Settled

Lula Mai & Edgar Luther Nelson

Edgar Luther Nelson and his wife Lula Mai (Blakemore)

Edgar Luther Nelson died in 1969 less than a week before his 86th birthday. In all those many years, he never lived more than 2 1/2 miles from the small town of Humboldt in Gibson County, western Tennessee. His was the fourth generation in west Tennessee; his grandfather and father had made only a small move from the adjacent Madison County to Gibson sometime after the Civil War. The western migration for this part of the Nelson family was clearly over after his great-grandfather John arrived in the early 1820s.

Edgar grew up amidst tragedy and the memory of tragedy in his immediate family. Continue reading

The Work of Others

Bunn will extract

Extract from will of Jacob Bunn, Northampton County, NC, 1790

Most American genealogies justifiably celebrate the accomplishments and deeds of ancestors, recalling how they experienced or participated in the historical events of their times. However, genealogies of white southerners often omit reference to a group of household members that contributed significantly to their family enterprises: that is, those household members held in slavery prior to the Civil War. Yet much as slavery was impossible to ignore in antebellum southern society, it is impossible to ignore within the primary documents of the era. Particularly disturbing is reading wills, where “Negroes” are parceled out to heirs along with livestock and household furnishings. One common formulation reads like that in the 1790 will of Nelson ancestor Jacob Bunn, of Northampton County, NC: “I give unto my grandson Elias Lewter one Negro woman by the name of Edy and all her issue to him and his heirs forever.” Thus does one man expect to condemn a woman and all her descendants to slavery in perpetuity.

No one in the family handed down stories of slavery, but a few, usually tragic glimpses remain in the historical record. Continue reading

Dynamo

Mary Sue RaglandMary Sue (Ragland) Nelson is remembered as one of the most energetic and capable recent members of the family. Born in 1907 as the granddaughter of prominent Henry County businessman Ben Thompson and great-granddaughter of the pioneer Methodist minister Benjamin Peeples, she lived her entire life in Paris, Tennessee, excepting only the years she spent earning a degree at Randolph Macon Women’s College in Virginia (she was the second of three generations of the family to attend this school).

Mary Sue was raised by her mother and grandparents in the spacious Thompson house in downtown Paris. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her father returned to his family in Kentucky where he remarried. Later in life Mary Sue rejected his overtures 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.

map_of_tennessee_1818

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