Saturday, May 28, 2011

In Union County We’re Apt to Call Memorial Day “Decoration Day”

I can see us in my mind’s eye, little children and adults as well, carrying live flowers in bouquets to the cemetery on “Decoration Day” to bedeck the graves of departed ancestors on a Sunday near Memorial Day at the end of May, or maybe a Sunday in early June.

In the country, we were more apt to call this day of remembrance “Decoration Day,” for we placed with deep love and remembrance those spring flowers—or if we didn’t have “live, blooming” flowers—we took bouquets of those made with crepe paper and fashioned to look like roses, tulips, or dainty daisies.

Here’s how Memorial Day, the last day of May, began back on April 26, 1865.

Our country had just gone through a dark, dark period called the War Between the States, the Civil War, or—as some in the South call it, even today--the War of Northern Aggression.

A group of women in Columbus, Mississippi announced their plans to march together in a group to Friendship Cemetery in that town and lay flowers on the graves of soldiers buried there—soldiers from both South and North who had fallen at the Battle of Shiloh. The town’s elders were not in favor of the women’s march and laying flowers, for they felt it would only be a reminder of the bitter conflict and again renew the animosities the elders hoped could be buried with the men who had fallen, as all were trying to recover and redirect energies in the aftermath of the struggle.

But the women were adamant. They marched, despite the town elders’ objections, taking with them arms full of beautiful spring blossoms to place lovingly and with gratitude at the graves of the fallen soldiers.

Word of what the women in Columbus, Mississippi did on April 26, 1865 spread rapidly. An article about their act in the New York “Tribune” inspired Francis Miles Finch, to write a poem which he entitled “The Blue and the Gray.” In the poem he lauded the laying of flowers, alike, “for friend and foe.” This notice and sentiment went far in helping the rift to be healed. Memorial Day as it is observed today on the last Monday in May grew from that original remembrance of the ladies of Columbus, Mississippi as they placed flowers in commemoration of those who had met their deaths in the Civil War.

Three years later, in 1868, an organization called the Grand Army of the Republic, Northern veterans, declared May 30 as the day for “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died.” New York was the first state to recognize the day, state-wide, and observe it in 1873. More and more states joined in the celebration. Finally Memorial Day was made a national holiday, with patriotic programs a part of the observance and memorials lifted in praise of the war dead of every war that has touched America.

When we in the country observe “Decoration Day” in our churches, we are remembering not only our “war dead,” but also those ancestors who braved the unknown, whatever their goals, to take a stand for a better way of life for all.

When we take time to decorate the graves of our beloved dead near Memorial Day—or our “Decoration Day”—we are bestowing flowers—symbols of life renewed. We honor the lives of those who went before us to pave the way and make life better for us. At the same time, we are symbolizing that we take up the torch of those who have gone before us and bear it to the future, acknowledging our own responsibility to those who will follow us.

“Decoration Day”—Memorial Day—is a solemn time of reflection, remembrance and resolution. Aren’t we glad this special day is a part of our mountain country heritage?

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 26, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Constitutional Convention, May through September, 1787

Do you ever wonder how it might have been to participate in the forming of the United States Constitution in May, 1787?

That auspicious gathering intrigues me. I search for writings or records of how those men from every state then (formerly colonies) except Rhode Island (which chose not to send delegates) might have managed during those long months from May through September, 1787 when debate was rife and “think tanks” worked out details of the Constitution. Finally enough states ratified the document and it became operational in June, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to sign for its adoption.

How did the Constitutional Convention of May, 1787 come about?

By late 1786, almost three years after the close of the Revolutionary War, the discovery was made that the Articles of Confederation that then guided the new nation were too weak to deal with all the problems of economy, politics and diplomatic relations of the new nation. Attempts to revise the Articles of Confederation had met with stalemates and non-approval from state legislatures. America, the new nation, seemed to be at a crossroads. Then, in February, 1787, the Continental Congress made this resolution and sent out notices to all the state governments. The memo read:

“It is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”
This called convention met, beginning on May 14, 1787 in Statehouse in Philadelphia where the Continental Congress had been meeting. However, it went slowly at first, with delegates from states “dribbling in” for representation. A quorum was not reached until May 25, 1787. A total of 70 men had been appointed as delegates to the Convention, but only 55 ultimately attended during the months from May through September 17, 1787. They examined the Articles of Confederation and found them inadequate for the new nation. A new document was needed. It took the delegates four months to reach an agreement and sign the document that became the Constitution of the United States when enough states ratified it in June, 1788. And further, of those 55 attending; only 39 of them actually signed the important document when it was ready for approval by the delegates.

Those appointed to represent the state of Georgia were Abraham Baldwin, William Few, William Houstoun, and William L. Pierce. However, only two of Georgia’s delegates, Abraham Baldwin and William Few, placed their signatures on the document on September 17, 1787. Abraham Baldwin, in particular, was an important and very active member of the Constitutional Convention as the work proceeded. A native of Guilford, Connecticut, he had migrated to Georgia after the Revolution, in which he had served as a chaplain. He had also studied law, and in 1784 had been admitted to the Georgia bar. In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he was appointed to the committee to resolve the question of representation in House of Representatives and Senate. His vote broke the deadlocked tie, and he stands out as the one who made the determining vote that the Senate would have two elected from each state, and the House of Representatives would be based on the quota of population of each state. The compromise bill was adopted concerning representation, and Abraham Baldwin was most influential in its passage. Not only was he outstanding in the U. S. Constitutional Convention, but earlier, as he served in the Georgia Legislature, he wrote the charter for Franklin College that became the University of Georgia. We as Georgians have much to be grateful for in Abraham Baldwin’s leadership in the US Constitutional Convention.

In a letter that has been preserved written by George Mason, representative from Virginia, to his son, we glean some interesting insights into some of the events of those long months from May to September when debates raged and committees met and thrashed out differences. He writes about common concerns and practical matters: “We found traveling very expensive—from eight to nine dollars per day. In this city the living is cheap. We are at the old Indian Queen in Fourth Street, where we are well-accommodated, have a good room to ourselves, and are charged only twenty-five Pennsylvania Currency per day, including our servants and horses, exclusive of extra charges, so that I hope I shall be able to defray my expenses with my public allowance, and more than that I do not wish.” (from David Colbert’s “Eyewitness to America,” Pantheon, 1997, p. 99). Whether Georgia’s Baldwin and Few, and the others from the twelve states represented had similar “public allowance” for representing their state at the Convention, I know not, but perhaps it would be safe to assume they did have some remuneration for travel expenses, room and board, horses’ keep, and other expenses.

The convention in Philadelphia drew up one of the most influential documents of Western world history. James Madison, a delegate from Virginia, was a definite leader and responsible for much of the substance of the constitution. But it was to the flair and pen of Gouverneur Morris from Pennsylvania that the task of writing the final document was given.

We’ve seen artists’ renderings of the signing on September 17, 1787 and thrilled to the sight of reproductions of the document with all the signatures. Then came the document’s travel to each of the states during the next months. Delaware was the first to ratify it on December 7, 1787 and finally by June of 1788 the nine required had signed and the document was officially adopted. Finally all the thirteen states but Rhode Island and North Carolina ratified it. The majority clause caused the Constitution to be adopted. Later, the two declining states did accept it and took their place in the Union.

Reticence of some states to sign was based on what was considered a need for a Bill of Rights. James Madison, true to his word, promised to work on this issue, and in September of 1789 the Bill of Rights was proposed in Congress. It was adopted in December, 1791. The original ten have been added to throughout the years since our national government’s struggle following the Revolution.

As a high school student in Civics class, I was required to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. Throughout my life, since then, I have thrilled to the words that have helped to hold our nation together in unity. It would be well that we read and heed seriously what our national leaders in 1787 used as the lofty introduction to our Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 19, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Denton Families Important to Towns County Development

Last week’s column introduced the Denton Family early settlers to Union County, dating back as far as 1834, when the first census revealed that seventeen by that name in three families were living in the county. The heads of Denton households then were James, Elizabeth and Eliza Denton. In the 1840 listing, we found five households headed by Levina, Samuel, Jonathan, Elijah and George M., with the Union population of Dentons then numbering twenty-three. In 1850, the Dentons were in six families numbering a total of thirty-one, headed by George, Samuel, Jonathan, Samuel, Jr., William, Elihu, and Elijah.

A precursory examination of the 1860 and 1870 Union census records did not reveal a single household of Dentons in Union. What had happened to most of these families of earlier decade census tabulations? Had a mass exodus of Denton families occurred within the twenty year period between 1850 and 1870? Furthermore, an examination of the Union County Cemetery records did not reveal marked Denton graves within the parameters of Union.

Knowing that Denton was a very prominent name in neighboring Towns County, it was rather easy to surmise what had occurred. When Towns County was formed from portions of Union in 1856, several of the Denton families, without moving from the properties they had occupied when the 1850 census was taken, had been absorbed into the new principality of Towns.

Take, for example, the family of George and Catherine Wood Denton, present in Union in 1840 and 1850. They were within the parameters of the new Towns, and were quickly oriented to life there, not having moved at all. In fact, George Denton helped the new county in its early years by being appointed (or should we say “elected”) the county’s very first Tax Collector—maybe not a very popular job but a necessary one, nonetheless, to the government of the new county.

In addition to being a farmer in the Upper Hightower section of Towns County, George also was a land surveyor. He used this skill to map out the county seat town of Hiawassee and to survey farms and holdings of other citizens. Last week’s column listed six children of George and Catherine Wood Denton. Altogether, George and his wife, the daughter of William and Nancy Osborn Wood, had eleven children whose names and birth dates are as follows: Elizabeth J. (1837), William J. (1839), Elisha H. (1841), Nancy (1843), Samuel M. (1845), Jeremiah J. (1847), John M. (1851), Martha Ann (1853), Lucinda A. (1856), Margaret M. (1856), Mary C. (1860) and Georgia (?). George and Catherine moved from the Upper Hightower section of Towns to White County. When George was back for a visit to one of his children still residing there, he became ill and died, and was buried in the Upper Hightower Baptist Church Cemetery. It is believed Catherine died and was buried in White County.

The third child of George and Catherine, Elisha H. Denton (1841-1922) joined the Confederacy during the Civil War, enlisting on August 24, 1861 and serving through January, 1865, having reached the rank of Lieutenant during his enlistment. Returning to Towns County, he married his sweetheart, Cinthia Berrong, on January 18, 1865. She was a daughter of another well-known pioneer family, Andrew Jackson and L. Osborn Berrong. Elisha and Cinthia made their home in the Swallows Creek Community of Towns County where ten children were born to them: Lillie A. (1867-1936) who married Taylor Wood and Alex Parker; Robert M. (1868-1934) who married Maggie Rogers; Louisa Caroline (1870-1938) who married Elisha Eller; James L. (1872-1941) who married Esta Foster; Ollie M (1874-1892), never married; Phairella O. (1876-1955) who married Joe Hooper; Erastus M. (1878-1936) who married Nannie McLucas; Demascus (1881-1961) who married Minnie Smith; Esco (1884-1952) who married Ora Foster; and Doll (a son, 1886-1964) who married Myrtle Eller.

Of the many descendants of George M. and Catherine Wood Denton, we can identify businessmen, bankers, educators, politicians, farmers, developers—almost every occupation.

For example, James Young Denton (1899-1982), son of Robert M. and Maggie Rogers Denton, became a noted banker and financier, having been instrumental in the growth of the Bank of Hiawassee and in securing the charter for the Union County Bank in Blairsville, and getting it established. He married Emma Belle Maney on May 20, 1920 when she was only fourteen years of age. Young was then a teacher, and he enrolled his young bride in the Hiawassee Academy. J. Y., as he was better known, and Emma Denton became quite a team. She, too, became a noted worker and director of the Bank of Hiawassee, was a horticulturist with her daylilies known far and wide. They had six children, five of whom reached adulthood and became productive citizens. Their children were J. C. Denton, Evelyn Denton (Groves), Elois Denton (Anderson), James Lanier Denton who died young from whooping cough, J. William Denton, and Emma Jean Denton (Anderson).

Another of the children of Robert M. and Maggie Rogers Denton was their daughter Isabel, born April 28, 1906, who became a noted elementary school teacher mainly in Towns County but also in White and Forsyth Counties in a career that spanned forty-three years. When my husband, the late Rev. Grover D. Jones, was pastor of the McConnell Memorial Baptist Church in Hiawassee, among our loyal members were Mrs. Isabel Hall and her beloved husband, Mr. Leonard Hall. As a young ministerial couple, we were “taken in,” encouraged and loved by this couple who often had us in their home as guests. Isabel Denton married widower Leonard Hall, a veteran of World War I, on June 29, 1947. Mrs. Isabel Denton Hall was noted not only for her work in the school system, but she served a total of twenty-five years as Hiawassee Baptist Association’s Church Training Director. When Leonard and Isabel passed on, we felt like we had lost some of our very dearest friends.

Doll Denton (1886-1964), tenth and last child of Elisha H. and Cinthia Berrong Denton, and grandson of George M. and Catherine Wood Denton, also lived in Towns County. Beset by Hodgkins disease, one of Doll’s legs had to be amputated in 1960. But he learned to walk with his prosthesis as he carried on a near-normal work life on his farm and later assisted his son-in-law, Ayscue Hopper (married to Doll’s daughter Grace), near Tuckaseegee, NC with the operation of his farm. Doll Denton married Myrtle Eller on September 10, 1905. To them were born nine children, seven daughters and two sons: Mae Belle, Grace, Gladys, Dorsey, Edith, Ethel, George, Opal and Earl. Remembered for their strong work ethic and their stalwart Christian influence, Doll and Myrtle Denton stand out as productive citizens of the area. After Doll’s death in 1964 and his burial at Lower Hightower Cemetery in Towns County, his widow Myrtle lived alternately with her daughters Edith Denton Chambers and Ethel Denton Everett in Blairsville until Myrtle’s death on March 31, 1970.

Denton is a place name deriving from the Old English word “denu” meaning valley. Scots and English settlers came to America in the early migratory years and found similar valleys to their European homelands among the hills of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. We are grateful for these hardy settlers who made a dinstinctive “Dent” in the way of life in these mountain communities.

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 12, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Denton Families ~ Early Settlers in Union County

After a brief diversion to pursue another topic, I return in this column to write about families with the surname Denton who were early settlers in Union County.

In the 1834 Union County census, three families had the name Denton, with seventeen total Denton residents, eight males and nine females. Two heads of households of these early settlers were women with similar names: Eliza Denton had two males and two females in her household. Elizabeth Denton had two males and one female residing in her home. The third Denton household was headed by James Denton whose family had four males and six females.

I expected to find these three households listed in the 1840 Union census, but the search for these three Denton families was not that easy, for none of the three appeared as heads of households in 1840 or in 1850.

Five residences in 1840 had Dentons as follows: Household numbered by the census taker as 115 had Levina Denton (one female between the age of 20 and under 30).

Further on, in household 328. was Samuel Denton, with three males under five, one male aged 20-30, 1 female under five, and 1 female aged 20 – 30. (Note: This Samuel Denton is not to be confused with the Samuel Denton, Jr. who, we will learn shortly, married Elizabeth Ann Chastain.)

Jonathan Denton in household numbered 331 had the largest of the 1840 Denton families with one male (10-15), two males (15-20), one male (40-50), one female (5-10), one female (10-15), one female (15-20) and one female (30-40). We will see that his household is also listed in 1850.

In Elijah Denton’s family (house # 469) was one male (10-15), one male (40-50) and one female (30-40).

The last Denton household in 1840 was # 471, George M. Denton, with one male (under 5), one male (20-30), one female (under 5), one female (20-30) and 1 female (60-70). The older female in Jonathan’s household may have been either Eliza or Elizabeth listed in 1834, who possibly was the mother of George Denton.

By the 1850 census, the number of Denton households had climbed to six in Union’s census, and we find that some of the names are the same as those we discovered living in the county in 1840. The total Denton population in 1850 in Union numbered 31 as follows:

Household 929: George Denton, age 37, his wife, Catherine, age 31, both born in North Carolina, and six children, all born in Georgia: Elizabeth, 13; William, 11; Elisha, 9; Nancy, 7; Madison, 5; and Jeremiah J., 2. This household had also been in Union since 1840. We will hear more about these in next week’s column.

Household 1057: Samuel Denton, 25, born in Tennessee, his wife, Missa, 23, born in North Carolina, and children John, 6; Mary, 4: and Melissa, 4 months. A search of the Union marriage records shows this Samuel Denton married Artemica Berrong on August 5, 1842. She must have preferred her shortened name, Missa, to Artemica.

Household 1081: Jonathan Denton (remember he was listed in the 1840 census), age 56, his wife, Agnes, age 46, both born in North Carolina, two older children also born in North Carolina, Francis, 20 and Rachel, 15; and three more children born in Georgia: Jonathan, 10; John, 7; Agnes, 5. Living in the household with them (as in 1840) was Betsey Denton, age 79, born in Virginia, no doubt the Elizabeth listed in the 1834 census. By searching the Pierre Chastain Family History (for several Dentons married into this line of Chastains), I discovered that Jonathan Denton was a son of Samuel Denton, Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Chastain Denton. “Betsy,” living with Jonathan and Agnes in 1850, was, indeed his mother who was the Elizabeth Denton in Union by 1834. Her father was the famous Rev. John “Ten Shilling Bell” Chastain, known for establishing several Baptist churches in Virginia and the Carolinas. Her mother was Rev. Chastain’s first wife, Mary O’Bryan Chastain. Samuel Denton, Jr. was born in 1775 and died in Haywood County, NC before some of the Dentons moved into Union County prior to 1834. Elizabeth and Samuel Denton, Jr. had these known children: Jonas, Jonathan, Jemima Mimi who married John Middleton; Elijah who married Jane Coward; Hulda who married Mark Burrell; John N. who married Sarah (mnu), Cloey who married James Coward; Isaac; and George (1813-1881) who married Catherine Wood (more on this family later).

This second son of Samuel, Jr. and Elizabeth Chastain Denton, Jonathan Denton, was born May 12, 1794 and died February 17, 1881. His wife, Agnes, was a McConnell, born in 1804 and died August 23, 1860.

Jonathan and Agnes had two older children who were already married and gone from home by the 1850 census. Their oldest was Samuel (b. 1822) who married Artimissey (sic) Berrong in 1842. They were living in their home near his parents in 1850.

Jonathan and Agnes’ other older child, gone from home in 1860, was Elizabeth Ann Denton, born in 1824, who married Walter Mounteville Burrell on July 16, 1840, with Rev. Abner Chastain performing their ceremony. This family lived in Household numbered 1090 in 1850. He was 33, she 25, both born in North Carolina. Their children were William, 9, Jonathan, 7, John, 6, Marcus, 4, Laura, 2 and Sarah, 4 months.

Household 1082: William Denton, listed as a teacher, age 30, and his wife, Betsy Ann, age 27, both born in North Carolina. They had three children in 1850, all born in Georgia: Jane, age 8, Sarah, age 5, and Elizabeth, age 7 months. Union marriage records show William Denton married Elizabeth Ann Chastain on January 26, 1841 with Rev. Abner Chastain performing their ceremony.

Household 1085: Elihu Denton, age 23, born in Georgia, his wife, Marcena, 20, born in North Carolina, and their one month old male son, Pinckney, born in Georgia. I looked for this marriage record in Union’s listings, but did not find these names.

Household 1086: Elijah Denton, born in South Carolina, age 52, and his wife, Jane, age 47, born in North Carolina. This couple was listed in the 1840 census with a son, age between 10 and 15 still at home then. From what I learned in the Chastain book, Elijah was the fourth child of Samuel Denton, Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Chastain Denton. Elijah was born in 1798 and married Jane Coward.

In next week’s column, we will pursue some of these Denton families to other places where they became a part of the fabric of new counties as they formed.

[Note: My columns have not gotten to the paper by the deadline on a regular basis recently because of computer breakdowns due to severe storms. Call the delays an “act of nature” rather than my being ill or negligent. We were not severely damaged, like hard-hit areas, but we were without power for three days and many electronics were damaged in the storms that raged at different times My computer was a “victim”, and hard was the task to get up and running adequately again.-EDJ]

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 5, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.