Elizabeth “Bettie” Ann Speaks was born in 1832 in Indiana or Virginia, per the census, although her parents were from Lee County, Virginia. She died in 1907 in Hancock County, Tennessee. I never spoke with anyone who actually knew her, but I spoke with people who knew of her.
My grandparents would have known her for between 20 and 30 years, but I didn’t know them.
She married Samuel Claxton, also spelled variantly Clarkson and Clarkston, according to Samuel’s Civil War records, on August 22, 1850, at the home of Tandy Welch. Her grandfather, the Reverend Nicholas Speak performed the ceremony. In the 1850 census, which was taken on December 13th, they are living beside the rest of the Claxton clan in Hancock County, Tennessee, where she would live the rest of her life. There is no baby yet, but my great-grandmother Margaret Claxton was on the way, being born on July 25, 1851.
We don’t really know much about Elizabeth, who, according to family, was called Bettie. Family records show her middle name as Ann, but the Civil War pension application consistently shows her middle initial as L. She apparently did know how to sign her name, as she signed the application for a Civil War pension in 1878.
The first record, other than the census, is a note in the Rob Camp Church records where Elizabeth Clarkson is “received by experience” on Monday, August 25th, 1858, meaning that she did not transfer from another church, but was “saved” and probably baptized.
In 1860, she was listed with the occupation of “scowering” and had 5 children. Her birth state is listed in 1860 as Indiana, but is listed as Virginia in other census records.
Her husband, Samuel would cross into Kentucky to join the Union troops in May of 1863 and served during the Civil War in the Tennessee Cavalry Company F, contracting tuberculosis which would kill him nearly a decade later. He was discharged in May 1865, ill, from the hospital.
This photo of Elizabeth was taken sometime during or after the Civil War and before her husband passed away in 1876, so between 1863 or so and 1875. That’s Samuel in the photo with her, wearing his uniform.
I must admit, the first thing I noticed about her was her “distinctive nose” as one of my cousins phrased it, and I am every so grateful that I did not inherit that from her. Genetics was my friend.
On the second Saturday of April 1869 Rob Camp Baptist Church released the following members from their fellowship:
These members were released for the purpose of constituting Mount Zion Baptist Church. On the third Saturday of May 1869 these brothers and sisters met, along with representatives from Cave Springs, Big Spring Union and Chadwell Station to officially constitute a church. That church, albeit three buildings later, still stands in the same location on land donated by William Mannon, noted above.
Elizabeth Speaks Clarkson is among the members listed, as are her in-laws, Fairwick and Agnes Muncy Clarkson. Her daughter, Margaret Clarkson, also listed would marry Joseph Bolton, Jr., in 1873. We don’t know if Joseph Bolton listed above is Jr. or Sr., but I suspect Sr. since Jr. would have only been 16 at that time. Margaret was 2 years older than Joseph Bolton Jr.
Interestingly, Elizabeth’s husband, Samuel’s name is absent. However, that is explained by a note in the church records dated Sept. 2, Saturday, 1868 wherein the following is found:
“Excluded Samuel Clarkson for getting drunk and not being willing to make any acknowledgements whatever.” The same day, “Elected brother Joseph Bolton to the office of Deacon.”
The churches of that time were rather strict, serving as a combination of religious institution, the only social outlet in the area and moral prosecutor. The church rules as set forth in their covenants included the following gems:
- Every male member wishing to speak shall rise from his seat and address the moderator and then speak strictly adhering to the subject matter under consideration.
- No member may speak more than 3 times on one subject without liberty obtained from the church.
- No member shall have liberty of laughing or whispering in times of public worship.
- No member of this church is permitted to address another member in any other appellation other than brother.
- No member is permitted to abruptly absent himself in time of business without leave of the moderator
- Members shall not neglect attending meetings and shall not remove out of the bounds of the church without applying for a letter of dismissal.
Judging from the disciplinary actions taken against members in the church notes, you also could not play marbles, swear, get drunk, talk badly about or have a dispute with another church member, attend another church, and certainly not one of a different faith, dance, tell a falsehood or commit adultery. One man had charges brought for “betting and shooting,” although I don’t know if that was one thing or two. Some of the disciplinary actions read like a soap opera and ran for months in the notes. The church committed impartial people to help resolve issues between church members, but often, the resolution was that both people either left the church or were dismissed. Church business was high drama and the soap opera of the day. Notes often read like court proceedings where offenders were “found guilty” and disciplined. Fortunately for members, the worse they could do was throw you out of the church. If you acknowledged your sins, confessed publicly, and promised to try to do better and live a better life, you could be “reinstated to full fellowship.”
In the 1870 census, Elizabeth Speaks and Samuel Claxton have 8 children and are living beside his parents, Fairwick and Agnes Muncy Claxton.
In 1876, Samuel dies officially of pneumonia, but probably of tuberculosis contracted during his Civil War service.
On Oct. 18, 1878, Elizabeth applied for a widow’s pension for her husband’s Civil War service. In1880, she is noted as a widow with 1 child.
In the 1880 census, Elizabeth is a widow and has 100 acres of land worth $250.
On March 13, 1881, Calvin Wolfe and Rebecca, his wife, deeded to Elizabeth Clarkson land on the North side of the Powell River adjacent Henry Yeary’s gate and Roda Shiplet’s line, Nancy Snavely’ line and the main road. The acreage isn’t given. Rebecca Claxton Wolfe was the sister of Elizabeth’s deceased husband, Samuel Claxton.
A few months later, Elizabeth then sells what appears to be the same tract of land of 27.25 acres “laying on the north side of the road leading from Tazewell to Jonesville” to several members of the Overton family, who do not appear to be related. Elizabeth signs the deed, so she can write her name.
On Sept. 4, 1894, Elizabeth Clarkson petitions the Mount Zion Church for a letter of dismissal. This typically means the person is moving or wants to join another church and the letter states they have been a member in good standing.
The only other photo we have of Elizabeth is one taken about 1896 with her family. She is in the dark dress, center, front middle.
In the 1900 census, she tells us that she gave birth to 12 children and 9 were living.
- Margaret N. 1851-1920 married Joseph Bolton
- Cyrena “Rena” M. 1852-1887
- Surrilda Jane 1858-1920 married William (Luke?) Monday
- Clementine 1853-after 1877
- Sarah Ann 1857-1860/1870
- Cynthia “Catherine” 1860-1901 married William Muncy
- John 1861-1899/1900
- Matilda 1867-1944 never married
- Henry Clint 1869-1937 married Amanda Jane Estep
- Mary W. 1872 – after1900 married Martin Parks
- Jerushia Claxton 1874-1925 married Thomas Monroe Robinson
- Elizabeth 1876-1877/1878
The family lived along the Powell River in Hancock County, Tennessee where the Clarkson Cemetery, now known as the Cavin Cemetery, is located at the intersection of River Road and Owen Ridge Road. Elizabeth’s stone is shown below.
You can see this cemetery from River Road.
This is the guard bull, assuring that overly curious genealogists do not escape from the cemetery, at least not until he says so.
Elizabeth’s parents, Charles Speak (1804-1840/50) and Ann McKee (1801/1805-1840/1850) had married in 1823 in Washington County, Virginia, and made their home in Lee County, where Charles’ father, Nicholas Speak was the founding minister of Speaks Methodist Church in about 1820. Charles mother was Sarah Faires (1786-1862).
The Speakes line in Lee County wasn’t difficult to trace but tracking back from there was more challenging. We would discover that records became more fragmentary as we moved back in time, and that the ancestors tended to move geographically. Figuring out where they moved from and to was often nigh on impossible. It’s not like they left a forwarding address and you have to know where to look to find the records to connect the dots, if those records exist at all.
Over the period of almost 25 years, we managed to track the Speaks line backwards in time – Nicholas Speak (1782-1852) to his father, Charles Beckwith Speake (1741-1793/4) who married Anne (1744-1789), surname unknown. Charles was the son of Thomas Speake (1698-1755) and Jane (b 1714) and his father was Bowling Speake (1674-1755) who married Mary Benson. Bowling’s father was Thomas Speake, the immigrant, born about 1633/34 and who died August 6, 1681. He married Elizabeth Bowling who was born about 1648 and died sometime after her husband and before 1692.
Without the Speak(e)(s) Family Association (SFA) and years of contributed research by others, I would never have been able to find these connections. My situation wasn’t dissimilar to that of many others. There were holes in the various genealogy proofs. We needed to be sure that our Speaks lines really were all one and the same.
The Holy Grail. “That after which one seeks.” Of course, everyone approaches DNA testing with their own personal set of goals, their own Holy Grail, but the most universal is to find out where they are from. Especially people in the Americas, New Zealand and Australia – we are countries of immigrants – mostly from Europe, some from Africa.
Many times during and after the crossing to the new land, the connection to the old country was lost – certainly the challenges of a the new world, a new life, in essence starting new or again – took up every minute of every day. The old world, while certainly a memory, was not something they talked about daily. By the time a generation or two had passed, information dimmed, and if we are lucky, we might have an oral history of the country they came from. Another generation or two and there is nothing left.
If your ancestor immigrated in 1650, there have been approximately 14 generations since the person who immigrated. That’s a lot of people to pass on an oral tradition – and most of the time it didn’t happen. Some people are fortunate. For example, if your surname is something like Campbell, well, you pretty much know you’re Scotch-Irish or Scottish and there isn’t much doubt about where you came from. But other people aren’t so lucky. Furthermore, even if you do know which country your ancestor came from, that’s not quite the same as knowing the village where they lived, or the castle if you are landed gentry or royalty.
I approached the SFA about what was then a new technology, DNA testing, and the Speakes DNA project was begun in 2004. We have since identified several different genetic Speakes lines. Originally it was a Y DNA project, but today we work with autosomal DNA as well and encourage everyone who descends from a Speak(e)(s)(es) and has taken the Family Finder Autosomal test at Family Tree DNA to join the project.
Initially, we wanted to learn more about our Thomas Speakes of Maryland. We knew he was Catholic, was in Maryland by 1660 or so, and married Elizabeth Bowling shortly thereafter, before November 1663 when she was subpoenaed by the Speake surname. But we didn’t know where he was from, where he married Elizabeth, when he was born, or much else.
Earlier research had shown that Lancashire, in England, was “a nursery of recusants.” In other words, a hotbed of Catholics who refused to give up their Catholic faith, accept and become members of the Anglican Church. The biggest difference between the two is that the Pope is the head of the Catholic church and the King is the head of the Anglican church. To many Catholics, that was a rather important detail. Most people simply complied, but in Lancashire, many didn’t, including the landed gentry. They protected their Catholic peasants who worked their lands.
There was also a baptismal record for a Thomas Speake in 1634, about the right time, but then there was also a later death record for Thomas’s wife and daughter. Of course, we have no way of knowing if this was the same Thomas. There are many missing records during this time, as you might imagine. Not only did the English Civil War take place, but also Catholics had their children baptized in secret by priests. They were only baptized in the Anglican Church when there was no other choice. Same situation for marriages and deaths as well. When Cromwell was on the throne, there was an 11-year period where many of the records are missing entirely in Lancashire. Suffice it to say, the records were not only incomplete, the ones that did exist were frustratingly inconclusive. We, as a family association, had come to believe we might never know any more about our Thomas Speake that we already did. The association allocated some funds for testing and several Speak(e)(s) men at the convention that year swabbed. I just happened to have several test kits available. Imagine that coincidence:)
Between 2004 and 2010, several Speak(e)(s) males tested and we confirmed the DNA of Thomas of Maryland as well as that of both of his sons, John and Bowling.
You might notice on the chart above, that not all of the “sons” are yellow, the color of John, Bowling and Thomas. In fact, Capt. Francis and William are blue and red, and John E. is both green and yellow striped. This means that the descendants who tested in these lines do not match. Whether that is actually because Francis, for example, really was not the son of Richard, or whether an undocumented adoption has occurred some place in the line or the genealogy is incorrect has yet to be determined. In order to further define those lines, we need additional men from those lines to test.
John, on the other hand was schizophrenically colored with yellow and green stripes because his two sons lines DNA did not match. However, we know that the Thomas line is yellow because people from various sons lines all matches the yellow DNA results.
The Charles Beckwith to Nicholas Speaks line is the yellow line to the far right, above.
At this point, we had established the baseline DNA results for Thomas the Immigrant’s line, but we still had no idea where the family originated in England.
But then came Doug Speak from New Zealand. Ironically, Doug was recruited by one John David Speake, a gentleman who lives in Cambridge, England and whose DNA is shown not to match the DNA of the Thomas Speak of Maryland line. This was profoundly disappointing to us because we had felt a kinship with John for many years during our joint Speake research. John David had much better access to English records than we did or do, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
New Zealand is newer country than the US. Doug’s ancestors had only immigrated to new Zealand in the 1800s, and he knew where they were from in England. While this was interesting initially, it became vitally important when we learned that his DNA matches the Thomas Speake family line.
This, in genetic genealogy terms, is the Holy Grail. Now if you discover your match is from London or a large city, that’s not the Holy Grail. Before the industrial revolution, places like London were merchant cities, not to mention the center of government. People migrated to cities.
However, if you discover that your surname match came from a small village in an out-of-the-way place – that indeed, is the equivalent of the genetic genealogy Holy Grail.
If you look at a map, you can see that Gisburn is about 2 blocks long, has a church, one pub, a deli and one restaurant. Well, of course, it has a few houses too, but it’s truly a small crossroads village.
In this church, St. Mary’s, Doug’s ancestors’ were baptized.
The Y DNA tells us that we share an ancestor with Doug, but it just doesn’t tell us who, or when. But no one immigrated TO Gisburn, unless it was from the village up the road, so we know this too is our ancestral land.
The Thomas Speak that immigrated in 1660 may have been baptized in Downham, another village church about 4 miles distant from Gisburn, so this makes sense. Churches were established where people could easily attend – and attendance meant walking.
In 2011, I announced at the Speakes Family Association convention that we had unlocked the secret of the area where our Speake family was from, I showed a slide of St. Mary’s Church, with their many Speake family records of baptisms, marriages and burials – and said as a throw away comment that I wanted to stand there. Little could I ever have imagined that indeed, two years later, I would be standing in that very churchyard.
It’s a long way from Hancock County, Tennessee, on the Powell River to Gisburn, Lancashire, England – 6 generations and more than 4000 miles. Wouldn’t Elizabeth Speaks Claxton be amazed!
So what are we waiting for? Let’s go see what we found!!!
Join me soon for the article, “Following the Ribble River to Gisburn.”
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