Valentine’s Day

How did your grandparents meet?  You might find clues in the census.

William Franklin Alexander married Loula Isabella Richardson on July 13, 1910, in Moore County, N. C.  (On the left is their wedding portrait.)  In May of that year, the census said he operated a shingle mill and was a boarder in the John D. Richardson household.  John Richardson was a farmer, and other records indicate that he  owned a saw mill.  His daughter Loula and her sisters were employed on the farm at the occupation of “chopping,” while their brothers did plowing.  Adjacent to the Richardson household on the census page was George Morgan, who was a laborer in the shingle mill.  In the same year, Loula’s sister Pearl would elope with George.  Two of her nieces told me that she slipped out of the house at night, with the help of some female cousins of the McDonald family.  George drove his buggy to Virginia, where they married across the state line.

Like many contemporary couples, these people met at work.  The shingle mill was located on the farm, and Frank actually lived in the household of his future wife.

Last fall, at the North Carolina State Fair, I saw a steam-powered saw mill in operation, which was probably similar to the one used by Frank and George for cutting wooden shingles for roofs and siding for buildings.

Source:  1910 U. S. Census, Greenwood Township, Moore County, N. C., E. D. 7, p. 9A; Family Bible records of the Alexander family in possession of Glenda Alexander.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

History Detective Work

Sometimes when the facts don’t add up in your family story, you may find yourself playing History Detective. I found a case that looked like either the dead had been resurrected, or someone had defrauded the state of North Carolina.

In researching Oswald Alexander of Mecklenburg County, N. C., (1836-1915) I found that after his death, his wife Mary R. Alexander applied for a Confederate widow’s pension. However, in the cemetery of Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, I had seen and photographed the grave monument of Oswald’s wife, Mary Reid Alexander, who died in 1894!

Over a period of years, I collected records indicating that:

In Mecklenburg County, N. C.,

  1. Mary Frances Reid married John Mack White, who died in the Civil War.
  2. Mary Reid next married Oswald Alexander, and about 25 years later, she died.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina,

  1. John A. Walker married Mary Crain, and they had a daughter named Mary Crawford Walker, and then Mary C. Walker, Sr., died.
  2. John A. Walker married Mary Rutland, and they had a son named John Rutland Walker.
  3. John Walker, Sr., died.

Then,

  1. Oswald Alexander married Mary Rutland Walker in South Carolina, in 1897.
  2. Oswald died and Mary R. Alexander applied for a confederate widow’s pension in N. C.
  3. Mary R. Alexander and Mary C. Stough, both widows, shared a household in Mecklenburg County. Mary Alexander, only 5 years older than Mary Stough, was her stepmother.

Altogether, I found records for two Mary C. Walkers, two Mary R. Alexanders, and two John Walkers, whose life histories intertwined and criss-crossed the border between the Carolinas.

The death certificate of Mary Crawford Walker Stough, which gave the names of her spouse, parents, and stepmother, helped to clarify their relationships and put them in their proper places on the family tree. With the help of newspaper announcements of marriages and deaths, I was able to sort out these people and find their official records. After a thorough search, I was relieved to find that the dead stayed buried and all parties were honest!

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Of Astronomy

When Jeremiah Mobley (1744-1826, Edgefield, S. C.) and his family read his copy of the Self-Instructor, they might have been led to believe that there was life on Mars and other planets. In the section on Astronomy, the “most sublime of all the sciences,” they would have read that Mars “has a considerable, but moderate atmosphere, so that its inhabitants probably enjoy a situation, in many respects, similar to ours.”

The sun was described as a “large and lucid planet,” solid, with an atmosphere and with mountains and valleys on its surface. Therefore, it was deducted that “it is most probably inhabited, like the rest of the planets, by beings whose organs are adapted to the peculiar circumstances of that vaster globe.” The Instructor explained how, by logic, the sun must have areas, like mountain tops, which would have cooler temperatures that would not “scorch up” everything on them. His knowledge of the approximate diameter of the sun and its size relative to the Earth’s size were pretty accurate, even though he underestimated its heat.

Astronomy was defined as the science concerning the motions of planets and stars. The Instructor explained how observation and logic determined that the earth was a sphere, and how scholars had debated whether the earth or the sun was the center of the universe.

The Mobleys may have consulted the book when they experienced the Great Comet of 1811, which presumably they and the rest of the world could see in the sky for the better part of a year, without a telescope. The Self-Instructor told them that comets remain in the sky for hundreds of years, and after fading out of sight, they will reappear to future generations. The Astronomy chapter also covered the topics of tides, eclipses, and stars, describing constellations and the Milky Way.

Astrology, however, was called a “malady of weak minds,” as the stars were considered to be too far away to influence human lives. Also, to know the future would destroy human confidence and motivation. Furthermore, the Instructor asserted that only “the light of science…can free us from the gross impositions of these wretched empiricks.” (An empiric being someone who believes in only what they can observe for themselves, as opposed, perhaps, to someone who believes, based on theory, that people live on the sun.)

On the other hand, farming according to the sun signs was a useful thing, as was telling time and navigating by the stars. Also important was the spiritual value of contemplating the vastness of the universe, enhanced by the elegant planetarium illustrated.

Sources: E. MacKenzie, The Self-Instructor; or Young Man’s Best Companion: Being a New, Sure, and Easy Guide to Knowledge, Virtue, and Happiness (Newcastle Upon Tyne: MacKenzie and Dent, 1827) pp. 263-290; “Great Comet of 1811,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Comet_of_1811, accessed 9 Feb. 2018, last edited on 6 February 2018.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

 

The Self-Instructor

SelfInstructor001 copyThis book was listed in the estate inventory of Jeremiah Mobley, who died in 1826 in Edgefield County, S. C. Jeremiah’s assets also included a wagon, livestock, furniture, and shoemakers’ tools. Estate inventories can have great clues as to the occupation and prosperity of an individual.

Young Man’s Companion was first published in England in 1731 and published in New York for the American colonies in 1770. It is a book of general, practical knowledge and instruction in everything from reading and writing to medicine and business, a sort of encyclopedia. This edition, published a year after Jeremiah’s death, contains over 600 pages of information and a few very fine illustrations.

secret writing002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page deals with secret writing, in case a person wanted to write a message for the eyes of a select audience. The owner of this copy obviously tried one of the methods on the page itself. I’m guessing it was the lemon juice trick, having tried that myself in Girl Scouts.

Literacy and education were not available free to the public in Jeremiah Mobley’s time, so a book of self-instruction would have been valuable enough to leave in a will, had he made one.

Jeremiah’s son James Mobley lived in Siler City, N. C. and was a shoemaker. Among his descendants are Pyrena Mobley, who married William H. H. Richardson in Chatham County in 1866. They were the parents of John Dolphus Richardson who settled in Moore County.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All Rights Reserved.

Oats, Peas, Beans, & Barley Grow

I love this kind of history, a slice of life from earlier days.  Hearing this song is like taking a time machine to a fun and happy moment.

I remember my mother singing “Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” to us children when I was small, in the ancient days of the 1950’s.  When I recall songs and nursery rhymes and games I learned from Mama, I usually find that they are traditional in both the Appalachian mountains and the British Isles.  They were handed down for generations, probably from one child to another, over centuries.

My mother grew up in Toast, in Surry County, N. C.  Her parents and grandparents were from Surry and other counties on the North Carolina/Virginia line, and their ancestors seem to have been from the British Isles and to have come to America through tidewater Virginia, in colonial days.  Many finally settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” is a traditional British folk song, carried over to America.  The words are said to date back to 1898, but the tune, called “Baltimore,” was possibly written about 1650.   As an Appalachian play party song, it is accompanied by motions and dancing.  The words suggest motions like clapping and stomping and turning around, and skipping around in a circle does nicely for the chorus.  Young adults as well as children enjoyed this type of “play,” which was performed to music and carefully not called dancing in conservative religious communities that disapproved of dancing and often forbade it.

Here is my arrangement with chords for ukulele or guitar.  You can find versions of the tune on Youtube.

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Frank Alexander, Singer

Shape Notes are a way to lead groups in singing with an alternative music notation, which presumably is easier for untrained musicians to follow.  It began to be used early in the 1800’s and was especially popular in the South after the Civil War and into the 20th century.  Many old hymnals used the shape note system.

Frank Alexander, (1880-1945) my paternal grandfather, was a shape note singer and song leader in the First Presbyterian Church at Vass, N. C.

My Aunt Pollie, Frank’s oldest daughter, told me that when she was small, her father took her and her siblings to singing school in the summertime.  The school was held when their work on the farm slowed down for a time between planting and harvesting.  Pollie was born in 1913.  My father, who was born in 1925, and his younger siblings had no recollection of singing school, though Dad remembered that his father led the singing in Sunday School.

In The Pilot newspaper of Vass, I found articles from 1922 and 1923 about local singing schools.  Cypress Presbyterian Church seems to have been a major venue.

In February of 1922, this:  “The people of Johnsonville are having a nice singing school at Cameron Hill Church every Saturday night, opening at 7 o’clock.  Everybody is cordially invited to come.”

On a different note, in Jackson Springs, west of Vass and Southern Pines, a resort hotel announced its annual summer opening, with a dance. “Music was furnished by the Original Virginia Serenaders; this orchestra is composed of native Richmond boys who play the piano, two violins, two saxophones and drums.”  However, the article mentioned that the musicians studied at the Dayton Conservatory in Va., whose teachers presented singing schools in the local area.  (The founders of that school traveled to present ten-day singing schools and three-week music courses for people without the means and time to study formal music.)

In July of 1923, The Pilot reported that Mrs. A. K. Thompson and children of Vass went to the singing school at Cypress Church.  Johnsonville, Cameron Hill Presbyterian Church, and Cypress Presbyterian Church are all located in Harnett County, across the Moore County line, and a short distance from Vass.

The obituary of one of Frank Alexander’s friends, John Arch Keith, who was a singing school teacher, implies that by 1934 singing schools were something known only to the older members of the community.

Mr. Keith, a farmer and businessman, was born in 1859 in Moore County.  He was a deacon of Cypress Presbyterian Church, but his funeral was held at Vass Presbyterian, and Frank Alexander was an honorary pall bearer.

“Music for the service was by the community young people’s choir, assisted by several adult voices, and one of the numbers used was ‘From Every Stormy Wind That Blows,’ sung to one of Mr. Keith’s favorite tunes, ‘Retreat.'”

“Mr. Keith was greatly interested in music and derived great pleasure from teaching what the older people know as ‘singing schools.’”

frankinhatWilliam Franklin Alexander came from a musical family.  His uncle, Oswald A. Alexander of Mecklenburg County was a singing school master.   Frank and his brothers, Oswald and Oscar, sang harmony while their sister Belle played piano.  They had many other musical relatives and descendants.

Sources:  The Sacred Harp, (Sacred Harp Publishing Co., 1991) p. 470; David Warren Steel, “Shape-note singing,” https://www.britannica.com/art/shape-note-singing, accessed 15 Jan. 2018; “Cypress Creek Items,” The Pilot newspaper, Vass, N. C., 10 Feb. 1922; “Jackson Spring News:  The Season’s Opening,” The Pilot, 9 June 1922, p. 1; “Vass and Community,” The Pilot, 20 July 1923, p. 5; James R. Goff, Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel (Chapel Hill:  The University of N. C. Press, 2002) pp. 64-65, accessed 16 Jan. 2018 at books.google.com; “An Old-Timer Passes:  John Arch Keith,” The Pilot, 17 Aug. 1934, p.1.

Copyright 2018 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.

Six Degrees of Lula McBride

The following article was published in The Mt. Airy News on  August 15, 1912, on page 2.  The city journalist was obviously making fun of people who lived “out in the country.”  However, as a Johnson family historian, I recognized several names in this interesting piece of Surry County, N. C., history.

“Sheriff’s Afternoon Nap Disturbed

“There is a fellow out in the country who hardly realizes what a serious offense he committed last Sunday afternoon in the quiet precincts of this thriving city.  The story goes that as Sheriff Haynes was quietly dreaming of the days when he may sit in a seat in Congress or keep the books as Secretary of State for this commonwealth–while he snoozed in the cool shade of his home on the sultry afternoon a man hastily rode up and with one hand bandaged and numerous knife wounds in his Sunday coat told how he had been assaulted at the McBride school house three miles east of the city.

“He declared that while the Rev. Allen Johnson was declaring the ways of salvation on the day in question three men from the state of Virginia by name Straud Collins, Jim Collins, and Merady Pell came to the place of worship and having imbibed too freely of Virginia liquor they proceeded to disturb the preaching by talking out in meeting and using language that so disturbed the worshippers that the minister deemed it best to dismiss the congregation.

“This being done the three above named young men became even more boisterous and one used his knife on the unfortunate young man who brought the news to town.  The sheriff went to the scene of the conflict and of course found the birds had flown.  Warrants are out for the unfortunate men who were so unthoughtful as to go to church while drinking and violate the laws of the state thus getting themselves in splendid position to help make good roads for Rockingham [County] when Patrick [County, Va.] needs their services as farmers so badly.”

The people in this story:

Sheriff Caleb Hill Haynes did indeed have political aspirations, having run unsuccessfully for the North Carolina legislature in 1912.  He was elected to the House in 1920 and served until 1933.  He was married to a daughter of Chang Bunker, one of the original Siamese twins, who settled near Mt. Airy.

Rev. Allen Johnson was from the section of Surry County on the Virginia line and the border of Stokes County, within the Westfield township.  The McBride family cemetery and McBride road are located on that side of Mt. Airy.  Allen was a grandson of another preacher from that area, Rev. “Right” Johnson, and was a son of Henderson Johnson and Amelia Norman.

The three delinquents who disrupted the sermon have connections by marriage to the  Johnson family.  It is common in a small, rural community to find many people who are distant cousins across generations, as joked about in the song, “I’m My Own Grandpaw.”  In this case, most of the relationships seem to have involved  a woman named Lula Belle McBride, who came from a large family and had bad luck in her marriages.

Lula McBride was first married in 1929 to James Hemmings, the widower of Allen Johnson’s daughter, Mary.  Then in 1933, James Hemmings died.  Allen Johnson’s grand-daughter, Sarepta Johnson, had died young, back in 1915.  Her husband, Austin Holt, married the second time to Jettie Collins, sister of the above-named Straud and Jim Collins.  Poor Jettie died very soon after, and Austin married a third time, to Lula McBride Hemmings, in about 1936.

The three drunken Virginians were only about 18-20 years old in 1912.  The Collins boys grew up and married and went to work at the granite quarry in Mt. Airy, while Meredith Pell worked on the railroad.  Straud Collins and Meredith Pell both married sisters of Lula McBride.

To sum up, Rev. Johnson’s sermon was interupted by his grandson-in-law’s future brothers-in-law, and his son-in-law’s future brothers-in-law.  Straud Collins was both, first through his sister and then through his wife.  Lula McBride was the second wife of Allen Johnson’s widowed son-in-law, who was her first husband, and she was the third wife of his widowed grandson-in-law, who was her second husband.

You could write a song about this if you could keep it all straight.

Austin Holt died in 1958 and left Lula widowed for the second time.  She married a third time, to Rufus Samuel Gunnel, and was soon widowed again.  Lula McBride Gunnell passed away in 1984 and was buried in the McBride Cemetery.

Lula-Belle-MCB2

The theory of six degrees of separation says that we live in a small world and that we can find a connection to any other human being on the planet by no more than six relationships.  In early twentieth century Westfield, all you needed was Lula Belle McBride.

Sources consulted:  Mt. Airy News, Moody’s Funeral Home Records, and  U. S. Census records, death certificates, marriage records, and cemetery records for Surry and Stokes Counties, N. C. and Patrick County, Va.