Martha Robertson. Jeffrey Robertson was born in England (where is not known), and Martha was born in Virginia. Both of her parents died when she was a girl. Dolley was adopted by another family, but was made to be a servant in order to earn her keep. Grandma Dolley later said that after her parents died, "No black had a life any worse than mine."

Q. How many children did they have?

A. 14, including 3 sets of twins. Their children were: Sallie, Mary, Samuel, Ada & Etta (twins), Ida & Louise (twins), Nellie, John, Charles & Reuben (twins), Lucy, Willie, and Bettie. However, only 9 of their children survived to reach adulthood.

Q. What did James Wharam do for a living?

A. After the war, he set out farming. He acquired some land on a handshake deal, and he built a log cabin. Some years later, after his farm was established, the heirs of the man James Wharam acquired the land from realized that he did not have a deed to the property. They forced James Wharam off his farm, and he lost everything.

Q. What other details are available about his life?

A. In 1879, James Wharam joined the Buckingham Baptist Church. He later served as Sexton, helping to maintain the church and helping to collect contributions to support the church. In 1892, he collected a Confederate Veteran pension at Gold Hill. He is listed on the Confederate Roll of Honor.

Q. When did James Wharam die, and where is he buried?

A. James Oldham Wharam died April 1904, at age 66. His Civil War wound became re-infected, and there was no medicine available to stop the infection.. He is buried at Buckingham Baptist Church, just a few rows back from the front door. He has a Confederate tombstone.

Q. When did Grandma Dolley die?

A. In 1940, at age 97. She is responsible for passing down most of the family stories about James Wharam. In her later years, she became blind and took turns living with her children who remained in Buckingham County. She is buried next to James Oldham Wharam. During her lifetime, she adopted several children, and unlike her experience, she treated them like family. One boy she adopted became a very successful businessman in Richmond. In her later years, he sent a monthly check to help support her.

Q. Are there other Wharam families living in America?

A. Yes. However, most (but not all) of the Wharams living on the East Coast, running from Maryland to Georgia, are direct descendants of James Oldham Wharam. Other Wharams not descended from him live in Michigan, Indiana, and North Dakota. Their ancestors came either from Fulstone and New Mill, West Yorkshire, or Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Both locations are near James Wharam's birthplace in Netherthong, and the villages of High Hoyland and Clayton West, so we may all be distantly related.

Q. Did Wharams emigrating from England in the 19th century go to countries other than the United States?

A. Yes. Australia , New Zealand, and Canada.

Do you believe some of the above is in error?  If so, please let me know!  Please use the Feedback page or send an e-mail direct to glennjames@wharam.org.


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This site was last updated 06/19/06