A Wilderness Saint

In 1819, several soldiers arrived at a house in Stewart County, western Tennessee, not far from the town of Dover. They had with them a riderless horse and some very bad news to deliver to the young children who lived there. The children’s father Thomas Randle had drowned in the Chattahoochee River in Alabama while on his way home from fighting in what today is called the “First Seminole War.” He was crossing the river in an overloaded boat which responded to the safety issue by capsizing. Although Thomas was a strong swimmer, he was wearing a heavy coat with a large cape, and a struggling comrade grabbed hold and dragged them both under water.

This was the second great loss for the children, as their mother Nancy Davidson Randle had died three years before. An old relative and a servant were looking after them while their father was away, but now their situation was untenable. Fortunately, other family members lived in the area and came to their aid, but at the cost of splitting up the family. As one of the boys, John Randle, described to his granddaughter many years later:

Relatives of the family came and divided the property and children among them. Martha and Thomas were taken by Uncle Wilson Randle; a relative by the name of Williams took Richmond. Other relatives took George and Sally.

As they rode away from the empty home at twilight with my sisters and brothers, I was left in the deserted yard unchosen. Cousin Henry Wall, who married my cousin Martha Randle, looked back and saw me, a little lonely, motherless, fatherless boy, and called out, “Get up behind and come home with me John.”

But John and his siblings were fortunate in their remarkable sister. Continue reading

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William and Ben – The Merchants

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William Harrison Thompson

Unlike many of the family’s 19th century Tennessee ancestors, when William Harrison Thompson left the family home near Maryville, TN and headed west, he did not simply find some untilled land and set up a farm. Instead, when he arrived in Henry County, Tennessee sometime between 1830 and 1838 he went into business. According to the book Tennessee and Tennesseans, William bought goods in Philadelphia and shipped them over the Pennsylvania canal to Pittsburgh where they were loaded on steamboats and flatboats to travel down the Ohio River and up the Tennessee River. Unloaded at Paris Landing, he then took the merchandise to Paris, Jackson, Trenton, or Dresden for sale. He was apparently very successful, as he invested the proceeds from this trade in land both in the city of Paris as well as in the farming community of Mansfield where William eventually established a plantation and factories for producing cotton yarn and chewing tobacco.

Then tragedy struck. Continue reading

The House

One of the oldest homes in east Tennessee stands at the edge of Maryville in Blount County. The log house has been in this spot for about 200 years as of this writing, first housing generations of the Thompson and Brown families, and then becoming a home for a variety of organizations. In 2016 it is the location of the Cades Cove Museum which preserves the memories of a community that was bought out and disbanded when Cades Cove became part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park just to the east.

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Thompson-Brown House in Maryville, Tennessee. 2009 photo by Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia

William Thompson and his wife Rebecca Wallace Thompson constructed the house. They are the great-grandparents of Susie Ben Thompson of Henry County, Tennessee, and thus represent the last of the eight families to be introduced in this blog. William was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia after the Revolutionary War. His mother was Mary Bowen Reese, an immigrant from Wales whose first husband died from injuries sustained in the war Continue reading

The Castle

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The ruins of Raglan Castle (author in blue jacket)

The ruins of a grand castle sit amidst the hills of Monmouthshire, in Wales near the border of England. It has been a ruin for a long time, intentionally destroyed after surrender during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century. However, thanks to the sturdiness of the walls and British cultural preservation efforts, it is still possible to walk around inside, to climb old stone steps, to peer out of the stone-framed windows to the fields beyond. My daughter deems it the most fun British castle to visit, as it offers both open opportunities to wander as well as a plethora of nooks and crannies that make for superior games of hide-and-seek.

This is Raglan Castle, and it is the source of the name that Samuel Emerson Ragland ultimately Continue reading

“Murder, Murder!”

Dale Carter shouted these words of warning to his companions at Fort Blackmore when he spotted a group of Indians stealthily approaching the fort in an attempted surprise attack. The warning gave sufficient time for the defenders to secure the fort, but Carter was outside of the walls and no one was able to come to his aid as he was disabled by a gunshot, tomahawked, and scalped. Without his alert, everyone at the fort might well have met the same fate.

The year was 1774, and it was a time of great tension and violence on the western frontier of the American colonies. In 1768, a treaty with the Iroquois had officially opened land west of the Appalachians for settlement. However, other Native American nations such as the Shawnee and Mingo did not accede to the treaty, and as settlers began arriving in their hunting grounds they made their displeasure known. Among the first victims was a small party that included a teenage son of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone, killed in a massacre Continue reading

Man of Many Madisons

Hugh Barnett lived in four states but resided only in Madison County.

He was born in 1790, in the recently-formed Madison County, Virginia. Two years later Kentucky was carved out of Virginia to become its own state, and the county became Madison County, Kentucky. As a young man he moved to Madison County, Alabama where his children were born. And finally he led his grown family on a last move to Madison County, Tennessee in 1849. He died there in 1854.

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Modern Google map showing the relationship and present driving distance between Madison Counties in Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee. Google doesn’t seem to offer a travel time estimate for horse-drawn wagon.

Hugh’s parents likely moved to the Kentucky frontier from Mecklenburg County, NC, where the Barnetts had a large presence within the Presbyterian churches of the area. Family stories identify them as part of the Scotch-Irish community – Continue reading

Pleasant

NPG 3893; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, painting in the National Portrait Gallery in London

From the misty legends of the 17th century come many tales about the ancestors of Pleasant Johnson. His surname is allegedly handed down from the lords of Caskieben in northern Scotland near present-day Inverurie, though his immigrant ancestor was far removed from lordship being the son of a litster (or dyer) in Aberdeen. One grandmother was from a family of Moorman’s – English Quakers who set sail from Barbados in 1670 with the party that founded Charleston, South Carolina but themselves continued up the coast to the established colony of Virginia. His other grandmother was descended from a Huguenot goldsmith who immigrated from Geneva, Switzerland. Much asserted but difficult to prove is descent from an illegitimate daughter of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and one of the eight Lord Proprietors of the land that eventually became North and South Carolina.

The Quaker part, at least, is known to be true. Continue reading

Mystery Man of Madison County

In 1818, the Chickasaw signed a treaty ceding the last of their territory in Tennessee to the United States – the area between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. Immediately, settlers from middle and eastern Tennessee, northern Alabama, and Kentucky began to move west into the newly available land. By 1821, there were enough new inhabitants to create local governments throughout the area, including that of Madison County. Among dozens of names on the petition asking the State of Tennessee to establish Madison that year was John Nelson, who was the great-grandfather of Edgar Luther Nelson and the original west-Tennessee Nelson in this family.

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Map of Tennessee in 1818 before Chickasaw Cession. Compare to 1827 Map.

Despite much searching, the origin of John remains a Mystery. I love a good mystery, but only if I am eventually able to solve it, and this one so far has produced more frustration and less happiness. Even the John Paysinger mystery seems to have a closer ultimate answer, in part because the Nelsons suffer from the genealogical Curse of the Common Name. Both online and print-material searches for “John Nelson” – an unfortunately oft-used English name – provide many to pick from and little guidance as to relevance. Continue reading

Mail on the Rails

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Charles Paysinger, age 17

By the time Charles Paysinger married Lola Belle Tenery on Christmas Eve, 1899, their families had been in the adjacent Lincoln and Giles Counties, Tennessee, for four generations. While many aunts, uncles, and cousins pursued their fortunes westward to Arkansas, Texas, or elsewhere, the portions of the family that remained had set deep roots along the Tennessee and Alabama border, having been there virtually since the beginning of European-American settlement. But the world was changing at the turn of the century and Charles and Lola Belle would pull up those roots and become members of the 20th century economy – following job and career opportunities – rather than engaging in the 19th century’s relentless westward pursuit of new agricultural land. Continue reading

The Tenery Tennessee Farm

Farming. It was the occupation of most of the family in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama until the 20th century. The quest for farmland drove much of U.S. western expansion and settlement, and thus brought much of this family to Tennessee from states on the eastern seaboard. So what did one of these farms look like? Continue reading