It’s amazing what you discover going through old, dusty, boxes.
Joel Vannoy, my ancestor, was probably born in 1813 in Claiborne County, the portion that would become Hancock County some three decades later. One record shows his birth in North Carolina. Regardless, the family moved to Claiborne County about this time.
Joel’s father, Elijah Vannoy settled his family up in a holler, not too far from the intersection of Mulberry Gap Road and Little Sycamore Road today, on a small spring tributary of Mulberry Creek. I found the land grants and the land itself several years ago now, but the old homeplace was long gone and no one living knew exactly where it stood.
Joel had a rough life, as did his father, Elijah, who homesteaded that land. By that time, the good, flat, land was already claimed. By 1834, Elijah was in financial trouble, the family had little, and Joel was trying to help keep his father, and the family, afloat. Both men struggled to keep their land.
Elijah died sometime after 1850.
Joel married Phoebe Crumley in January of 1845 and commenced raising a family.
Their first child, Sarah, arrived on the first day of December, that same year, followed by another daughter, Elizabeth, known as Bettie, my great-great-grandmother, in June of 1847.
Like clockwork, every two years or so, one by one, three more children were added, another daughter and a son before James Hurvey Vannoy arrived in February of 1856.
One final child, Nancy, joined the family in September of 1859. Of course, there is a suspicious gap or two, suggesting that perhaps a baby or two was buried in the family cemetery.
The Old Homeplace
The family lived on the old homeplace before and during the Civil War. The house was probably located someplace in this clearing, near the small stream where the family would have drawn fresh water. This land was anything but flat, ascending up the side of the mountains.
Family legend tells of the family hiding, with the chickens, in a small cave someplace up the mountainside on their property.
As you can see, part of the mountainside that Elijah owned is wooded yet today, with lots of craggy rock features. A cave could be hidden anyplace – and thankfully so. Otherwise, the family might well have not survived and, well, I wouldn’t be here.
Joel told the story about how they could hear the soldiers ransacking their house and farm, hunting for food, or pretty much anything they could use. Clearly, the family wasn’t hidden far from the house. They probably prayed that no child or animal made a noise.
The soldiers, like the mountain people, were desperate for food. The armies and marauding soldiers from both sides frequented this area.
It was only a few years after the Civil War when Joel moved his family from the land near Mulberry Creek on down Little Sycamore Road, into the portion of Claiborne County that would remain Claiborne when Hancock was split off. They probably didn’t want to move, but Joel and Elijah had lost the land in Hancock County to debt.
Joel’s mental health issues had probably already become apparent by this time because even though they moved, the deeding of the new property was “unusual,” and eventually, his wife owned their land in her name alone.
Joel, about 50 years of age, didn’t serve in the Civil War, but many of his neighbors did. Perhaps the war exacerbated Joel’s issues. We didn’t have either mental health care or medication at that time. Joel’s demons worsened with age and he eventually became institutionalized. In fact, right after the State Hospital opened in Knoxville in 1886.
Sadly, we don’t have any photos of either Joel or his wife, Phebe, even though Joel didn’t die until 1894 and Phebe didn’t pass away until 1900. Their grandson, William George Estes was a photographer, and the fact that we have some photographs of their children is very likely the result of his occupation. Thanks Will, but why oh why did you NOT take a picture of your grandparents, or your wife’s parents or grandparents for that matter. But I digress…
James Hurvey Vannoy
Yes, that’s Hurvey, not Harvey.
James was born to Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley in 1856, so he would have been a young child during the Civil War when the family was hiding in the cave up the mountain. I bet that’s one adventure he never forgot.
He would have been about 14 or 15 when they moved down to Little Sycamore.
James, who was eventually known as “Old Jimmy,” lived a long life, to age 92, and married three times.
He was also quite photogenic.
In this portrait, Jimmy looks to be maybe 40 years old. I don’t see any gray hair yet. Maybe a touch in his mustache.
In 1876, Jimmy married Matilda Jane Venable and had 5 children. She died in July of 1885, leaving him with 5 children under age 8, including a 3-week-old baby.
In April 1888, Jimmy married Martha Ann Lewis. I’m surprised he didn’t marry sooner. They had 4 additional children.
This photo shows Jimmy and Martha Lewis, with four children. This photo looks to have been taken the same day perhaps as that portrait. In fact, the portrait may be a cleaned-up, cropped version of this same photograph.
Sometime, maybe around the turn of the century or slightly after, Jimmy’s photo was taken with his two sisters.
Nancy Vannoy, born in 1856, who married James Nelson Venable, the brother of Jimmy’s first wife, is on the left side of this photo.
We know this photo was taken before October 1918 when she died.
I’d say that Elizabeth looks to be about 60, which would date this photo to about 1907. That would make sense too, because Will Estes was still in his heyday as a photographer before the family moved North to Indiana a few years later. Jimmy would be about 50 and Nancy, 48.
Martha Lewis died in 1916, leaving Jimmy with children ranging in age from 16-24 in addition to his children from his first marriage.
We don’t know when this photo was taken, but I’d wager it was another 10 years later – maybe 1916 or 1917. Jimmy looks to be in his 50s or early 60s.
In December of 1917, at age 61, Jimmy married Minnie Magnolia Saunders, pictured with him above. She was significantly younger, 23, born in 1894. They would have three children, born from 1918-1927.
If this is their youngest son, George Dewey, at right, born in 1927, James would be in his early 80s here. The daughter would have been either 17 or 20.
It’s thanks to this third family who still lived in the northern part of Claiborne County, near Shawnee, in the 1980s that we have much of the information about this branch of the Vannoy family. I remember walking out to see the garden where Jimmy had lived with Minnie and the garden edge was lined with cannon balls from the Civil War. They lived within literal sight of Cumberland Gap where so many battles were fought.
Jimmy Visits the Home of His Childhood
On either Easter or “Decoration Day” in 1929, Jimmy Vannoy and his sister, Nancy Vannoy Venable visited the old homeplace in Hancock County. While soldiers scavenged here more than 65 years earlier, in 1929, Jimmy drove one of the early automobiles back to visit his childhood home.
Lucky for us, someone with a camera took pictures.
The tradition in the south is to “decorate” the graves and clean up the cemetery on Memorial Day, hence, the name “Decoration Day.” Often, families gathered in the cemeteries, had picnics, visited and shared stories and memories as they maintained the graves. Sometimes something a little stronger than sweet tea was present too.
Given the flowers in this picture, I’d guess that Jimmy, then 73, and his sister, Nancy, went to put flowers on the graves of their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They may have had siblings buried there too.
The bonus is that although the house is clearly overgrown and abandoned, it is the old homeplace. Probably the only glimpse we’ll ever get of the home that sheltered three generations of this family for roughly half a century before, during and after the Civil War.
Years later, a second photo surfaced, taken the same day which confirms the age and location.
On the back were written the names of the people, confirming the oral information from the first photo. The ink is smeared, but still legible. It’s my writing from back in the 80s during one of my exploratory visits. (Yes, I know NOW that I shouldn’t have used ink, but at least I did record the information.)
Pearlie Vannoy Bolton was Jimmy’s daughter with his first wife. She married Joseph Daniel Bolton and the year can be confirmed based on the birth year of the child she is carrying.
There’s one more photo that looks to have been taken the same day, based on Nancy Vannoy Venable’s clothes.
The perspective of the cabin is slightly different here. There appears to be no door, and the cabin is clearly small. The distance from the door to the end of the structure is about the same as the height of the door. If the cabin was 20 feet or 24 feet long, that would have been considered a LARGE log cabin for that timeframe.
Just think, Elijah raised 10 children here, and Joel raised 6 or 7.
Just a Glimpse
I’m oh-so-grateful for these old pictures. That family outing, fortuitously recorded for posterity on film is the only visit to that old home place that we’ll ever be afforded.
While we don’t know what Phebe Crumley and Joel Vannoy looked like, we do have photos of three of their children.
Perhaps Jimmy looked like Joel. Maybe Betty and Nancy, who look very much alike, resemble Phebe. At least I have photos of three of their children.
It may be only a glimpse, but it IS a glimpse back into a long-ago time up on the ridge above Mulberry Creek.
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