Thursday, July 26, 2007

Some Nix connections (part 1 in a Series on the Nix Family of Union County, GA and surrounding counties)

In tracing Nix family lines, we find that the last name was spelled Nicks, Knix and Nix (our present day spelling). The origin seems to be from the old English surname Nichollas, Nicoles, and Nichols, meaning "victory of the people." In the United States, the surnames Nixon and Nickson (both meaning "son of Nick" and "victory of the people") was eventually shortened to Nix by some branches of the family.

William Nix was born about 1788 in South Carolina. His parents were John and Sarah Nix. In Franklin County, Georgia, on September 3, 1809, William Nix married Susannah Stonecypher, a daughter of John Henry, Jr. and Nancy Curtis Stonecypher. Susannah's father fought in the American Revolution.

William and Susannah Nix lived in Franklin County, Georgia for a while after their marriage. In 1822 they bought land in Habersham County, When White County was formed, some of the land holdings of William Nix were incorporated into the new county. They made their home near present-day Tesnatee Baptist Church. In the 1860 census of White County, William Nix's worth was listed at $3,000. The Nix cabin was still standing as late as 1990. Known for their hospitality, it has been said that William "Grancer" and Susannah Stonecypher Nix never turned anyone away from their home. They were buried in the Nix Family Cemetery a little south of the old homeplace. In 1985, grave markers were erected by a descendant, Wanda West Gregory.

Of the eleven children born to William and Susannah Nix, four of them married persons with Union County, Georgia roots, and settled here. James Nix married (1) Elizabeth Collins, daughter of Thompson and Celia Self Collins; (2) Carolina Duckworth, daughter of David and Mary Williamson Duckworth; and (3) Rebecca Evaline Duckworth, a sister of Carolina. Mary Nix, known as Polly, married Archibald Collins. Ruthia Nix married Francis Collins. Malinda Nix married William Jesse Souther.

Let us trace first some of the descendants of James Nix, who more often than not was listed as Jimmy Nix. The second-born child of eleven born to William and Susannah Nix, he made his appearance into the world in Franklin County, Georgia in July of 1812 in the farmhouse owned by his parents on Eastanollee Creek. When he was about ten years of age, his family moved to Habersham County. It was there he met and married Elizabeth Collins, lovingly called "Betsy" by her family and by her husband, Jimmy Nix.

She was born in North Carolina on August 24, 1814. She was nineteen when they married on March 12, 1834. To Jimmy and Betsy were born fifteen children as follows: William (1836), Susannah (1837), Thompson (1838), John (1840, died in the Civil War at Sharpsburg, Maryland in 1862), Archibald Carr (1842), Isabella (1844 - twin), James Bly (1844 - twin), Jeffrie (1846), Jasper (known as "Grancer," 1847 - twin), Newton (1847 - twin, died at age 15 in the Civil War in Virginia), Thomas Jefferson (1848 - enlisted in Civil War at age 13), Ivan (1849), Benjamin Stonecypher (1851), Celia (1852), and Sarah, known as "Sally" (1854).

At the young age of 45, after bearing fifteen children and looking after them diligently, Elizabeth Collins Nix died in 1859. She was buried in the Old Choestoe Cemetery.

Jimmy Nix began to look for a good woman who could help him with his many children. He found her in Carolina Elizabeth Duckworth (b. 1815), daughter of David and Mary Williamson Duckworth. They were wed on January 3, 1863 after the Civil War was well under way. Four children were born to this union. Mary Evaline (10-23-1863), Nancy (1864), Buddy (1865), and Sophronia Jane (1867).

Jimmy Nix enlisted in the Georgia State Militia, Company 2, on December 14, 1863, and apparently served with the Militia until the end of the Civil War. The cause of his second wife's death is not known, but she died before the 1870 census.

For his third wife, James "Grancer" Nix courted and married a younger sister of his second wife. Her name was Rebecca Evaline Duckworth (b. 1828). The Duckworth sisters were born in North Carolina near the headwaters of the French Broad River in Henderson County. Their parents migrated to Union County and became prominent early settlers there. Jimmy and Rebecca had one child, stillborn, who was not named.

He and his third wife had ten years together before his death on October 2, 1882. She lived to be 86 and died June 14, 1914. Both were buried in the Old Choestoe Cemetery.

Readers might like to keep this column for reference. Future columns will expand on names of some of the children and grandchildren, descendants of James "Grancer" Nix. There are more stories to tell of these hardy early settlers.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones. Published July 26, 2007 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Farm Reece remembered

"I know a valley green with corn
Where Nottley's waters roil and run
From the deep hills where first at morn
It takes the color of the sun."

So read the first four lines of Union County Byron Herbert Reece's poem entitled, "I Know a Valley Green with Corn."

In the summertime he 'laid by' his crop of corn along Wolf Creek in Choestoe. As he toiled by day, the rhythm of the cultivator plowing through the corn rows produced the lyrical cadences of poems which he set down by pen at night when most farmers in his valley were resting.

But "I know a valley green with corn" came as a remembrance, with nostalgia and homesickness. The poet was (as he indicates) "three thousand miles away" from his beloved valley "green with corn" when he penned these lines.

He left his home beside US Highway 129 near Vogel State Park on June 14, 1950. It took him almost as long to get to the Atlanta airport and board a plane as the flight across country to the University of California at Los Angeles. There he taught classes, met with literary groups, and faced criticism that he was a poseur. "Many people in the artificial circles where he read his poetry, after hearing one of his exquisitely executed lyrics, could not accept the authenticity of the man standing before them. Surely he must be cultivating the appearance of an unpolished mountain farmer who was trying to gain notoriety and publicity by posing as a 'primitive.'" (in Raymond A. Cook, Mountain Singer. Atlanta, Cherokee Publishers, 1980, page 70).

He wrote a friend that he felt he was "Exhibit A" from "the primitive mountains of Georgia." The academicians could not accept that he wrote with such perception and lyricism without having earned several degrees from prestigious colleges. It was from his apartment on Veteran Avenue in Los Angeles that he thought about the Wolf Creek farm and longed to be there, where "Nottley's waters roil and run."

Now the farm which was once "green with corn" is being turned into the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial and Appalachian Cultural Center. As progress is made on the project undertaken by the four-year old Byron Herbert Reece Society, work is moving forward to save the land, the barns, and Reece's dwelling house which will become the Visitor's Center of the complex.

Interactive programs for children will help them understand how an early twentieth century mountain farm operated. Educational displays will show the life and times of Byron Herbert Reece. When the plaza is built, some of his poems will be engraved at each of the cardinal points. An amphitheater is on the drawing board. It will be at the north end of the property at the bend of Wolf Creek. It will be available for outdoor dramas, poetry readings and programs.

Union County had a genius among us as Reece farmed the land and spent what few hours he had from hard labor writing lyrical poems, ballads, sonnets and novels. Kenneth Rockwell writing in the Dallas Daily Times in 1950 stated: "There is no doubt that Byron Herbert Reece is one of the important younger writers in America." (Cook, p. 72). In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of July 16, 1950, a reviewer wrote: "Anything that Byron Herbert Reece, Georgia's hill country bard, turns his hand to is done with vigor and thoroughness. This is true whether he is plowing a furrow on his farm in the Choestoe district or writing a ballad or a novel." (Cook, p. 72).

In this ninetieth year since Poet Reece's birth, the Society named for him is working hard to build the Cultural Center, to create lesson plans and make persons available for the "Reece in the Schools" project, to record oral histories from those who knew Reece personally during his life; and to have programs that will give insight and understanding about the "poet genius of the mountains." You may go online at to find out how to join and to read more about the cultural center. We in the Society would like to have readers of this column as members. Your membership can make a difference as we work together to make known the rich legacy of this mountain poet.

Young Harris College and the Georgia Center for the Book/Georgia Humanities Council are the presenting sponsors joining many other supporters to honor Reece this fall at 2007 Georgia Literary Festival. Featured writers will be Philip Lee Williams of Athens, Helen Lewis of Morganton, and Bettie Sellers of Young Harris. Cathy Cox, former Georgia Secretary of State and President of Young Harris, will be the keynote speaker. Many other Georgia writers with ties to the mountains will be Honored Participants. The Festival will be held in Blue Ridge September 28-30. For more information, see

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 19, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dyer-Souther Reunion

Saturday, July 14, 2007 marks the date for the annual Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion. Choestoe Baptist Church's Family Life Center will be a-buzz with people, beginning with registration at 11:00 a. m. A bounteous covered dish meal will be enjoyed at noon. The reunion program will begin at 1:00 p. m.

If telephone calls and e-mails are an indication, many new "kin" who are just now finding out about the wonderful reunion are planning to be first-time attendees. My excitement begins to grow weeks before the event.

The reunion honors early settlers to the Choestoe Valley who began coming into the county about the time Union County was formed from the large Cherokee territory. Elisha Dyer, Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Clark Dyer, and several of their children came from Pendleton District, South Carolina by way of Habersham County where they remained awhile, and then moved on across the mountain to Choestoe, "place where rabbits dance."

The Souther early settlers migrated from the vicinity of Old Fort, NC a few years later, about 1835, with John and Mary Combs Souther settling in the vicinity of present-day New Liberty Baptist Church. Altogether, five Souther siblings had settled in the area by 1850. These were John, Jesse William, Jr., Joseph, Hicks (or Hix), and Kizziah Souther Humphries. Jesse established a mill, with assistance from his brothers John and Joseph. The mill opened in 1848 and ground corn for meal and grains to bolt flour. A sawmill was operated on the site using the water power provided by a head of water passed through a chute to operate the turbines. The grist mill operated for 90 years.

Another family, in the valley by 1832, was Thompson Collins and Celia Self Collins. Her father, Job Self, also settled in Choestoe. Claiming other homesteads were the John and Elizabeth Hunter family. Daniel England married Elizabeth, a daughter of John and Elizabeth Hunter. The oldest house in the county still standing is the Hunter-England cabin, now in bad repair, which can be seen just off Highway 129/19 in the Choestoe District. There were other families: Nix, Jackson, Duckworth, Spiva, Henson, Vandiver, Brown, Townsend, Turner, Reece and more. By the time marriages were performed from one family to another, there soon came a rich fabric of kinship.

Saturday, present for the first time, will be Dan Smith of Raleigh, NC. He descends from Rhoda Lucinda Souther who married John Floyd Edward Vandiver. Dan is a musician. He will sing and will also lead reunion attendees in singing an old, old song.

On April 13, 1868 at New Liberty Baptist Church, Nancy Collins Souther, wife of John Combs Hayes Souther and daughter of Thompson and Celia Self Collins, sat writing the words of a song as the song "heister" lined them out to the congregation. In her own handwriting, these words have been preserved. Set to the tune of "The Good Old Way" found in Southern Harmony # 156, Dan Smith will lead reunion attendees in singing this old church song on Saturday. It is entitled "Come All Ye Righteous Here Below." Nancy Souther wrote nine stanzas of the song. Here are three:

"Come all ye righteous here below,
Oh, Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
Let nothing prove your overthrow,
Oh Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
But call on me both day and night,
Oh Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
And I'll visit you with delight,
Sing glory ha-le-lu-jah!
When the day of judgment doth draw nigh,
Oh Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
Poor sinners will lament and cry,
Oh Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
For the earnest deeds that they have done,
Oh, Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
They will repent in time to come,
Oh, Ha-le, ha-le-lu-jah!
A solemn memorial service will honor those who have moved from this life to the next- a large number since the last reunion.

We will gladly welcome familiar faces, those who return to their roots year after year. We will help those who come for the first time to feel welcome through connections that have been made since July, 2007. And if you would like to come, too, and see what's up with this large family, you will find a warm reception.

In 1989 my cousin, the late Watson B. Dyer, nominated me to take his place as family historian. Without even asking me if I would accept the job, I was suddenly plunged into a task I didn't anticipate. But one of the great pleasures of my life since then has been contacting people throughout America to help them find their roots. I don't always succeed in giving them the right links, but I've made many new friends and have more "cousins" than I thought possible. The Russian writer in his famous novel, Anna Kerenina, wrote: "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." We're one big happy family and that's a good way to be.

c2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 12, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Our Level of Patriotism

Webster's dictionary defines patriotism as "love for or devotion to one's country." Consider the phrase, "love for." What one loves, one respects. Have we today departed from President John F. Kennedy's plea? "Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

What is our level of patriotism? How much do we love America? Are we, its citizens, among those who are most critical of its present policies? Are we looking for what our country can do for us?

The Fourth of July is a good time to renew our love for and devotion to country.

Does seeing Old Glory flutter in the breeze send a message to your mind of the freedoms that have been won dearly and which we enjoy today? Let us take a little journey back into history. Maybe we can refresh our patriotism and determine to be more loyal to a country that gives us "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Fourth of July is observed as the official birthday of our country. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence became the document whereby the colonies declared their separation from England. It was not as simple as signing the document penned mainly by Thomas Jefferson and subscribed to by the other four members of the committee. The Continental Congress debated lines, changed statements. Jefferson, the youngest of the delegates to the Congress at age 32 had to return to his desk and revise the document according to strong suggestions made. The revision was approved on July 4, 1776.

Prior to adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies were already at war with Britain, fighting for their rights. Militia units throughout the colonies were building up supplies and arms against encroachments by British soldiers. How well do we remember the cries of "taxation without representation" and the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773 when "every chest from the three vessels was knocked to pieces."

There followed what the colonists declared as "The Intolerabe Acts," five laws passed by the British Parliament against the "rebellious" colonists. Each stricture by Britain, and the build up of the Red Coat Army on colonial soil sent strong ripples of dissent throughout the colonies.

Tories were the party in the colonies that supported British rule; patriots were forming their own local militia to oppose the British.

Patrick Henry, one of the patriots, spoke in the Virginia legislature on March 23, 1775 supporting the resolution that the colony be immediately put in a state of defense and begin to assemble arms and men to do battle. Henry's impassioned speech ended with these words: "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

We recall the poem by William Wadsworth Longfellow that made famous the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and the sign in the old North Church of lanterns lighted to alert the militia of the British approach: "one if by land, two if by sea." That date in history was April 18, 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence.

The very next day, April 19, 1975, British troops were marching toward Concord, Massachusetts. At Lexington, the local militia beat their drums and fired their guns, providing a brief and unexpected interruption for the advancing British. At that confrontation, eight of the militia were killed and ten wounded.

The British troops continued their march toward Concord and it was there, on April 20, 1775, that the famous "shot heard 'round the world" was fired. The militia had been instructed not to fire unless fired upon. Because of the brave fighting of the Americans, the British retreated from Concord.

Militia throughout the colonies were on alert, building their supplies and recruits. It was on June 15, 1775 that George Washington was chosen by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia to become Commander-in-Chief of the American armies. He had an almost impossible task both in communication and action to bring the scattered militia into a semblance of a united American force. They suffered terribly from the elements, lack of provisions, desertion. The terrible winter at Valley Forge is an example of utter hardship.

On June 17, 1775, the famous Battle of Bunker Hill took place. American General Israel Putnam had cautioned his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." The British far outnumbered the American troops. But at each confrontation, the militia fought valiantly.

In January of 1776, the pamphlet entitled "Common Sense" written by Thomas Paine was widely circulated in the colonies. In it, Paine advocated separation from England, declaring that "virtue is not hereditary" and "We are not Englishmen; we are Americans." This set the stage for Virginia's Richard Henry Lee to make the statement in the meeting of the Continental Congress in June, 1776: "These United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." His words, almost verbatim, were included in the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, using political philosophy advocated by the seventeenth century philosopher, Englishman John Locke, and bearing the meaningful words we have come to cherish: "All men are created equal" and among their rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

We know the story. Many of our ancestors took up arms against the British. America won freedom at a heavy cost in lives and fortunes. Since the surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown , Virginia on October 19, 1781, America has been on the road to the liberties applauded in the Declaration of Independence. A nation, even at one time divided into North and South in a bitter conflict, has survived. It has been 231 years since the birth of our nation on July 4, 1776.

At the famed battle of Yorktown, the flag with its stars and stripes was mounted and fluttered in the breeze. Private Joseph Martin wrote: "I felt a secret pride swell in my heart when I saw the star-spangled banner waving majestically."

And so may our pride and patriotism rise for this "land of the free and the home of the brave." May we never take our blessings and privileges for granted.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 5, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.