Thursday, April 30, 2009

Merchants operating stores in Union Co. in 1881

In last week's column we revisited the store of Mr. John Andrew Wimpey and his wife, Nellie Jane Duckworth Wimpey. I neglected to write that their store, first opened in Choestoe, had the misfortune to burn down. But they rebuilt on the same location on the Town Creek Road and, though suffering considerable financial losses by the fire, did not keep them from the store business. They had a good bit of experience as merchants when they bought out Nellie's Uncle Frank Duckworth in Blairsville and operated the merchandising business there until they retired in the early 1950's.

From census, tax and other records we learn the locations and names of merchants in 1881 in Union County. With no railroad near and no adequate roads, it was difficult to get items for the stores. Depending on the location of the stores, the owners had to go by wagon to Gainesville, Murphy, NC, or some went as far away as Atlanta and Augusta to trade items they had bartered in their stores for merchandise they purchased to stock their businesses. It was not unusual for the trip out to market and return with a load of goods to take a week from Blairsville to Gainesville.

In 1881, the county seat town of Blairsville was blessed with ten merchants. Those operating stores, by name, were John Hudgins, William J. Conley, Thomas Butt, James A. Butt, Eugene Butt, Thomas Hughes, Milford Hamby, William Colwell, Henry Carroll, and John England. I do not know where these places of business were located, or how close together they might have been. Blairsville was second in number of stores of the districts listed.

Ivy Log had the most stores of any of the districts. In fact, Ivy Log was described as "a bustling place" in early records. Those who kept the residents supplied with opportunities to purchase store-bought goods were Ruben Deavers, Isaac, Glazier, Napoleon Bonaparte Hill, L. P. King, William Lance, J. Ledford, Larkin Lewis, Henry McBee, Jasper Owen(s)by, Cannon Stephens, Caleb Thompson and James Reed. These twelve merchants were among the outstanding citizens in that section of the county.

Third in number of mercantile places operating was the Choestoe District. There Archibald Collins, Ruth Collins, James M. Dyer, James Nix, John Combs Hayes Souther, T. M. Swain, Willis Twiggs and Joshua Audern had places of trade. Except for Joshua Audern (whose last name may have been spelled wrong by the census taker), the store keepers had descendants who still live in that district today.

Gaddistown District "across the mountain" at Suches had six merchants in 1881. These were James A. Cavender, Charles Davis, John Davis, Henry Gurley, James Gurley and John A. Thomas. There, as in the other districts, last names of these merchants are familiar among citizens who live there today.

Coosa District had four stores operated by William Ledford, C. Nelson, Arthur Owensby and George W. Cavender. Coosa was noted for its gold mines which opened and operated before the Civil War. An estimate is that over two million dollars in gold ore was extracted from the Coosa Mines. The Coosa settlement vied for the county seat to be located there early in the history of the county, but Blairsville won the bid for the location of the courthouse and county government.

Camp Creek settlement had four stores operated by Jesse Low, Thomas M. Lance, John Davenport and J. J. Cobb.

Young Cane had one store owned by James F. Reed.

All the forty-five merchants in 1881 offered needful products such as salt, sugar, coffee and tea. Many had barrels of staples from which they measured dry beans and rice. The barest essentials were main items in these stores. Far from well-stocked with goods, the community stores were noted nonetheless for hospitality, and places where people could learn the latest news. The pot-bellied stove or open fireplace was a place of warmth in winter inviting everyone in to "sit a spell" and visit.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 30, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

John Andrew Wimpey, farmer and merchant

Many still living may remember going to the John and Nellie Wimpey store located on Highway 129 South in Blairsville across the street from the old United Methodist Church just a block from the old courthouse. As I recall, customers could purchase clothes, shoes, piece goods, staple groceries, and other personal, farm and household needs at the Johnny Wimpey Mercantile Store.

Mr. Wimpey was a small man of stature, quiet and unassuming in nature. But he stood tall as a citizen and a respected gentleman about town and even throughout the county. He and his wife, Nellie Duckworth Wimpey, operated their "town" store in a friendly and helpful manner. Customers would go to trade and leave feeling that they had been treated to the news of the day, warm hospitality and friendly conversation as well as a good deal for the purchases they made at the Wimpey store.

John Andrew Wimpey was born December 7, 1887 in the Choestoe District of Union County. His parents were James A. Wimpey (08-15-1856 - 02-15-1894) and Morena Dyer Wimpey (09-14-1859 - 04-09-1903). On his father's side, his grandparents were Jehu and Mira Jackson Wimpey. On his mother's side, his grandparents were Micajah Clark Dyer and Morena Elizabeth Owenby Dyer.

Readers may recognize his maternal grandfather as being the famous inventor who received a U.S. patent in September, 1874 for his "Apparatus for Navigating the Air." One of John Andrew Wimpey's favorite stories to tell was about seeing his grandfather's flying machine invention. For any who doubted that a plane had been made at Choestoe years before the Wright Brothers' flight in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, they referred to Johnny Wimpey's story, and reasoned, "It must have been true; Johnny Wimpey never tells a lie."

Like most boys born in the mountains in the late nineteenth century, Johnny Wimpey did not have an easy childhood. His father, Jim Wimpey, died when Johnny was six years old. His mother, known as Rena Wimpey, died when the lad was fifteen years old. Johnny had two brothers, Bill and Virge. The boys' uncle, Jasper Washington Dyer (1843-1913) and his wife, Emaline E. Lance Dyer (1843-1915) took the Wimpey boys in after their mother died. Johnny worked hard on the farm and leaned to blend with the extended family.

Johnny Wimpey had a notable and dedicated instructor for his elementary education at the one-teacher school at Pine Top. Known as "Bud" Miller, this upright citizen of Choestoe was William Jasper Miller (1848-1919) whose wife was Jane Malinda Collins (1861-1931). Johnny's education was received between obligations on the farm, but he learned to "cipher" well, a skill with numbers that would fit him admirably for his future as a merchant. In fact, his teacher, Mr. Bud Miller, may have influenced the young lad toward the mercantile business, for Mr. Miller operated a country store at his home, farmed, and taught the short-term sessions at Pine Top School.

John Andrew Wimpey and Nellie Jane Duckworth (12-29-1896 - 02-06-1968) were married on December 14, 1911. Nellie was a daughter of John Francis (known as Jack) Duckworth (1869-1910) and Laura Jane Noblet Duckworth (1875-1956). The Duckworth family lived on a farm east of Old Liberty Church in the Choestoe District.

Nellie's father, Jack, died of a gunshot wound on Christmas Day, 1910, from a "friendly" shooting match. Nellie saw her father fall over from the shot, a traumatic event in the life of the then almost fifteen year old. Just weeks before her sixteenth birthday, Nellie married the love of her life, Johnny Wimpey.

At first, Johnny and Nellie Wimpey farmed the land. They continued farming after Johnny opened his first store in 1922 located in the Town Creek section of Union County. Johnny would be gone for days to Gainesville to trade items the couple had taken in for barter in their store. At the wholesale houses, he purchased new merchandise for the store. In the days before the Neel Gap Highway (now GA 129) opened for travel in 1925, Johnny had to go over the Logan Turnpike to Tesnatee Gap at Cleveland and on to Gainesville. The Choestoe store at Town Creek burned in 1922, a blow to the young couple. He kept farming, but one of Nellie's brothers, Frank Duckworth, had a store in Blairsville. He invited Johnny to come to work for him and they formed a partnership.

Then, in 1928, Johnny bought out Frank Duckworth's store and it became known as the Johnny Wimpey Store in Blairsville.

The fact that he bought the store in town just prior to the Great Depression was a venture of faith within itself. Fortunately, he still had farm acreage he could till which produced food for the family in the lean years of the 1930's when people did not have money to buy even what they needed at a store. Barter was again the way of dealing with the shaky economy. The records show that Johnny and Nellie took as barter sorghum syrup for which they allowed 40 cents per gallon in trade; corn was bartered at 50 to 75 cents per bushel; cured pork was traded at 5 to 7 cents per pound. Labor on the farm was no more than 50 cents per day, or, if the farmer did not have to provide the noon meal for workers, the day's hard labor was 75 cents, lunch brought by worker. Johnny would take day labor on his farm as "trade" for items from his store. With diligence to work and kindness to customers, the Wimpeys weathered the storm of the Great Depression and their store stayed open through the years of World War II and beyond until Johnny Wimpey decided it was time for him to retire.

The Wimpeys were active in Old Liberty Baptist Church at Town Creek where he was ordained a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. When they moved to Blairsville, they joined First Baptist Church and were active there as long as their health permitted attendance.

Four children were born to John Andrew and Nellie Jane Duckworth Wimpey: Ethel (1913) who married Claude Rawlins; Charlie (1914) who married Grapelle Wimpey; Ruby (1917) who married Howard Parks; and Charlene (1930) who married Harold Ash. During our high school years, their daughter Charlene and I were best friends. My visits in the Wimpey home were always met with the motherly care of Nellie who became a surrogate mother for me after my own mother died when I was fourteen. It was a great blow to me when their daughter and my friend Charlene died of a then incurable disease in 1952 at age 22. Ruby Parks is the only one of the four Wimpey children surviving at this writing. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She and Ethel had long careers as teachers and Charlie was a farmer and cattleman.

John Andrew Wimpey died March 18, 1980. His wife Nellie preceded him in death on February 6, 1968. Their graves are in the Blairsville Cemetery across from First Baptist Church. Both descended from early settlers of Union County and all, including ancestors, themselves and their children, left a distinctive mark as farmers, merchants, educators, business persons and salt-of-the earth solid citizens.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 23, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Letters tell of family travels—Combs, Hendren, Souther Families

Thomas Hicks Combs (ca. 1765 - ?) married Kizziah Hayes (1782-?) on February 3, 1801. Their daughter, Mary Combs (1807-1894) married John Souther (1803-1889) on December 7, 1824 in Wilkes County, NC. Mary and John Souther would eventually settle in the Choestoe District of Union County about 1836, but not before they and some of Mary's brothers and sisters and parents migrated to Indiana.

Thomas Hicks Combs and his wife Kizziah lived in the Brushy Branch section of Wilkes County, NC on Hunting Creek. One of their daughters, Nancy Combs (1808-1888) who married Jabez Hendren in 1829, did not migrate to Indiana but continued to live on the farm at Hunting Creek. In the early 1830's, the mother and father and several of their married children set out for Indiana. It is said that Kizziah walked the distance to Indiana. A letter sent to North Carolina stated that after she arrived there, she fell out the door of the house and broke her leg and could never walk again, although otherwise she was in good health.

It is interesting to read some old letters preserved in family archives to learn of the travels of these couples who left Wilkes County to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

A letter written November 29, 1835 was postmarked in Lewisville, Indiana, Rush County, December 11, 1835. From a younger sister of Mary Combs Souther, Elizabeth Combs (1814-1836), who married Jehu Hendren in Wilkes County January 9, 1833, the letter was addressed to Jehu's father William Hendren in Wilkes County. The Combs and Hendren families must have lived close enough together in Wilkes to visit each other, for the letter asked that members of the Combs family be given news from Indiana.

I reproduce here sections of the 1835 letter, which gives information about how those who went to Rush County, Indiana to settle were faring:

"…We are well at present, through the kind mercy of God. We received your letter the 21st day of this month (November, 1835) and were glad to hear that you are all well.
"I made a tolerable crop of corn and flax. My corn was injured a good deal with the frost. All late corn planted in this country is frost bitten. I can pay fifty bushels of corn toward the mare I bought. The man says he will wait 'till next fall for the balance, or take it in work and allow two bushels for a day's work. Corn is selling for 25 and 50 cents per bushel. Wheat is selling for one dollar and 12 and ½ cents per bushel. Pork is selling for 3 to 4 dollars per hundred. I have engaged 3 hundred weight at 3.25 per hundred. I have ten head of hogs. I have two head of cattle and we get more milk than we can use three times a day. I have a first-rate young horse. I am a little in debt, but I can pay when due, I believe."
A child named William, after his grandfather William Hendren, had been born since the couple arrived in Rush County, Indiana. They have this to say about their child:
"William H. could walk before he was a year old, and began to talk tolerable smart. He is a tolerably large child for his age.”
Health is important, as they write in the letter:
"I (Jehu) have been as well as ever in my life since I left North Carolina. I weigh one hundred and sixty-five pounds. There has been a great deal of fever and ague in this county this year. It is enough to scare a fellow."
"We had prospects for a very great harvest but the frost destroyed most of it. I expect to move onto my own land next fall if I live."
Several of the Indiana relatives put their own pages in the letter. Asenath Ellis Combs, who had married William Combs in Wilkes County January 10, 1822, wrote in her portion of the letter:
"William and John Souther have gone to Cincinnati to haul goods for one of the neighbors for one dollar per hundredweight."
Asenath also urged William Hendren to hurry to Indiana to buy the rest of the Souther property, telling what good farm and pastureland it was, and stating the purchase
"would make William Hendren a rich man if he would come and buy it." She stated Souther was willing to sell it for $300 "and the land is well worth $1,000."
Jehu Hendren wrote news about his brother in law:
"John Souther moved to this country and bought 180 acres of land and sold 80 acres to (Thomas) Hicks Combs (his father-in-law). He says he will sell the balance and move from this country, for there is too much mud and cold and ague for him. He talks of moving to Georgia."
Not long after the letter was written, John and Mary Combs Souther did leave Indiana and move to Georgia, for they had purchased and settled on a farm in Choestoe District by 1836.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 16, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Very Special Time--Holy Week

Because of the special time on our calendar known as Holy Week, from Sunday April 5 through Sunday April 12, I will suspend regular historical writing on early settlers and their descendants and focus on events observed throughout the world.

Even with the limelight on a special week, it is good that we consider its historical significance and the weight centuries of observation plays on our present-day celebrations of this event in the Christian year.

Christmas and Easter: One does not have significant meaning without the other. The birth of Christ which we observe at Christmas splits time in two. Ever since that significant date, whatever time of the year it happened originally, we have had B. C. and A. D.—Before Christ and Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord.

But Christmas without Easter would not have had worldwide and centuries-long impact. The latter celebration gives the former purpose and direction.

Since time as we know it was set by the birth of Christ, we might think that Easter, which does not have a division of time named for it, is less significant. But great Christian leaders of the world, from the earliest time until the present, have been avid in proclaiming that without the death of Christ and His resurrection, His birth would hold far less importance. Easter, then, authenticates the purpose, the mission of the Babe of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us.

It was not until about the 3rd century A. D. that churches began to observe what we know as the season of Easter. We oftentimes complain that both Christmas and Easter are too secularized, a time for buying and selling, excessive giving, and many celebrations that are far removed from the spiritual meaning of these two holy seasons. As a matter of convenience, both seasons were set upon dates already observed in pagan cultures. We must remember that Christianity was launched in a pagan world.

The date of Easter changes slightly each year and comes no earlier than March 22 and no later than April 25. To confuse the date further, Eastern Orthodox and Western Orthodox observances of Easter are oftentimes on different calendar dates. That is because the Eastern date is set using the Julian calendar and the Western date is set using the Gregorian calendar. To confuse matters further, the date for Easter is set not on the astronomical first full moon after the spring equinox, but on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal or Ecclesiastical full moon. When I read about how it is enumerated, I'm just grateful that someone in the know can determine the date for Easter and let us know.

Regardless of how it came to be and when, it was named Easter by Venerable Bede, because a celebration was already in place to honor a Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon goddess named Eostre (or Estre). She was believed to be the goddess of the rising light of day and the dawn of spring. It seemed to Venerable Bede that, since Christ's death and resurrection brought light and new life, it would be well to name the celebration of His coming forth from the grave Easter.

Those who delve into and record statistics tell us that Easter is the one Sunday in the year when more people attend Christian churches, regardless of denomination, than any other day of the year—even Christmas. Ask these once-a-year church-goers if they are Christians and they will probably respond "Yes." After all, does not their faithfulness on Easter Sunday prove this? They believe in life after death. They have a hope of their own resurrection following death. After all, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, crucified on what we now term "Good Friday" broke the bonds of death that bound him. Will He not do the same for believers? Did he not promise the thief on the cross who believed in him, "This day you will be with me in Paradise?" We somehow need to remember there are fifty-one other weeks in a year, fifty-one other Sundays to show faithfulness of beliefs and Christian practice.

I read with a great deal of concern that the twentieth century registered more martyrs for the faith than any other century. Considering how many Christians lost their lives in the early years after the resurrection when the church was spreading rapidly and believers were killed for their faith, this statistic was alarming. In the year 2,000, over 150,000 Christians worldwide were martyred. Those who study trends predict that persecution will spread and that even in the United States the freedom to worship and practice one's Christian faith will be in great jeopardy.

Strong Christ-centered beliefs played an important role in the formation of America's government. In 1892, the Supreme Court of the United States made this decision: "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian." [Quoted from Supreme Court Records by Thomas Horn of Worthy Christian News]

Easter is a good time to evaluate our seriousness of belief and commitment. Easter can be a new beginning, a time when night turns to day, darkness to light, mourning to joy, despair to hope, weakness to strength, fear to courage, distress to peace, defeat to victory; death to life. A catchy but truthful saying made the rounds a few years ago. The statement was: "If it is to be, it is up to me." Could we think on these things this Holy Week and Easter—and even beyond, all year long?

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 9, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Early Settlers--Jesse Fields Family

In 1837 Jesse and Catherine Fields moved from North Carolina to Union County, Georgia. The 1840 and 1850 census records of the county can be somewhat confusing on this Fields family. In 1840 they were listed as "Jesse Fielder" by the enumerator with six in the household. By 1850, the enumerator listed them as the Jesse Fields household, and since names were given in that year's census, we learn that Jesse, born in SC, was 38, his wife Catherine, born in NC, was 38, and children in their home were: James, 15, born in NC, Elizabeth, 13, born in SC, and those born in Georgia were Sarah, 12, John 9, Thomas 7, and William 2.

The family settled in the Owltown District of Union County and built a log cabin which was later expanded to become the Crump residence, well-known as one of the historic houses of the district.

Jesse Fields was involved in county and community life. It is said that he cut trees and hewed logs for the building of Union County's first log courthouse.

He and his family were among the early members of Harmony Grove Baptist Church founded in 1847. Jesse Fields served as the church's clerk from 1858-1860.

The Civil War came and the Jesse Fields family was affected by it, as were most of the residents of Union County who sent soldiers either to the Union or to the Confederate Army. Two of Jesse's sons, John and Thomas J. served in the Confederate Army.

Before Thomas went away to war, he married Sarah Allen. She had come from Holland with her family and often had stories to tell her family and others about the hardships they endured on the journey by ship from Holland.

With Thomas away at war, Sarah was doing what she could to maintain their farm and make a living for the family. Then she got word that her husband, Thomas J. Fields, had been killed in the war. He had first been a bugler in the 6th Regiment of the Georgia Calvary, and then assigned to the 65th Regiment of the Georgia Infantry.

One day, Sarah was plowing on their farm along the Nottely River. She had an oxen hitched to the plow, but it had balked and was lying down in the river. Sarah, tired and displeased with the stubborn ox's behavior, bowed her head in resignation and perhaps to pray. When she lifted her head and looked toward the rail fence that surrounded the plot she was cultivating, she saw her husband, Thomas Fields, two years reported dead, crossing the fence. The impact of seeing him made her fall into the river in a faint. Records show that he was discharged May 12, 1865, more than a month after the war was declared ended at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Thomas and Sarah and their family lived at the Fields (later Crump) residence in Owltown for a number of years after he returned from the Civil War. He had artisans Bascomb and Woodford Nelson add the gingerbread decoration to the old Fields cabin that had been added onto throughout the years and was a stately two-story white frame house. He became a doctor. In 1915 he and Sarah moved to Mt. Airy, Georgia near Cornelia.

The Fields family, descending from first settlers Jesse and Catherine Akins Fields, have figured prominently in Union County's growth. As descendants went to other geographic locations, they became solid citizens and hard-working people. After Catherine's death, Jesse Fields married, second, to Lavina Cook.

Catherine, Jesse and Vinie Fields were interred in the Harmony Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. Catherine Fields' stone does not have a birth date; her death date was November 15, 1857. Jesse Fields was born June 12, 1812 and died November 16, 1904. Vinie, Jesse's second wife, died November 23, 1877. Her stone has no birth date. The tribute inscribed on Jesse Fields's tombstone speaks of his character: "He lived a Christian life."

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 2, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.