Thursday, June 24, 2010

Profile of Union County in 1850

A profile of Union County’s population and work can be gained from the 1850 census of the county. Total population registered at that time was 6,958, with 1,141 families (or households) enumerated.

This does not account for some of the “hidden” residences that may not have been visited and enumerated by census taker J. J. Logan as he made his trek from house to house from September 2 through November 16, 1850. The fact that it took him a little more than six weeks to make his home visits speaks for the expanse of the county which then consisted of lands taken into Fannin County in 1854 and into Towns County in 1856 when portions of Union were incorporated into the then newly-formed counties.

The total value of properties owned by citizens in 1850 was said to be $485,688. Think of the broad acreage within the county and its stated value then compared to what it is in 2010, a mere 160 years later. It is almost unbelievable how much land has increased in value since those early years of settlement. Recall that Union County was formed from a portion of the expansive Cherokee Lands (or Cherokee County) in 1832.

Slave owners were enumerated by a simple notation in the census of “owns ____ (number) slave(s)”. Slave owners had in their possession numbers of slaves from 1 to the highest, 27. A total of 259 slaves were enumerated for 1850. I will list here the owners of double-digit numbers of slaves: Henry Alston, 27; J. E. Purkins, 18; J. H. Morris, 17; J. R. Wyly, 16; Sidney Harshaw, 13; R. C. Loiter, 12: John Stevenson, 12; T. M. Alston, 11; and E. G. Barclay, (an attorney), 11.

Most who owned slaves had only one, with the single-digit owners ranging from 1 to 8. My great, great grandfather, Thompson Collins, owned 5 to assist him and his sons on the acreage he owned. Already in process in 1850 were measures which would lead to the Emancipation Proclamation declared by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Most of Union County’s citizens, as the census shows, did not own slaves. Through other records we learn that the county was about half pro-Union and half pro-South in political leanings.

The chief occupation of people in Union in 1850 was farming. Other occupations listed were attorney, physician/surgeon, merchant, lawyer, teacher, clerk, waggoner, tailor, grocer, preacher or clergyman (usually with designation Baptist or Methodist following the occupational title), tanner, saddler, brick mason, cooper (barrel maker), carpenter, blacksmith, wagon wright, stone mason, mechanic, shoemaker or cobbler, hatter, cabinet maker, wheel wright, and miller. In examining the various occupations listed, I was surprised to find only one miller listed: George W. Crawford. Knowing that an ancestor of mine established one of the first mills in Choestoe and seeing that he was not listed as “miller” by trade means that he made his living mainly by farming. This was probably true of others throughout the county who ground corn and wheat for the public. Another occupation not listed was miner. Those who discovered gold, mica and other minerals on their property prior to 1850 did not at that time make their living by mining as their chief occupation.

The 1850 U. S. census was the first that listed names for all in the household. Prior to that time, enumeration had given only heads-of-household and the number in the household, with the 1840 census listing number of males and females within given age brackets. Thankfully, with the 1850 census, those who consult listings for genealogical purposes can begin to link children with parents, and follow them in subsequent census records. The 1850 census also gave the state of birth of those listed so that searchers can return to other state records to find origins of their ancestors.

Education was not a priority in Union County in 1850. Ten persons listed their main occupation as teaching—quite a small number for a population of 6,958 with most of the 1,141 families having several children to educate. The number of people over 20 who could not read nor write was numbered at 1,215, which was about 1/6 of adults. Schools were few and far between, with either “house” schools or short-term sessions of school held in a combination one-room building where both school and church met. Those listed as attending school within the year numbered 1,103. If all ten teachers in 1850 were engaged in teaching, their average classroom size could have been 110. This is not likely, for those in a community having school privileges would have had a sort of “rotating” student body, with those pupils not needed in the most ardent months of farming attending school. It is also possible that those with “farming” as their main occupation could also have been short-term teachers. I know this was true with one of my ancestors, John Souther, who could “read and write and cipher,” and who taught others near him, including his own family, the basic rudiments of learning.

Another item of interest learned from the 1850 census is the number of surnames still present within families in the county 160 years later. Many, many current residents can trace their ancestry back to early settlers. This continuation of families within the same geographic area declares a love for the land and satisfaction with the way of life—even with all of its subsequent changes—within the parameters of the “mountains of home.”

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 24, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Through Hardship Came Courage: The Harrison and Nina Mays Collins Family

How our ancestors coped with hard situations they faced in life was told by Vera Lorraine Collins Goodwin in her family story submitted for The Heritage of Union County, 1832-1994. After reading what Vera wrote, I thought how facing hardships really bore out the truth of how courageous our ancestors were as they “made do” with what they had and still lived a victorious life amidst difficult times.

Vera Lorraine Collins was born July 15, 1917. Her parents were James Harrison Collins (4/30/1889 – 12/17/1928) and Nina Mays Collins (2/26/1899 – 3/10/1990). Her parents were married November 30, 1914. Vera had one sibling, an older brother George Blaine Collins (10/28/1915 – 12/28/1975).

Like many of us whose ancestors were early settlers in Union County, Vera traced her lineage back to Thompson Collins (ca. 1785 – ca. 1858) and Celia Self Collins (ca. 1787 – 09/03/1880). These were her 4th great grandparents. Firstborn of Thompson and Celia, Archibald Collins (ca.1811- ?) who married Mary “Polly” Nix (ca. 1818 - ?) were her great, great, great grandparents. Their son, James N., called “Jim Jesse” Collins (1842 - ?) who married Mary Ann Duckworth, were her great, great grandparents. Next in her lineage came their son, William “Bill Posey” Collins who married Margaret Dyer on September 12, 1886 in Union County, her grandparents, parents of her father, James Harrison Collins. Tracing all these roots and their branches can take volumes, and that is not the purpose of this article. We want to look at how the Harrison and Nina Mays Collins family lived courageously through some hard times, typical of many who lived and worked on the small farms of Union County in the early years of the twentieth century before modern conveniences were known and utilized.

In 1923 when Vera Lorraine was six years old, her parents moved to what she called the “Vess Collins Place” at Track Rock (a farm that had belonged to Vester Eugene Collins, who may have “gone west” prior to the Harrison Collins family moving to that farm). Vera recalls that she went to Track Rock School (probably held in the Track Rock Baptist Church building). Her teacher was John Turner. Not too long after the family moved to Track Rock, Vera received a bad cat scratch on her hand. The hand became severely infected and was swollen and very painful. Her parents had no means of transportation to get to the nearest doctor, so a neighbor, Mr. Coker, took Vera and her mother to Young Harris for treatment. Vera remembers that the doctor met them on the steps of his office on the campus of Young Harris College. He took a look at the infected hand, and without benefit of any sort of anesthesia, he lanced the young girl’s hand right there on the steps of his office. We can almost wince at the thought of the pain to this young child. But having the infection released must have eased the pain, for she remembers sleeping all the way back to Track Rock as the mule-drawn wagon rocked along the dirt road toward her home. The hand miraculously healed and she was left with no permanent impairment to it.

Syrup-making was one of the fall activities at Track Rock, and in much of Union County. It was also one of the money crops of mountain farmers. Vera remembers her Uncle Thomas Mays driving a Kissel automobile up from Atlanta to bring her Grandmother Mays to visit them while they lived at Track Rock. He purchased several gallon pails of sorghum syrup to take back to Atlanta with him. Once they were stopped by authorities on the way back across the mountain to Atlanta. The federals were probably searching for contraband moonshine, and seeing that the Kissel was somewhat overloaded in the trunk area, they stopped it. Thomas Mays, however, would not allow “the law” to open his buckets of sorghum until they first got a search warrant to do so. Imagine their disappointment when they found, not moonshine whiskey, but sweet sorghum syrup in the aluminum pails.

From their Track Rock home, the Harrison Collins family next moved to what had been the home of Vera’s great uncle, brother to her grandmother Margaret Dyer Collins. This was the farm home of Narve Dyer who had temporarily gone to Dalton to work at the carpet mills during the Great Depression. At this Choestoe home, Vera Lorraine Collins remembers happily that she attended New Liberty School when Miss Goldie Collins was the teacher, and then Choestoe School where Mrs. Helen Cordelia Collins Twiggs was her teacher.

Vera’s father, Harrison Collins, loved music and was a music teacher by the “shaped note” method. He often used his talent to teach singing schools in some of the churches throughout the area. Then her father became ill. They moved first to Suit, NC to be near Harrison’s brother, Ervin Collins. There her father farmed as long as he was able, but his cancer and Bright’s disease became worse. Neighbors and relatives made up enough money to send Harrison and Nina Mays Collins by train from Ranger, NC to Atlanta for medical treatment. Nina got work at Martel Mills there to help earn a living, for Harrison was no longer able to work. Vera’s Uncle Ervin Collins moved the Harrison Collins’s household goods, and his nephew and niece, Blaine and Vera, by wagon all the way from Ranger to Atlanta, a trip that took several long days. Vera remembers stopping at Choestoe to spend the night with her great aunt Mintie Dyer Souther (and Uncle Jeptha). As they went on, they camped out along the way, and sometimes spent the nights with kind relatives or friendly people in route. The mules pulled the wagon, amidst downtown traffic—much less then, of course—through Five Points in Atlanta to her Grandmother Mays’ boarding house on Bradley Avenue. Then they went on to the mill village house where her parents lived at Hapeville. Her father was so sick, that, while her mother worked, she and Blaine took turns staying with him during the daytime, one going to school one day and the other the next. Her father died there just eight days before Christmas (12/17/1928).

Vera Lorraine Collins married Rev. James Goodwin and they had three children: James Thomas Goodwin, Billy Ray Goodwin, and Nina Lorraine Goodwin. Rev. Goodwin died March 8, 1985 after over fifty years of marriage to Vera Lorraine.

Through the hardships Vera’s parents, Harrison and Nina Mays Collins faced, Vera herself learned much about courage and fortitude and taking the bad with the good in life. “We shall overcome,” was more than a motto; it was a way of life.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 17, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Cemeteries and Burial Customs: Remembering Uncle Dallas Collins’s Death, 1938

New Liberty Baptist Church sits in the 16th District and is located where land lots 161, 162, 149 and 150 converge. From the will of John Souther (1803-1889) signed and declared January 24, 1889 and recorded in County Ordinary E. W. Butt’s records on May 6, 1889, is this notation: “It is my will that this be deeded to the Church, of No. 161 (land lot), one acre of land where the Church House now sits—with privilege of wood to lands belonging to the estate to have and to hold the same to her own benefit and behoof.” And so from great, great grandfather John Souther, the property for the church and cemetery began in that long ago time. At our Dyer-Souther Reunion on July 17, 2010, we will have a service of commemoration for this donated property and the monument placed by a descendant of his, Georgia Souther Citrin, which indicates that the gift was made by him in 1889.

Going back to records of the Choestoe Baptist Church of February 18, 1843 and April 15, 1843, in minutes of church conference hand-written by John Souther, church clerk, we discover that Choestoe was instrumental in helping “the church at Brass Town” (which we believe to be the church later called New Liberty) in the process of organizing, and receiving three members. Whether these transferred from Choestoe Church was not made clear in the minutes. But from its beginning the New Liberty Church was supported, both by gift of land and membership from John Souther and members of his family. As several of them who remained in Choestoe died, their resting places were in the cemetery at New Liberty. John was buried there following his death on February 2, 1889 and his wife, Mary Polly Combs Souther following her death on May 1, 1894, as well as several of their children, and members of subsequent generations.

As I view graves in the old section of New Liberty Cemetery, containing the remains of my ancestors, I began to think about burial customs that were common to our people in this mountain region long before professional funeral homes, crematories and the rites and ceremonies currently associated with death and dying were practiced

Because embalming had not been introduced here in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the body of the deceased had to be quickly readied for burial and the funeral was usually the next day (or sometimes the same day) after death occurred.

My first recollection of participation in community burial rites was at the death of my great Uncle William Dallas Collins (03/05/1846-07/18/1938) who married a daughter of John and Mary Souther, Sarah Rosannah Souther (06/13/1846-02/01/1929). My father, J. Marion Dyer, was very handy with tools. He often led in designing and making the casket for deceased persons in our community. With help from neighbors, my father soon had a presentable coffin made to receive the body of Great Uncle Dallas who had been a solid citizen, beloved farmer, church leader and justice of the peace in his community. Uncle Dallas had lived right in the shadow of New Liberty Baptist Church, in which cemetery his body would be laid.

Tolling the death on the church steeple bell was also a practice when a death occurred. It was customary to toll the bell the number of years the deceased had lived. The announcement via the bell went throughout the valley, and whether people counted the 92 tolls or not before losing count, at least they would know that “Uncle Dallas” (as he was respectfully called by many) had died because they knew of his serious illness. The bell message was a sign to stop work in the fields and prepare a grave for the burial and make other funeral arrangements.

While the men worked to fashion the casket, line it with cotton, and place over the padding a brocaded white cloth which had been purchased in advance and saved for the purpose, the body was being readied for the wake. First came the bathing and dressing in the very best clothes the deceased had available. For Uncle Dallas, it was his Sunday suit, made of homemade woven wool cloth from his own sheep, and a white shirt, also homemade.

To dress a woman for wake, the process might have been a bit more complicated. Some of the women, anticipating death, would have made in advance a “burying dress,” and saved it ready for the occasion. But for others, the neighbor women would bring together appropriate cloth they might have and make a shroud for dressing the deceased’s body. Haste always seemed to be necessary in preparing the body before rigor mortis set in. Coins were placed temporarily over the deceased’s eyes to insure their closing.

When the casket was finished, the body, which had been laid out on boards across the bed frame, was transferred to the casket and placed in state. The all-night wake began. Women prepared (or brought from their own homes) food for the occasion. In these all-night vigils, people talked of the life and work of the dearly departed. It was all a closely-knit process of dealing with grief and loss.

Then came the funeral service itself. I remember Uncle Dallas’s was held in his home. Sometimes the body was taken to the church for the funeral. Men in the community had already dug the grave. In case a pastor was not available, for very few of them in those days lived in the community but were itinerant, then someone with the ability to read and speak well would give the Scripture and eulogy and offer the prayer. If singing were in order, gospel songs that told of resurrection, hope and heaven were sung by those whose voices could harmonize. One of the favorite hymns in my community was “O Come, Angel Band.”

The short trip from Uncle Dallas’s house to New Liberty Cemetery was made with his casket loaded on the farm wagon drawn by his two faithful mules. We marched in procession behind his casket and, upon arriving at the cemetery, saw the lowering into the grave by means of ropes the men had stretched across the open grave on a sort of scaffold. Homemade bouquets of flowers or those made from crepe paper were placed on the closed grave. Death, the great leveler, had come into yet another household in our Choestoe Community. How many times would I see this repeated before I would move on to other places, and see more modern means of care for the dead and burial.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her “On Death and Dying” wrote: “Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.” But somehow, Great Uncle Dallas, and others who passed like a falling star, did not move on into endless night. We remember, even until now, their lives and example, their values and principles, their faith and hope. He and they loved us and gave us an anchor, sure and steadfast. And that has made all the difference in who we are.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 10, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tribute to Elizabeth Reed Berry, Teacher and Friend

Delightful task! To rear the tender thought,
To teach the young idea how to shoot.”
-James Thomson (1700-1748 – from “The Seasons—Spring”

The Union County High School Class of 1947
Senior Trip to Washington, DC, May 25-30, 1947
Seated: L. to R.: Mr. J. H. Cooley, Principal; Just graduated seniors: Max Rogers, Glenn Franklin, Max Stephens, Bill Abernathy, Price Turner, Charles Souther, Charles Jenkins, Jewel Payne, Robert Dyer, Dennis Wilson, and Mr. N. V. Camp, Science Teacher.

Standing, L. to R.: Just graduated seniors Mary Lou Hunter, Lois Melton, Joyce Crump, Loujine Young, Helen Brooks, Ethelene Dyer; Homeroom and English Teacher Mrs. Elizabeth Berry; County School Worker Mrs. Doris Caldwell, Visiting Teacher (Truant Officer), and Mrs. Star Bedenbaugh, Home Economics Teacher; and Just Graduated Seniors Madge Nicholson, Maggie Lee Sullivan, Charlene Wimpey and Verna Ree Cook.

It was the fall of 1946 when Mrs. Elizabeth Reed Berry came as a new teacher to Union County High School. I was a senior and she was assigned to be homeroom advisor for my Class of 1947. She had graduated three years before from Bessie Tift College at Forsyth, Georgia and had been born and reared in far-away (to us) Augusta, Georgia, the daughter of Robert Henry Reed and Mary Chambers Reed.

She had been employed her first two years of teaching in Murphy, North Carolina at a school there. When she married Union County native John Berry in 1946, she looked for a job in our county and was employed straight away by the Board of Education and our Principal, Mr. James H. Cooley. Maybe she volunteered to be senior class sponsor, or perhaps she was assigned that task. Whichever, we were soon in contact with a vivacious, pleasant, happy young teacher who was just enough older than her students to let us know she meant business in classroom discipline. But her kind ways and aptness to teach soon endeared us to her. Soon students and teacher had struck up a rapport that would last years beyond our graduation time of May 1947.

In this tribute I will pay respect to Mrs. Berry as teacher, first and foremost, and as a dear friend of lifetime proportions. I shall never forget her influence upon my life. My heart was saddened as I heard of her death on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at age 87. Her last years, beset with illness, were filled with much tender loving care from her son W. R. Berry and her daughter Annette Berry Crawford. But until her illness of long duration, she was exemplary in keeping in touch with “her students” of the Class of 1947, inquiring how we were faring in our own work and living out our lives. She was still our teacher, as James Thomson so aptly stated, “rearing our thoughts and encouraging our ideas to shoot” (albeit by our own advancing years these thoughts could no longer be called young and tender).

When Elizabeth Berry married my long-time neighbor on the edge of Choestoe and Owltown, John Berry, I was a bereft young girl who had lost my mother one year prior to her coming to our community to live. We attended the same church, Choestoe Baptist, and even before she became my senior year teacher, we had become Christian friends. She encouraged me greatly, and we started a little “Sunday evening dinner celebration.” This involved coming to my house one Sunday for a meal (which I had to cook, even at the young tender age I was, because I became the chef and housekeeper at our farm home following Mother’s death). The other two in the three-some Sunday evening meal-sharings were Mrs. Berry, as she and John hosted us, and my double-first-cousin Marie Collins whose mother (my aunt) Northa Dyer Collins, would prepare a wonderful meal with Marie’s help. How I had the courage to lay a table and cook for this group and our friends prior to Sunday Night “Training Union” (as it was called then), I’ll never know. But Mrs. Berry would always compliment me on my meals, my clean house, and my willingness to participate in the fellowship meal. From that experience I learned much about how to entertain guests and gain confidence in opening my home to visitors.

At school I remember much that Mrs. Berry led us to do. She sponsored our “senior play,” the drama we rehearsed to perform and for which we sold tickets to raise money. We had a junior-senior prom, and Mrs. Berry was instrumental in planning and implementing a wonderful event. We had a banquet to which we invited our poet, Byron Herbert Reece. It was my duty to introduce him. Mrs. Berry aptly helped me with the introductory speech. And then when graduation came, I was thrilled to be named valedictorian of my class. Mrs. Berry, desiring that I should give a good speech on graduation night, was my main constructive critic and coach in preparing the address.

We had the rare privilege of taking an educational trip to our nation’s capitol following graduation. About half of my classmates, twenty of us, went on the trip. It seems antiquated now, but instead of a comfortable rented coach, we rode the whole trip from Blairsville to Washington D. C. on a school bus. Accompanying us were Mr. J. H. Cooley, our principal; Mr. N. V. Camp, our science teacher; and lady teachers Mrs. Elizabeth Berry and Miss Star Bedenbaugh, and county visiting teacher Mrs. Doris Collins Caldwell. It was a trip of a lifetime, and we country students who had hardly been any farther afield than Blairsville, Murphy, N. C. or Gainesville, at the most, were led by our teachers on that trip to learn how to meet our legislators and senators and how to get the most from our tours of the Capitol, the White House, the Smithsonian, Arlington Cemetery, the Treasury Department, the Library of Congress and the stately monuments of our nation’s capitol, as well as George Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Up to that point in my life, it was the trip of my life. I have been forever grateful for Mrs. Berry and the others who went the extra mile to “rear our tender thoughts and teach our young ideas how to shoot.”

Mrs. Berry had a great influence upon my choosing teaching as my own career. Several years after she left Union County High School, she got certification in school library media services, and she and I attended many professional meetings and enjoyed again the fellowship of being together with mutual interests. When my Class of 1947 began having Class Reunions in 1984 and rejuvenated our love for each other and our teachers, Mrs. Berry was a regular and welcome attendee.

As when we were her students in 1946-1947, she was always interested in what we were doing to make a difference in life. She encouraged us as we made an historical quilt of the history of education in Union County, as we erected a message board at the entrance to the school grounds, and especially as we set up and financed the Class of 1947 Scholarship Fund that assists a graduating senior from Union County High with college costs each year.

To the family of our teacher and friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Berry, our deepest condolences. Know that she had a powerful impact and a lasting influence upon our lives.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 3, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.