Phebe Crumley was born on March 24, 1818, according to her tombstone, to William Crumley and his wife, Lydia Brown.
Ok, her mother is probably Lydia Brown. And there is no solid proof her father was William, except geography and oral history.
We have, ahem, a bit of a problem here. Welcome to The Crumley Curse.
Doggone these men with the same names.
We know, for sure that William Crumley Jr. (the third), the best candidate for Phebe’s father, married Lydia Brown on October 1, 1807 in Greene Co., TN.
We also know that William Crumley, Senior, and that word “senior” is important, married Elizabeth “Betsy” Johnston in October 1817 in Greene County, TN. At that time, William Crumley (the second,) born circa 1767, would have been known as Senior and William Crumley (the third,) his son born circa 1785, would have been known as Jr. If William Crumley (the third) had a son, William, he would have been age 10 or under, born since the 1807 marriage, and would not yet be referred to as Jr. or Sr. in legal documents. He was not of age, so he would never be referred to in a legal document, unless he was an orphan. There were no other William Crumley’s old enough to marry or to sign a document in Greene County, TN at that time.
Do you notice anything about these two documents?
William Crumley’s signature looks almost identical. Ok, it looks exactly identical, except the second one is a bit shakey, like an older person. But if William (the second, about age 50 in 1817) taught William (the third, about age 30 in 1817) how to write, then it’s not unexpected that their signatures would be very similar. Or am I just trying to justify this??
Or, did William the second sign for William the third in 1807 because he was underage? The signature itself does not say Jr. or Sr. In the 1850 census, William (the third) is shown as being a carpenter born in Virginia in 1789, so in 1807, at age 18, he would have needed someone to sign on his behalf.
And look who else signed both. Jotham Brown. Why is he important? Jotham Brown was the father of William Crumley (the third’s) wife that he married in 1807, Lydia Brown. Lydia’s father died in 1799, but her brother was also named Jotham Brown and he apparently signed both of these documents with his X. Jotham could not sign his name.
So let’s do some math here.
If my ancestor, Phebe, was born on March 24, 1818, then her mother got pregnant in about June of 1817, which was 4 months before William Crumley married Elizabeth “Betsy” Johnson.
Certainly, that could have had something to do with why he married, if the groom was in fact William (the third), widower of Lydia Brown, who married Betsy Johnson.
But why would William Jr. style himself was William Sr. when William Sr. was clearly still living, and living in the same county? That doesn’t make any sense. And that’s not just a little error, it’s a huge legal faux pas when dealing with bonds, money and several people.
So we have one piece of evidence, meaning the nearly identical signatures that strongly argues FOR the groom being William (the third) and three pieces arguing against it, meaning Phebe’s birth four months after the marriage, the fact that the document says William Sr., and DNA evidence that is compelling but inconclusive. We also have the possibility that the signature are the same, because William (the second) is signing for William (the third), his son, because he is underage. I personally think this last option is the most likely explanation.
Ok, enough worrying about the Williams, let’s go back to Phebe.
Phebe had a sister, Clarissa, or at least Clarissa is believed to be Phebe’s sister, born in April of 1817. So, if Clarissa was born in April and her mother, Lydia, died, William (the third) would have had a newborn and no wife. So he might have been very inclined to marry quickly. In this scenario, he would have gotten Betsy Johnson pregnant in June and married her in October of 1817. No moss growing under that boys feet, if this is the case.
If this is the situation, it means that the mitochondrial DNA of Clarissa and Phebe’s descendants (through all females) would be different, because they had different mothers.
If this is not the situation, then it means that Lydia got pregnant for Phebe two months after Clarissa’s birth – certainly possible but unlikely with a nursing child.
Turning to DNA – Answers and More Questions
It took two years, or more, to find a direct descendant of Clarissa through all females – and we’re just darned lucky to have been able to do that. It took another year to collect her DNA.
The DNA held a surprise – the DNA of Phebe’s descendant and Clarissa’s descendant matched. Given the signatures, I really didn’t expect a match. That means either they had the same mother or their mothers shared a common ancestor.
If this is beginning to sound like Peyton Place to you, it does to me too. Did I mention that this used to be called the Crumley Conundrum, but it has since graduated to The Crumley Curse???
The most logical explanation, which may not be the correct one, is that Lydia did not die in 1817 and William (the third) was not the William who married Betsey Johnson. Instead, William (the second,) his father, who would have been William Sr., just like the document says, is the William who married Elizabeth “Betsy” Johnston. Given that scenario, then Lydia got pregnant for Phebe when Clarissa was just 2 months old, which is rather unusual with a nursing baby but certainly not impossible.
Looking at the women’s pedigree charts, we know that Jotham Brown’s wife was named Phebe – and that is the name of the child born in 1818 to William Crumley and his wife. We know that Elizabeth “Betsey” Johnson’s father was probably Zopher Johnson, or maybe his brother Moses Johnson if not Zopher, and we don’t even know Elizabeth’s mother’s first or last name – regardless of whether her father was Zopher or Moses.
The good news is that we also managed to find a mitochondrial DNA candidate for Phebe, the wife of Jotham Brown. Phebe Crumley and Phebe, the wife of Jotham Brown and Clarissa Crumley are exact matches.
Now, there is a rumor afoot, or maybe better stated, a strong suspicion, that Phebe, Jotham Brown’s wife, is Zopher Johnson (the Elder’s) daughter – and she could be – they did live in the same place. These families were heavily intermarried.
So let’s add the mitochondrial DNA path to the Zopher chart, in yellow, passed from mother to daughter, assuming that Phebe, wife of Jotham is the daughter of Zopher and that Clarissa and Phebe are the daughters of Lydia Brown and William Crumley (the third.) This is the most likely scenario, but it’s not the only possible one.
Note that on the charts above and below, Zopher’s wife gave her DNA to daughter Phebe (who married Jotham Brown) and her sons Zopher and Moses, whichever was the father to Betsey Johnson – but Zopher’s wife’s mtDNA does not pass on through son Zopher to Betsy. It stops with son Zopher (or son Moses) because the wife’s mtDNA gets passed to the children.
This also means that if we could find someone who descends from Zopher (the elder) and his wife, name unknown, through all females to the current generation (which can be a male,) we could confirm or refute the theory that Phebe (Jotham’s wife) is the daughter of Zopher (the elder) and his wife. Actually, if their DNA matches, it would confirm that they share a common female ancestor in a relatively close timeframe. It can’t confirm that we have a mother daughter relationship – meaning it could also be first cousins, etc. But still, it would make a compelling case AND it could positively refute the entire thing. In this case, yes means probably or possibly and no means no.
We do have one more fly in the ointment with Clarissa who married in Greene County (in 1834), as did her brother William (in 1840), also attributed to William (the third) and Lydia Brown. If she was the child of William (the third) and Lydia Brown, why was she living in Greene County? Maybe she was visiting and decided to stay, fell in love, married there and the rest is the history we know.
Or, maybe she wasn’t the child of William Crumley (the third) and his wife. But if not, whose daughter could she be? All candidates in Greene County are eliminated by virtue of knowing who their children are.
William Crumley (the second) had a son, Isaac, who married in 1816, who also moved with the family to the Lee County/Claiborne County area. It’s possible that Clarissa or Phebe could have been Isaac’s daughter. Keep in mind that Clarissa’s DNA matches that of Phebe, thought to be William (the third’s) daughter, so we have to find a way to explain that. Plus, there is still the question of why Clarissa was living in Greene County and how Phebe and Clarissa could both match the DNA of Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe. Isaac’s oldest proven daughter, Lydia, also went back to Greene County to marry, so these families kept in touch.
Isaac’s wife was Rachel Brown, daughter of Sylvanus Brown and Ruth Johnson. See the chart above and below.
Ruth was the daughter of Moses Johnson and an unknown wife. Moses Johnson was the son of Zopher Johnson (the Elder) and if in fact Clarissa was the child of Rachel and Isaac, that would mean that Zopher (the elder’s) wife was from the same maternal line as his son, Moses’s wife, because in the chart below, Moses does NOT pass on the mtDNA to Ruth, his wife does. If Ruth’s mtDNA matches that of Zopher’s wife, it means that those two women share a common ancestor. While it’s possible, it’s also a huge leap of logic. Again, the most likely scenario is the one where William (the third) has both Clarissa and Phebe by wife Lydia Brown.
Unfortunately, Clarissa did not name any of her children Jotham, Zopher, Isaac, Sylvanus, Rachel, Ruth, Moses or Lydia, so we don’t have any clues? What was she thinking???
For that matter, Phebe didn’t name a child Lydia either although Mary’s middle initial was L. However, given that her name was Phebe, it certainly infers that she was named for Jotham Brown’s wife, Lydia Brown’s mother, Phebe. If a second wife was going to honor a first wife, her cousin, you would have thought she would have named the child Lydia, not Phebe.
It would be wonderful if we could find a mitochondrial candidate for the wife of Moses Johnson and Zopher Johnson (Jr. and Sr.) too – and we could positively confirm whether or not Lydia Brown and Elizabeth Johnson came from a common female – or not. Worst case, we could eliminate some possibilities.
Unfortunately, I think that all of the research and steps we’ve taken so far have simply created more confusion and made things more complex – if that was possible.
Bottom line to this problem – I think the parents of both girls, Phebe and Clarissa were William (the third) and Lydia Brown. And even if Clarissa wasn’t, Phebe lived in the Lee County VA/Claiborne Co., TN area, was raised there and the only other person who could have been her father was Isaac. He was not present in 1820 in Lee County and the Greene Co., TN 1820 census does not exist. He is in Lee County in 1830 with two females 10-15, but he reportedly had a daughter, Rachel, in that age category as well. Phebe named a son William, not Isaac. No grandchildren named Isaac, Rachel or Lydia either. Phebe’s father’s name as William is handed down orally in the family, but unfortunately, her mother’s name wasn’t. Makes me want to pull my hair out!!!
Phebe’s Early Life
Since Phebe Crumley was born in 1818, and her parents did not move to Claiborne County until about 1819, it is likely that she was actually born in Greene Co., TN. She probably has no memory of living there as she was unquestionably raised on the Lee County/Hawkins County borders. However, there seems to be a lot of interaction between those families, even though they do live about 60 miles apart.
By 1820, William Crumley (the third) was living in Lee County, Virginia with one male under age 10, 1 male age 10-16, one male 26-46 (himself), 3 females under 10, one female 16-26 and one female 26-45.
We don’t know much about Phebe before her marriage to Joel Vannoy on January 18, 1845, in Claiborne County. This was just before that part of the county became Hancock County.
We know that Phebe’s father, William (the third) may have been a miller, and her grandfather William likely was a miller, and his mill was very near the now Hancock County/Lee County, Virginia line on Blackwater Creek. In fact, his property straddled the state line. Blackwater was dead center in the middle of the Melungeon community where William (the third) is living, noted as a carpenter, two doors from the miller, in 1850.
The last child known to be born to William and his wife, presumably Lydia, Aaron,was born about 1821, just three years after Phebe was born. He did not name a child Lydia (or Elizabeth or Betsey,) but he did name a child Jotham.
When Phebe was about 10 years old, about 1828, her oldest brother, John, married a woman named Mahala. The first child to marry must have resulted in quite a celebration. The next child, Jotham, didn’t marry for another 6 years.
In the 1830 census, William (the third) is living in Pulaski County, KY, about 100 miles west of Lee County, VA. Why? Darned if I know.
By 1840, the family is back in Claiborne County. They could have lived in Pulaski County just briefly, or for as long as nearly 20 years – although it would have been unusual for William not to have taken his sons with him. Keep in mind that John married in 1828.
In 1834, in Lee County, Phebe’s brother, Jotham Crumley married Ann Robinette, so the family may have been back in the area by that time. Both families probably celebrated the happy event and Phebe, then age 16, may have dreamed of when she would have her own wedding.
In August 1841, Phebe’s brother, Jotham died in Lee County, VA. We don’t know the cause of death, but he was married and had 3 children. It must have been a very sad day.
In 1845, Phebe married Joel Vannoy and in the 1850 census, we find Joel and Phebe living in Hancock County. Phebe is listed as having been born in Virginia, so her parents may have been living in Lee County by 1818.
By 1850, Joel and Phebe already had three children, Sarah Jane, Elizabeth and William G. They lived next door to John Gilbert, a well-known Baptist preacher in Hancock County. John was the pastor at Mulberry Gap Church, which is not far from the land that Joel Vannoy owned, so we can probably extrapolate that this is the church they attended. This was also the closest church to where they lived at that time.
This photo, taken by Phillip Walker taken from Mulberry Gap shows the Mulberry Gap Church nestled into the hills on the far right side of the photo.
The Mulberry Gap church minutes are not known to be in existence, but given that their neighbor was the preacher, Phebe’s membership here is a good bet.
Update: Well, it seemed like Phebe would have been a member of the Mulberry Gap Church, but she wasn’t. The minutes have been discovered beginning in 1852, including a list of members, although earlier church minutes and records have been lost. Between 1852 and 1860, neither Phebe Vannoy, nor any of her family except for her brother John Crumley and her sister Belinda “Melinda” Crumley Davis are members of this church. Brother John was reported by the family to be a minister, but in the church notes, he was a member excluded for “profane swearing.”
We don’t really know when Phebe’s mother, probably Lydia Brown, died. We know that in 1840, William is shown living with a woman about his own age, along with two unmarried adult daughters. Phebe would, of course, have been one of those.
Phebe’s brother, John, was reportedly a Baptist minister, although the above information from the Mulberry Gap Church casts doubt on that.
Did John preach his mother’s funeral or did his uncle Isaac Crumley, who was also a preacher, do those honors? Did they stand at the graveside in the heat of the summer or the snow in winter and sing Amazing Grace? Did they each throw a handful of dirt onto the coffin, hearing the hollow thunk that one comes to recognize as a sadly unique sound.
What we do know is that Phebe’s father, William, is shown in the 1850 census as having been married within the last year to a woman named Paa or Pqa, also later noted as Pequa, born in 1797. Unfortunately, Hancock County records have burned, so we have no way of knowing anything more. Given this information, it would appear that Phebe’s mother passed away sometime between 1840 and 1849 when her father remarried.
Finding the Land
On the map below, you can see with the bottom left arrow where Joel and Phebe Crumley Vannoy lived, where the church is located in the center, and where Phebe’s father owned land, at the far right.
Phebe lived about 10 or 12 miles from her parents, so she probably didn’t get to see them often. Maybe on Sundays at church if they both attended the same church.
Phebe’s sister, Sarah “Sallie” married Edward Walker in 1848. They lived just a mile or so down the road, in a log cabin that still stands today.
The exact locations of the homesteads are shown on Mulberry Gap Road, also called Brown Town Road. Sallie Crumley Walker lived at the arrow on the left and Phebe at the arrow on the right.
Sally married and lived with Edward Walker in this cabin. Certainly, Phebe was here many times to visit. Edward Walker died in 1860 and Phebe and Joel likely tried to help her sister Sally who had 4 small children to raise.
As luck would have it, on the day we were looking for the Vannoy land, we stumbled on the Walker cabin. We turned in the driveway to ask directions and for information, and the very gracious owners told us about the cabin, the original owner, and offered to show us around inside. Against every lick of my better judgement I ever had, and despite teaching my kids about “stranger danger,” my friend and I took them up on their offer. No murderous crazy people would have taken the time or money to restore an old and very dilapidated log cabin. (Don’t tell my kids…OK???)
So, while we can’t visit Phebe’s cabin, we can surely visit sister Sallie’s, where Phebe visited, which was surely much like Phebe and Joel’s cabin in that same timeframe.
There is a cemetery above the Walker cabin, and it’s likely where Sallie is buried, but there are no marked graves and no one really knows for sure.
Update: Phillip Walker discovered that Sallie is not buried at the Walker homestead, but lived beyond 1880, moved to Tazewell (in Claiborne County) then on to Cocke County where she died on January 11, 1898 and is buried in a marked grave in Union Cemetery.
Here is the view of Powell Mountain from the cemetery above the house. This land is breathtakingly beautiful.
Below is the current front of the Walker house. By the way, the front used to be the back when the road ran between the house and the Creek. Years ago, they changed the location of the road, so the back is now the front.
The original house ended half way through the upper windows and the at one point, a few feet in height was added all around..
Inside, the cabin is mostly original.
A type of well basin exists and the water one of several springs springing from the hillside behind the house would be diverted into the basin inside the house. It also drained out, so this was the earliest form of running water. Rather ingenuous and Sally probably considered herself very lucky indeed.
You can see the basin at the left with a basket and bowl sitting inside. It’s quite large, maybe 2 by 4 feet. The original inhabitants would have used it to keep things like butter and milk cool. They call it the “spring box.”
There are bullet holes in the upper part of the cabin, and a place for guns to be leveled and shot. There is even a secret room, or secret compartment, also with gunshot holes. Wouldn’t you love to know that story!!!
Update: Phillip Walker, a descendant of Edward Walker, tells us that the secret room was accessibly only through the attic and was actually the space between the two walls and the chimney dividing them. Ironically, Edward’s great-granddaughter told Phillip about the secret room, and that they hid valuables in that room during the Civil War, but she knew nothing of the house still standing today. There are bullet holes into that room as well, and holes to shoot, but they might have had pegs at that time as to not give away the location of the shooter.
The original fireplace still exists as well with the original masonry, logs and beams.
What you can’t see here is that the fireplace is actually a double chimney. If you walk around to the other side, down that hallway, there is another fireplace on the opposite side of the first. This was a deluxe cabin in its day.
Mulberry Creek, the lifegiving creek that ran behind the Walker homestead and then on down to the Vannoy lands.
The Vannoy family lived on land on Mulberry Road in Hancock County that had been patented by Joel Vannoy and adjoined his father, Elijah Vannoy’s land.
After leaving the Walker homestead, about a mile further down the road, to the northeast, you come to an area where the creek crosses back under the road to the right. Originally, the road simply followed the creek, but when they paved the road, they straightened it out a bit.
First, you’ll notice a house with a bridge and a barn very close to the road.
As you pass that first house, Mulberry Creek loops very close to the road and you’ll see that you are between two old houses, the one with the bridge is to the right and the second older home is immediately to the left, on that loop.
Turn around. Across the road, immediately, you’ll see farm lane and a gate and that is the Vannoy land. I don’t know if they owned any on the flat side of the road. This Google maps link should take you right there.
I wish their home still stood, but nothing remains today. I suspect there is a graveyard back in there as well, but if so, no one knows the location and it has been committed back to the hands of nature. We know that Joel’s parents died while living here, so they certainly had to be buried someplace and in these parts, everyone had their own family cemetery. People were just buried on their own land, generally behind the house on high ground.
This picture of cousin Harold was taken while discovering and visiting this land some years back. Finding this land, again, was no small feat. None of the people currently living knew where it was. We lose so much with each generation that passes.
It must have been a devastating blow to Phebe when her mother died, sometime between 1840 and 1849. Phebe may have still been living at home, as she married in 1845. But her grief was not to end there. In 1851, William Crumley, then between the ages of 61 and 66, sold out, pulled up stakes and moved to Appanoose County, Iowa with his new wife.
I suspect that there were discussions among all of the children, all then married, about who would go and who would stay. It appears that only one child, Aaron, married and with a large family, accompanied his father. So in addition to losing her mother to death and burying a brother in 1841, Phebe also lost her father and a second brother to the frontier. Brother William and sister Clarissa, assuming they were siblings, lived back in Greene County, so that left only Phebe with siblings Sallie, Belinda and John.
William didn’t live long after the trip to Iowa. He died sometime between 1852 and the 1860 census. Phebe must have received notice of his death by letter. The 1850 and 1860 census tell us that she could not read and write, but according to the 1870 census, Phebe could read but could not write. Someone may have had to read that letter to her. If reading was difficult for her, she surely would have had a second person read it to make sure she understood correctly. What a horribly sad letter to receive. I can see her hands shaking as she read those devastating words. It would make you hesitant to open letters in the future, uncertain of what they might hold.
By 1860, Joel and Phebe have 6 children. The original 3 children shown in the 1850 census are all still living. Mary is age 9 and was born in 1851, but there is a gap between Mary and the next child, K. M., age 4. It looks like Joel and Phebe lost at least 2 children, whose names we’ll never know. The last child, only a few months old, Nancy, would be their last child. It also looks like they lost a child between K.M. and Nancy. So by 1860, Phebe buried at least one and maybe as many as 3 children, probably in the same lost cemetery, someplace on the Vannoy land.
The census is extremely faint and K. M. it appears becomes James Hurvey Vannoy in later records. It’s also not unheard of in this region for someone to simply change a child’s name.
The UnCivil War
The Civil War was a very difficult time for these families. Family oral history tells us that Joel Vannoy was a Confederate sympathizer, which means it’s likely Phebe was too – or she was quiet about it if she wasn’t.
There are Confederate records for both William and John Crumley, but it’s impossible to tell from the records currently available online if they are Phebe’s brothers. There is a William who served out of Greene County and John Crumley, Phebe’s brother, is in the 1860 census in Hancock County, but he is not found thereafter. Phebe’s daughter, Sarah Jane Vannoy married John Nunn in 1864 and he fought for the Confederacy.
In the 1940s or 1950s, a descendant wrote the story of how the family survived the Civil War, in a letter, telling about when the family took a picnic and went back and visited the old homestead in Hancock County. That was about 1910. She recounts that during the war, they hid everything of value in the caves above their home.
The following photo shows James Hurvey Vannoy and Nancy Vannoy Venable in front of the old Vannoy homestead. Nancy died in August of 1940 so this photo had to have been taken before that time. The flowers in their hands make me wonder if they were visiting the cemetery that day.
The family survived the war intact, as Phebe’s children were all too young to serve. She must have been exceedingly grateful for that turn of events. She married a bit late, about age 27. Had she married and began having children earlier, they would likely have been old enough to serve. Regardless of how she felt about the war, as a mother, she would have been greatly relieved to have her children home safe with her and not someplace on the battlefield.
The danger wasn’t always from the soldiers either. Phebe’s niece, Mary Polly Crumly was born in 1829, the daughter of Rev. John Crumley. Mary Polly married Calvin Ramsey in 1846 and lived in Hancock County. Calvin was a northern sympathizer, in the midst, it seems, of southern sympathizers. One night, Calvin, Mary Polly and their baby, also named Calvin were taken out in the middle of the night, disappeared and were never seen again. One version of this story, told by descendants, indicates that it was southern sympathizing family members who “did the deed.” Their 8 surviving children were then placed as wards of the court with a guardian being assigned.
One of the great things about publishing articles like this is that people get in touch with you, and sometimes have knowledge of new information.
In 1860, Joel Vannoy’s wife’s sister’s husband, Edward Walker, died. In 1862 an estate sale was held and two items of value were auctioned – a young female slave and Edward’s land, except for his wife’s dower rights.
The Walker family was beginning what would be a very long legal process in which everyone pretty much sued everyone else – and it lasted for decades, including through the Civil War. For those interested in Edward Walker and his wives, Mahala Tussey and Sarah (Sallie) Crumley, Philip Walker has written a wonderful summary of events.
Phillip was also kind enough to share a chancery suit with me. In that suit, I discovered that Joel Vannoy, in April 1862, signed as surety, meaning bond, for Robert Woodson who purchased the slave at Edward Walker’s estate sale. Woodson bid $800 and a note was taken for a period of 2 years, at which time he was to pay the balance. Obviously, during this time, the Civil War interfered and clearly, Woodson no longer owned Tilda, the slave, because she would have been freed. Either he couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the debt, but the court ruled that a debt is a debt, regardless. These court notes are from 1865 after the Union is in control of the government. The Civil War ended in April of 1865 and for much of this time, the local governments in this region were virtually nonfunctional. Furthermore, everyone had an allegiance and Hancock County in particular was severely split between the north and south – and everyone felt very strongly about their position. To make matters worse, marauding bands of soldiers were problematic throughout the county and lawlessness was rampant – as was hunger. By the end of 1865, these families were only beginning to recover.
In December of 1865, the court ordered the sheriff of both Hancock and Claiborne Counties to confiscate the assets of both Robert Woodson and Joel Vanoy (sic) since Joel was Woodson’s security on the note for Tilda in 1862. The total owed at that point was $982.94, including costs.
It is unclear in subsequent court proceedings how much they confiscated, if anything, and what happened.
I suspect, strongly, that the reason the Claiborne County sheriff was involved is because Joel Vannoy had already sold his land and was living in Claiborne County.
This also sheds more light on the possible reason that Joel’s land in Claiborne in 1872 was deeded to his wife and children, not to Joel directly.
The documents pertaining to just this lawsuit, excluding subsequent suits, totaled about 220 pages. There were many depositions, but never was Joel Vannoy deposed in this process, which I found odd. To serve as the bond for Woodson, Joel was most likely at the sale itself and he clearly signed subsequent documents.
This is highly suggestive that by this time, Joel Vannoy’s mental condition had deteriorated to the point that both sides knew his testimony would be useless if it could even be obtained.
From Phebe’s perspective, this additional drama must have been both troublesome and weighed heavily upon her heart. Her brother John, and his daughter were both dead, along with the daughter’s husband and child, and her sister was embroiled in what could be termed a life-long feud between her children and their half-siblings. Eventually, it appears that one of Sarah’s children turned against her as well. And Phebe’s own family assets were being sought and perhaps confiscated for the Woodson debt – on top of which her husband wasn’t doing well.
We don’t know why Joel was involved in the sale of Tilda to Woodson. Was he making a political statement within the family, supporting someone’s position – or was he simply trying to help facilitate a sale?
Was the anxiety produced by knowing that note would come due and likely be unpaid part of what made Joel snap? With the social and economic changes produced by the Civil War, Woodson was likely to default – meaning Joel would be on the hook. Was this, combined with the wartime generated necessary paranoia part of the equation that would lead to the decline in Joel’s mental health?
Joel seemed to be well enough to sign as a surety in 1862, although there were allegations that adequate security was not taken on the Woodson note. By the end of the Civil War, Joel is no longer in any court documents until the 1886 record of his commitment to the hospital in Knoxville.
Movin’ On Up
By 1870, the Phebe Crumley and Joel Vannoy family had moved from Hancock County, down little Sycamore Road into the Little Sycamore community. They bought land and built a house in what is today known as Vannoy Hollow, pronounced Vannoy Holler in Claiborne County.
If their house in Hancock County was a log cabin, this new, bigger, house was an upgrade.
The 1870 census tells us that Phebe was born in Tennessee, although the earlier census schedules said Virginia. Their children are starting to marry.
Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes in 1867, son of confederate soldier, John Y. Estes, and they lived next door to Joel and Phebe Vannoy. Elizabeth has two daughters in1870 and the oldest is named after her mother, Phebe, although she wouldn’t live to adulthood. One of the “old widows” in Claiborne County once told me that it’s extra difficult when the child you name after one of your parents dies.
Just a few months after the census, Phebe’s son, George Vannoy would marry Elizabeth Estes, daughter of John Y. Estes.
The family seems to be doing well, as they purchased a significant amount of land in 1872 – 465 acres – far more than they could ever farm themselves, assuming at least some of it was flat.
Estes and Vannoy Hollers are separated by a smaller ridge called both Middle Ridge and Little Ridge, depending on who you are talking to. In this photo, taken on the Estes Holler side, which looks amazing like the Vannoy Holler side, you can see Middle Ridge on the right. As you can see, almost nothing is flat. It doesn’t have to be flat, just flat enough to plow a little or graze something.
In 1877, Phebe’s daughter, Mary, died at age 26, having never married. I wonder if Mary had a life-long medical condition. She was buried in the Venable Cemetery, now called the Pleasant View Cemetery, located behind the Pleasant View Baptist Church.
The 1880 census again tells us that Phebe was born in Virginia and that she can read but not write. Phebe tells us that her father was born in Tennessee, but that her mother was born in Virginia. This is interesting because William Crumley was definitely born in Virginia in about 1785 and Lydia was born in Virginia as well in about 1787. Isaac Crumley, however, was born in Tennessee and his wife Rachel Brown, was born in Virginia. Unfortunately, the census is an unreliable source, but still…
Phebe had two living sisters, or at least we believe them to be sisters, Clarissa and Melinda (Belinda) and both of them reported that their parents were born in Tennessee. Melinda, by the way, was born in 1820 and did name a child Lydia.
We also know that Phebe had the flux, which is a historic term for severe diarrhea. Generally, it means bloody flux which was dysentery and often fatal – but if this is what she had, she recovered and survived, but likely had one miserable summer.
Phebe’s children are all married by 1880 except for Nancy who is still living at home and wouldn’t marry for another 4 years. William George Vannoy and his wife, Elizabeth Estes live next door. James H. is living with Phebe and Joel along with his wife and children. I’m sure the original reason for James living in the household was to help his parents, but as it turns out, Phebe helped raise James’ children from his first marriage since his first wife, Matilda Venable, died in 1885.
The Storm Clouds Burst
There had been a storm brewing for some time. It’s nothing we can see from the census records, and we only get hints that something is “odd” from the Claiborne County land transactions. However, an 1886 court records spells it out in black and white.
On Oct. 4, 1886, Lazarus Estes was granted $26 by the court for “conveying Joel Vannoy to the hospital for the insane.” I had to read that entry several times before I fully grasped the magnitude what it said – and what it didn’t. That hospital was opened in Knoxville in May of that year.
Joel would have been 74 and Phebe would have been 68 and caring for her grandchildren.
Joel’s condition may well have had something to do with why he did not serve in the Civil War, perhaps why they moved to Little Sycamore and certainly why the land was not in his name, but in his wife and children’s names. These mental health issues do not tend to simply appear overnight – but build up over time, gradually worsening. His diagnosis was “preachin’, swearin’ and threatin’ to fight.” Based on descriptions of his behavior, he was clearly deranged, at least part of the time, and aggressive towards other people. Today, he would likely have been diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) and possibly schizophrenic.
And yes, mental illness has been known to occur in that family line. The Vannoy side claims it’s from the McNiel line, Joel’s mother’s family, and the McNiel’s of course claim it’s from the Vannoy side. Some people just look at you, shake their heads and say, “I’m not going to get involved in THAT.” It’s obviously not an unfamiliar subject.
Per Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, formerly Eastern State Mental Hospital, Joel Vannoy, age 74, was admitted July 22, 1886. He had 5 living children and 2 dead. He was a Baptist and was a farmer. He was discharged May 16, 1888.
It must have been terribly difficult for Phebe to watch her husband decline in to the abyss of mental illness. At first, she would have simply thought, “that’s odd” when he did something borderline inappropriate or abnormal. As time went on, she wouldn’t have “thought” it was odd, but known it was. However, one just accepted things, chalked them up to the hand of Providence, and went on. What choice did she have?
Eventually, everyone else would have known that Joel had a problem – to the point that when land was purchased, there was no question about putting it in his name.
At some point, Joel was given the room on one side of the house with a fireplace and family members took turns supervising him all of the time to prevent him from burning the house down and hurting himself or someone else. I don’t know if this was before he was committed, or after his release. For the family to place him in Eastern State Mental Hospital, he must have been extremely, exceedingly difficult to manage.
For Phebe, this must have been a living hell. Without knowing her, we don’t know if she was the kind of person that welcomed the relief that his 2 years at Eastern State provided her, or if she was the kind of person that wanted him home no matter what. Phebe spent the entire time that Joel was at Eastern State caring for her grandchildren. James Hurvey remarried in April of 1888, just a month before Joel returned home.
People thought differently at that time than we do today. I have seen many death records from the early 1900s when death records were first kept where parents refused a doctor’s treatment for children or refused to take the child to the hospital because “they did not want the family split up.” And the child died – and I don’t mean families living miles away or in another area – but in this very holler. For this decision to be made, the parent’s feelings had to be very strong and that decision had to be socially accepted, supported and considered “normal” in their environment. These mountain people were very, VERY resistant to outside influence or “interference” of any kind and were suspicious for the most part of anyone not a member of their community.
So for a family member to be sent to Knoxville to be committed for a period of years was an extremely dire circumstance and likely simply could not have been handled in any other way.
Two years later, Joel would return home. Without the medication we have today, it’s unlikely that there was much change, except that Phebe had fewer people to help. Joel was a little older and maybe not quite so physically strong. Fortunately, Phebe’s children still lived nearby and James Hurvey may have continued to live with Phebe after his second marriage. The family reported that he eventually inherited the “home place,” so it is likely he lived there.
There is no 1890 census, so that window into the past is closed.
In the fall of 1893, Phebe’s son, William “George” Vannoy who had married Elizabeth Estes, would join his father-in-law, John Y. Estes, in Montague County, Texas. George wouldn’t survive long. He died on September 12, 1895. This clearly was not expected, and this would have been the second “death letter” that Phebe received in her lifetime.
Joel also died in January of 1895. It had to be a relief to Phebe in some sense. There was obviously more afoot, because I found a subsequent newspaper article that said Phebe had Joel dug up and his remains moved to the cemetery where she wanted him to be buried. Clearly, she cared about him no matter what his condition had been. He was ultimately buried in the Venable Cemetery and Phebe is buried beside him. I surely wish I knew the story of why Joel was buried in that first location (wherever it was), and clearly where Phebe did not want. You know it’s a juicy tale!
In the photo above, Joel and Phebe’s stones are both clearly visible from the road, having a front row seat to see who is passing by.
Phebe, the consummate caregiver, the glue who held everything together, the woman who was supposed to be an Indian, but wasn’t, died on January 17, 1900. Of the 7 children we know of for sure, and the more likely 9 or 10 she bore, only 4 were living to attend her funeral. She had a total of 46 grandchildren, some of whom she never knew because they had not yet been born and some of whom were Texans. Surprisingly, the female grandchild born 10 days after Phebe’s death was not named for her. The only grandchild named for her died in her teens. Phebe’s name, now spelled as Phoebe, does still exist in our family today. Phebe Crumley is the 4 times great-grandmother of the current Phoebe. Such a beautiful name.
Phebe was an amazing woman, surviving the slow dissipation of her family, followed by the Civil War, including the brutal murder of her niece, her niece’s husband and baby, and then facing a personal war even more devastating, one that could never be won – only outlasted. I hope she was the kind of person to find peace, comfort and happiness where she could, perhaps in her 5 grandchildren, ages newborn to 8, who she raised when their mother died less than a month after the birth of the youngest. Hats off to you Phebe. I think the phrase “true grit” applies to you.
Phebe Crumley and Joel Vannoy had the following known children. In addition, we know there was at least one additional child whose name we don’t have, probably born between 1851 and 1856, and possibly more.
- Sarah Jane Vannoy born Dec. 1, 1845, died Aril 24, 1926 and married John Nunn. They had 12 children.
- Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Vannoy born June 23, 1847 and died October 25, 1918, married Lazarus Estes. They had 10 children.
- William George Vannoy born March 31, 1849 and died on September 12, 1895 in Nocona, Texas. Married Elizabeth Ann Estes and had 7 children.
- Mary L. Vannoy born May 4, 1851, died May 18, 1877 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery with her parents. She never married. Was her middle name Lydia?
- James Hurvey Vannoy born February 4, 1856 and died November 11, 1948. Married three times. First to Matilda Venable having 5 children. Second to Martha Lewis having 4 children. Third to Minnie Sanders having 3 children.
- Nancy E. Vannoy born September 5, 1859, died August 1940, married James Nelson “Net” Venable and had 5 children.
This article appeared in the Claiborne Progress newspaper and was found in an old scrapbook in the 1980s in the Tazewell library.
“Death rides on every passing breeze and lurks in every flower.” In the evening of life the angel of death has visited earth an plucked another flower to transplant in the kingdom of our Lord.
Sister Phoebe Vannoy was born March 24, 1818, married January 19, 1845, died January 13, 1900. She was a devoted member of the Baptist church about 45 years.
Though Mrs. Vannoy had numbered 4 score and two years, she was, until recently, very active. Seldom missing attending her church meetings. She rejoiced in doing good and seeing the cause of God prosper. It was her delight to talk of the great love God has for His children and of the home prepared for all who love Him. Often during her recent illness she called her relatives and friends to her bedside and asked them to meet her in heaven.
Her husband, Joel Vannoy, preceded her 5 years and 5 days. He also had numbered his 4 score and two years and was a member of the Baptist church about 60 years and a deacon of his church 45 years.
Seven children composed this family. Four are living and were with their mother during her last illness. We would say to them: Follow the example of your father and mother.
Mrs. Vannoy, not being satisfied with where her husband was buried requested that at her death his remains should be removed to what is known as the Venable graveyard and the funeral services of both be conducted by Rev. D. L. Manis.
Bereaved ones, you will miss that dear old face, her chair is vacant, but weep not for her, your loss is her eternal gain. It will be sweet to meet her in that better land –
“Beyond that vale of tears,
There is a life above:
Unmarred by the flight of years
And that life is love.”
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