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Joyces of North Carolina: John "Coon" Joyce

Updated: Sep 8, 2018

In the chronicles of the Joyce family, there are several unique stories that stand out. From acts of bravery displayed during the American Revolution to westward bound pioneers, the Joyces have always been an industrious bunch. However, not all stories are predictable, but rather, they focus on the unusual. One curiosity passed down through the family history is the occurrence of the nicknames, "Coon" and "Possum." For the modern descendants of Alexander Joyce (1719-1778) and Thomas Joyce (1722-1780), almost everyone has heard of these names. So much so, at family reunions Joyces are often asked if they are a "Coon" or "Possum."

Born in 1750 in Lunenburg County, Virginia, to Thomas Joyce (1722-1780), John "Coon" Joyce (1750-1814) had not yet acquired his famous nickname. Nor could he predict the impact this recognition would have on the future. Like his cousin's designation, John "Possum" Joyce (1743-1827), these names have an interesting origin.

Taken from the estate records of John 'Coon" Joyce (1750-1814)

According to family lore, one evening while both John Joyce's were hunting a coon in North Carolina, a dispute arose among them. They both claimed that their own dog had caught the prey. John Joyce, son of Thomas Joyce, exclaimed, "My son bites like a coon," while John Joyce, son of Alexander Joyce, exclaimed, "My son bites like a possum." Afterwards, all descendants from John "Coon" Joyce were considered "Coon" Joyces, and those who descended from John 'Possum" Joyce were called "Possum" Joyces.

Ironically, these designations have a far more important usage. During the lifetime of John "Coon" Joyce and John 'Possum" Joyce, these nicknames were assigned to each cousin in legal documents. Even today, these titles in the genealogical records are a helpful aid to anyone researching these John Joyce's.

Passing away in 1814 in Rockingham County, Virginia, John "Coon' Joyce left his wife, Peggy, 86 acres of land. Despite leaving a smaller amount of land to his heirs, John left a far greater mark for future Joyces. Because of the 'Coon" and "Possum" naming pattern, we have inherited a far-richer history.

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